slowthai Gives Punk Rap a Grungy Rebrand on “UGLY”
This article was originally published on Respect My Region
Even as the world burns, some of us choose to stand around with our palms facing the flame rather than disappearing into the darkness of the night. Absorbing its warmth is far better than dying a protracted death in the cold — this is the premise of slowthai's third album, UGLY. Match chaos with chaos till the sun rises, but do so with a self-awareness that equips you to outlive your vices and the odds that birthed them.
Tyron Kaymone Frampton aka slowthai is currently one of Britain’s top prospects for one overriding reason: modernizing the punk ethos for the generation in control. In other words, he is nudging younger audiences to confront societal ills with an aggression that traces back to the “Oi” disruptors who first prioritized challenging those in power through music. This attribute, however, has never been more apparent in his work than now.
Whereas his first two records, Nothing Great About Britain and TYRON, were ripe with the same energy described above, they never quite sounded like the one-of-a-kind brand their follow-up evolves into. Make no mistake, slowthai is by no means the first artist to find that sweet and sour spot between punk, grunge and rap, but he is inching closer to perfecting its UKmodel. For that reason, UGLY has landed the Northampton rapper in hip-hop’s prestigious limbo alongside all the other weirdos trying to reimagine the genre.
Though there’s plenty of rap on the new record, it barely fits into the larger category of hip-hop like his earlier material. He’s moved further and further away from the grimeier stuff (as in the genre; he’s still as grimy as they come) and leaned into his punk instincts. We’ve heard traces of it before, but now it’s completely out there — finally, a body of work centered on the spirit of “Doorman.”
slowthai’s sound has started to match the emotions he expresses. The struggles of working-class Britain, mental health, depression, addiction, self-hate and suicidal tendencies all converge on this 12-track package, sometimes gently but mostly with vulnerable belligerence. Still, UGLY’s nucleus is intact and firmly held in place by the optimism of love and redemption — U Gotta Love Yourself. Funny though it may seem, being in touch with your shortcomings while actively working toward remedying them translates beautifully into music.
“I wanted to do something new and challenge myself, rather than just doing what’s expected of me,” he said. “It’s about finding the love within yourself, taking time to be the best version of yourself. It’s reflecting on time, on your journey, and also going back to being the kid, being free rather than chained to a genre.”
slowthai now has an identity of his own, but he isn’t “staying in his lane” either. Even though grungy punk rap is the overarching theme of the record, he moderately steps away on occasion and circles back to it with laudable fluency. There are many different shades to UGLY, but what makes it stand out is its resolute coherence. This is precisely why it doesn’t feel odd when he fluctuates between being a complete maniac to suddenly simmering down.
UGLY is a journey on which he goes from high-energy industrial bars about drugs, sex and deterioration to embracing the fragility of the human condition on the title track with a Pixiesesque chorus. Yet, it doesn’t sounds or feel disorganized. He transitions from “Wanna watch the world burn, 'cause the world been burning me” to “I would give everything for a smile” on back-to-back tracks, whereas other songs like “Feeling Good” and “Falling” are ritualistic, meditative releases. At no point does any of it feel overwhelming because the tracklist was carefully thought out and put together with a purpose.
This album is the brainchild of an individual who is motivated chiefly by self-improvement. slowthai's process is complex, messy and soaked in pain, but above all, sincere. It is filled to the brim with upsetting themes, but he approaches them with a healthy aggression that keeps us from feeling sorry for him. It is perhaps because he is so open about his weaknesses that he seems to be on the right path.
Every slowthai album sounds like a passion project, but UGLY feels the most honest of the three. So far, he has one of the best releases of 2023; if that is the case even by the end of the year, it’ll still reflect really well on the set standard of the past twelve months.