If you look beyond the cream teas and the quaintness of the Royal Family, you’ll see Britain is broken. It’s a socio-political mess of zero-hour contracts, marginalised working classes, gentrification and of course, them biggest turd of them all, Brexit. For a certain cross section of society food banks provide daily meals, drug dealers prowl outside their doors and violence awaits on every street corner. There’s a generation that sees no future beyond pedalling drugs and prison, and it’s this generation that needs a figurehead, one to document these struggles but one to provide a glimmer of hope.
Located in a Midland outpost somewhere between London and Birmingham, you’ll find Northampton, a town that’s pretty good at rugby, not too bad at cricket and famous for its shoe industry, not the hotbed of fiery rap or the sort of place you’d find the voice of a generation. Step forward slowthai aka Tyrone Frampton, a 23-year-old MC that’s giving a voice to the voiceless via his seminal debut album ‘Nothing Great About Britain.’ Frampton’s first full length is a fidgeting diatribe aimed directly at the state, an album that recounts the struggles of life in one of the country’s most impoverished areas (back in 2015 Northampton was voted the second worst town to live in the UK, due to county council budget cuts).
The first three tracks on ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ are a devastating combination of head and body shots that lead to a barrage of knockout blows. With a punkish energy, Frampton delivers breathless bar after breathless bar as basslines judder and beats pound out a rude boi skank. The record’s eponymous track opens the record, a three-minute dressing down of all things that are shit about living in the UK right now. Frampton spray paints an image of hanging about on the streets “waiting on my friends outside the local shops” and getting up to mischief. He’ll also take aim at knuckleheaded racists and those dragging Britain back to the dark ages with their bigoted points of view “three lions/real McCoy/you’re EDL/real English boy.” Despite all this, slowthai makes an impassioned claim as the track comes to an end “Phil Mitchel gets stabbed with the Philips/hand on my heart/I’m proud to be British.” It’s the turn of phrase that gives Frampton his wideboy charm as he gets away with namechecking a soap star Phil Mitchell getting shanked with a screwdriver, but
still manages to end the rhyme with a declaration of love for his county of birth. It’s these nudges and winks to very English references that makes ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ such compelling listen, certainly for this English writer. Oh yeah, and he signs off the track be calling the Queen a cunt. ‘Doorman’s rampant urgency is fuelled by a relentless bass womp and a constant thumping beat that recounts a two-tone strut. A childhood raised on UK garage and jungle permeates the menacing bass ‘n’ jangle of ‘Dead Leaves’; it’s here where slowthai ushers you into Northampton’s street-lit litter strewn pavements. The fearsome rapper claims “I run my town but I’m nothing like Boris”, taking a swipe at the bumbling former Foreign Secretary and if rumours are to be believed, the country’s next Prime Minister. Frampton will also refer to “Weston Favell”, a reference back to where he grew up in Northampton, whilst claiming nothing much goes on where he’s from.
After the triple assault of ‘Nothing Great About Britain’s first few tracks, you’ll be begging for a breather andthis comes via the playful ‘Gorgeous’. slowthai shows his hometown pride via “Northampton/yeah man I’m a cobbler” a reference to the town’s shoe making trade. Over piano flourishes, a clipped vocal sample and a steady beat, the rapper turns his focus to nostalgia “been the same since Gameboys and stick fights.” It’s a rare moment where slowthai isn’t raging about something but the English colloquialisms flow with a wry grin. The blissed out ‘Crack’ is a peculiar juxtaposition of laidback beats and slowthai detailing a relationship dissolving “I love you like a crackhead loves crack” and “I blame you like you blame me/I hate you like you hate me” document the pendulum swing between infatuation and revulsion. The respite is short lived when the bad boy strut ‘Inglorious’ kicks down the door. Spitting venomous lines, the MC will claim “even when I die I’ll come back twice as legendary.” Grime MC Skepta appears with his undeniable flow via his own verse, as he calls out faux-posturing “heard man talking ‘bout drip/what you know about splash?” ‘Toaster’ marries a serene texture of tight beats, a simple guitar line and strings; slowthai will claim he’s “not one for authority” whilst namechecking Stoke City footballer Ryan Shawcross about looking out for his nearest and dearest “defending my team like Shawcross.” The Slaves produced ‘Missing’ finds the Northampton boy slide into another dash of two-tone skanking that recalls The Specials. With a puffed-out chest, Frampton pours scorn of toxic masculinity via a frantic set of bars “real men cry and thugs go home.” The album is brought to a stunningclose by the stark sounding volley of strings and crackling beats on ‘Northampton’s Child’, a touching story dedicated to Frampton’s mum. The vulnerability on display is undeniably raw, as slowthai talks us through his mum’s teenage pregnancies, the death of his brother, a drug taking step dad but through it all, his mum imparted her son with an important mantra “kids just imagine/do anything as long as you do it with passion.” That’s why he refers to his mother as his “only Queen.”
slowthai finds himself as the poster boy for Brexit Britain and it’s a mantle that this street poet will no doubt relish.
Words and Thoughts of Adam Williams
Nothing Great About Britain is now available via True Panther Sounds/Method Records