Some moments on Slowthai‘s incendiary 2019 debut ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ saw the Northampton rapper take a much-needed breather from being the album’s in-yer-face master of ceremonies. Both the chopped-up sample-heavy ‘Gorgeous’ and ‘Original Pirate Material’-style ‘Toaster’ saw Slowthai reflect on the ups and downs of his tough upbringing, back when “responsibility [was] another chapter“.
It’s fair to say that the 25-year-old will have learned much about responsibility this year, given how his self-described “shameful” behaviour at the NME Awards back in February derailed his 2020 ambitions. Following an apology and a vocalised desire to “learn every single day”, Slowthai has since wisely refocused on his music and today releases ‘feel away’, which is being touted as his first official single since his debut album.
Slowthai has actually already dropped three solo tracks this year: ‘Enemy’, ‘Magic’ and ‘BB (BODYBAG)’, the latter containing a co-writing credit for James Blake and Mount Kimbie‘s Dom Maker, who produced the song. It’s clearly a winning partnership: these artists’ reunion on ‘feel away’ is welcome news indeed.
The song is dedicated to the memory of Slowthai’s baby brother Michael John. “I’m doing everything in my power to live for him and also make him proud,” the rapper wrote in a touching Instagram post yesterday. He added of the new single: “It’s about the doubts we have, whether it be within friendships, your partner or with our family. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes so you have a better understanding of the situation.”
Slowthai takes on such frank subject matter in his solitary verse on ‘feel away’, which opens the track. Accompanied by two intersecting piano loops, his controlled flow never wavers as he raps about trying to fix a fractured relationship (“You felt low, I took you higher than a note from Mariah“) before begrudgingly agreeing to one of life’s biggest commitments in a risky bid to patch things up: “Want a bun up in the oven / Tryin’ to trap me in barbed wire / Put a baby in your stomach if that’s what you desire“. Those lines serve as the inspiration for ‘feel away”s deeply unsettling video, which is set in a surreal maternity ward and involves a lot of human cake-cutting (watch above at your own peril).
It takes 65 seconds for a beat to finally kick in as Slowthai delivers a hook where he half-mumblingly muses about being “suddenly I’m half the man I used to be” and concluding “it’s not you, so I guess it’s me“. Star of the show Blake, though, then takes over proceedings by crying out in his trusty affecting vocals (“I’ll leave the dent in my car to remind me what I could’ve lost“) as an attention-shifting mix of grandiose piano chords and bass builds a stirring, swirling soundscape that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on his 2019 album ‘Assume Form’.
Slowthai’s decision to yield the floor to Blake and Mount Kimbie is a wise one. The track is poignant because the rapper dials down his previous desire to be the loudest person in the room. A new chapter of the bumpy Slowthai story has begun, and his willingness to take a step back and let the music do the talking on ‘feel away’ could prove to be its first masterstroke.