It has been quite a while since punk was in the popular eye. In the 1970s, punk rose to popularity as a rebuttal to both the classic rock sound and the topics that they would sing about. In the late 20th century, hip hop came to take punk-rock’s place as the voice of rebellion. However, hip-hop’s trajectory was almost perpendicular; as punk became more popular, the bands’ lyrics were becoming more topical and angrier, conversely, as hip-hop became more popular it tended to try fit in with demands of pop music listeners.
Nevertheless, there remain names in modern hip-hop that still uphold these rebellious and punk values. In the United States the biggest rapper of this description is Kendrick Lamar, while in the UK it is Tyron Kaymone Frampton aka slowthai. The 26-year-old artist can truly be called the contemporary punk. The title alone of his 2019 debut Nothing Great About Britain radiates with the rebellious mood of the 1970s, and the music on it does not disappoint either with its sizzling and aggressive lyrics rapped over very raw beats. And let us not forget about the severed head of Boris Johnson that slowthai brought to his performance at the 2019 Mercury Prize Award show.
His second album, TYRON, takes the listener by surprise. The production is much more refined and it seems much closer to the average sound of contemporary hip-hop. But, just as you’re well into thinking that slowthai doesn’t seem to be offering any novelty in sound on this sophomore effort, the second disc starts.
The production here absolutely takes the listener by storm with intriguing arrangements and instrumentation. slowthai exhibited clear intentionality in the singles that preceded the album, which seemed to be veering from one extreme to the other. But, once hearing them in place on the record, it becomes a lot clear how and why such tracks as the A$AP Rocky feature “MAZZA” and the James Blake imbued “feel away”, which sound very different stylistically, can come together on one record. TYRON is a piece that evolves both sonically and lyrically as the listener progresses down the tracklist. Tracks from the second side, such as “i tried”, “adhd”, and especially the Deb Never-featuring “push”, while relatively unprovocative in tone, divert the listener’s attention away from anything else they might be doing.
Lyrically, this album is certainly a move into a new direction. The political themes of his earlier work have been mostly dialled down and their place come personal topics. slowthai exposes human complexity by covering different, often contradictory, parts of human nature on each track. Even the fact that the album is split into two discs (something that has been less common since the rise of streaming platforms) serves a very intentional purpose: disc one is mostly filled with the macho-type images of contemporary hip-hop, but side two delves entirely into his personal problems, which in a way turns what we knew of slowthai as a person upside down.
The rapper wants the listener to understand that “it’s ok to be yourself,” and, obviously, this is not anything new — the delivery, however, is. Rappers nowadays tend to keep their personal issues and their public image separate, whereas slowthai goes against this notion completely. TYRON brings together these two worlds and does so with both finesse and rawness, which further contributes to feeling Ty’s honesty coming through.
slowthai most certainly continues to be the punk of the modern era. Nothing Great About Britain radiated with punk moods of bands from the 1970s, whereas TYRON is punk in regard to the image of what a hip-hop record in the modern era ought to look like, as it mixes the artist’s personal problems with the machismo style of rap. TYRON is a move away from the raw production style, too, as the beats and other instrumentals here are much more refined and polished. Lyrically, he turns away from the harsh political themes and statements of his debut to topics of much more personal significance to Ty, while not forgetting the part of him that is ‘the contemporary rapper’. Even with this more personal approach, slowthai truly embodies the idea that punk is not dead.