WRITTEN BY: John Peterson
Taking its title from the artist’s birth name, slowthai’s latest album, TYRON, provides a strong and honest outline of who he is: a man of extremes. Split into two separate discs, slowthai uses this divide to offer a more comprehensive view of his character. The first half of the album, presented in all caps, delivers a series of grime and trap influenced bangers while the second half, conversely stylized in lowercase, instead unveils a soft and introspective slowthai, utilizing more melodic and diverse beats. The two sides of TYRON take distinct approaches in depicting their creator’s apparent madness, but converge to reveal an artist that’s determined to move forward, learning from his past and growing to new heights.
The album starts strong, with three songs of increasing energy. The opening “45 SMOKE” sets the fast-paced tone for the first disc and introduces slowthai as an artist. Delivered with his iconic British drawl, slowthai’s lyrics take pride in his Caribbean heritage, local football club, and love for money. To close the track, he switches his flow dramatically, embracing a baby voice reminiscent of Playboi Carti while announcing himself as “Satan’s son.” This façade of confidence in his reckless lifestyle continues to develop throughout the first half of the album.
On the following “CANCELLED,” slowthai is joined by his longtime partner in grime, Skepta, who steals the show with a killer verse and powerful hook. The track faces cancel culture head on, with slowthai insisting that regardless of this looming threat, he will continue to be himself. Artists and other famous figures are not afforded the luxury of making mistakes, of being human, but slowthai consistently presents himself as real, reiterating, “I ain’t an actor, f*ck the Oscars, main stage in my boxers.” This image of near nakedness is as literal as it is metaphorical, with slowthai having actually performed in his boxers. At a deeper level, however, it serves as a statement of self, a profession of vulnerability in the face of fame.
With one of the simplest beats on the album, the peak of the first half arrives at the third track, “MAZZA.” The song’s title and content derives from the British slang term mazzaleen, which essentially means to do something crazy. A charming music video featuring A$AP Rocky shows the bug-eyed pair going wild in a hotel, the destruction of their rooms being linked to that of their minds. From a sonic point of view, “MAZZA” illustrates what makes TYRON so engaging. Although situated firmly in trap and grime, there’s a spacious and demented quality to the instrumentals that add a unique dystopian flare, wonderfully complemented by slowthai’s endless bounds of energy. The rest of the first half suffers from being placed after the three best songs, lacking strong enough hooks and verses to make up for the stagnant sound. This being said, “PLAYING WITH FIRE” serves as an excellent transition into the second set of songs. For 7 tracks slowthai has embraced his wild side—his ADHD, his drug use (and selling), his money, his fame: in a sense he’s been playing with fire. On the track, he begins to acknowledge this and descends into dejection and contemplation, showcasing himself as an artist who doesn’t need to shout to make his point.
Indeed the second half of TYRON begins with slowthai’s most sentimental song to date. “i tried” fizzes with the warm sound of vinyl while an absolutely beautiful sample takes center stage. This sentimentality generally leads to a more successful second disc, but the line between expressive and melodramatic is a thin one. With songs like “push,” slowthai’s voice comes across as jarring when set against Deb Never’s stunning feature, and it’s unclear whether its similarities to Eminem make it cringeworthy or enjoyable. Still, the emotional backdrop allows for better and more interesting songwriting, with the feature heavy “terms” and “feel away” standing out as being particularly strong. Where side one was packed with pop culture references and a prideful hooliganism, side two adds a new perspective to slowthai’s life, engaging with the negatives of fame, the difficulties of pushing forward, and the ups and downs of existence.
As a full body of work, TYRON successfully presents slowthai as a nuanced human being and artist. Although in public you may catch him performing in all caps, shirt off and causing a ruckus, it’s the lowercased moments that often go unnoticed. The bottom line is that there’s more to slowthai than what’s seen by an audience. Well, in that regard, there’s more to everyone than what’s seen by an audience. Even Satan’s son has more than one side to his story.