Back in December 2018, when Northampton firebrand Slowthai appeared on the digital cover of NME, six months before the release of his extraordinary debut album ‘Nothing Great About Britain’, he called for a more nuanced understanding of people’s flaws.
“I spend my life around people that are, like, bad people, if you want,” he said, “and then deep down they’re not. It’s just the circumstances that they’re given.” Elsewhere, the rapper described his music as a “release”: “If I’m always angry and I bottle it up, bottle it up, bottle it up, I’m just gonna stay angry. But if I put it into moments that are two minutes or three minutes long, you let that out. That’s you venting… It’s self-discovery innit?”
December 2018 now seems like a very, very long time ago. We’ve all had plenty of time to bottle up our frustrations, fear and vexations since the world fell apart last March, but Slowthai has been venting in the most productive way imaginable. His latest single ‘MAZZA’, featuring A$AP Rocky, is the third from his upcoming second album ‘TYRON’, which is due for release next month, and the eighth he’s featured on since the start of the lost year that was 2020.
In his ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ era, Slowthai played the outrageous punk cause célèbre, puking onstage and outraging the red tops by brandishing an effigy of Boris Johnson’s head at the 2019 Mercury Prize (a “sick stunt”, according to The Sun). With recent single ‘NHS’, though, he returned to theme of exploring the person behind the flaws: “All the best shit’s got scratches on the surface / What’s a flight without turbulence?”
True, on that song he also posed the philosophical humdinger, “what’s knickers without frilly thongs?”, but you get the point: the 26-year-old born Tyron Frampton has been taking stock, reconnecting with person he was in that early NME interview, before the critical acclaim and the controversy and the headfuck that is fame. In the interim, of course, there was his controversial appearance at the NME Awards 2020, when a comedy bit with host Katherine Ryan went wrong and led an audience member to brand him a “misogynist”. Ryan has since said she wasn’t arsed, but the incident resulted in a fracas that saw Slowthai escorted from the stage. On ‘MAZZA’, he continues to peel back the layers, attempting to reconnect with Tyron from Northampton.
In some ways, his collaboration with bonafide US A-lister A$AP Rocky is surprisingly low-key, wrapped around a crepuscular synth and a taut, vibrating beat – and little else. But the track is packed with dense lyricism as the two rappers – both at their peak of the game in their respective countries – explore selfhood from different perspectives.
For Slowthai, it’s about stripping away the booze and drugs: “Look how shit changed / Feeling like these drugs made me better than I was… now I’m energised, I’m more precise.” For Rocky, it’s about remembering who he was before the Gold and Platinum records: “Run up on you while you’re jogging / Make you listen to my Walkman / Mixtape shit.” It’s short and sharp, clocking in at under three minutes; coupled with the song’s minimalism, this creates a sense of clarity. The only real sonic adornments are the rappers’ jubilant ad-libs (picture Rocky shadowboxing as he exclaims “Woo! Woo!” in the second verse), as if they’re cheerleading themselves.
On the whole, the steely and focused ‘MAZZA’ is less ‘new year, new me’ and more ‘new year, old me’. And for anyone who’s ever made a crap decision or lost sight of themselves, that’s a powerful thing.