COVER

Slowthai

The Duality Of Tyron Frampton

By Ben Boddez

I

If you’ve ever been in a theater production, you might know how much fun it can be to play the villain. You can yell as loud as you want, break a couple of rules, and indulge in some scandalous vices, all without consequence. In the real world, life in the spotlight is much less forgiving, and Tyron Frampton is tired of his performative bad boy image.

Known to his fans as the politically outspoken, punk-influenced, and oft-shirtless English rapper Slowthai, Frampton is sitting in what he calls “the office” of his Northampton home digressing about his frustrations with hip-hop’s culture of rampant toxic masculinity, pushing him to subsume himself in the reckless side of his musical alter-ego. “Being a man in hip-hop, there’s the alpha-male complex, you’ve gotta be this guy,” he says. “So, I’ve always been brash, aggressive, hype. And the more I’ve been in it I’ve realized, Yo, man, maybe I’m not so this way anymore. I’m growing up and I’m changing. It was affecting my headspace.”

Frampton has had plenty of time to check in with himself since his 2019 debut, Nothing Great About Britain, a punishingly hard-hitting salvo against the divisive political climate that led the country to Brexit. The album was nominated for the 2019 Mercury Prize and saw him touring his antics around the world with acts like Brockhampton and Flume. “I always wanted to be in a band,” he says in his thick East Midlands accent. “But no one would ever let me. They only wanted me to be the hype man.”

Rising above and beyond the hype, Frampton’s new album, TYRON, turns away from global issues, instead offering a look inward. Split into two halves, one with song titles in all uppercase and the other in all lowercase, Frampton puts the two sides of his personality on full display. On one, he delivers a second helping of the distorted, aggressive grime stylings we know, issuing taunts with glee as he draws influences from dancehall, hip-hop, and punk rock. On the other, he reveals the laid-back, emotionally intelligent man he’s striving to become, set to a more calm and melodic backdrop. There’s an audible chasm between the scorching, bass-heavy “MAZZA” featuring A$AP Rocky and the piano-laden “NHS,” a tribute to the UK’s progressive and publicly-funded healthcare system which Frampton describes as “let’s smile and be joyful and go kick our heels in the fields of sunflowers” music.

The sonic shift between the two halves of TYRON reveals a striking concept album full of thorough self-reflection as Frampton explores the difficulties of learning from your mistakes and growing as a person. Of course, finding the right balance between staying defiantly true to who you are at your core and the parts of yourself that might need development is a long, often messy journey. For him, the pinnacle of these exaggerated antics came during one fateful night at the 2020 NME Awards, when an inebriated Frampton overstepped the boundaries of scripted flirtatious banter with an awards presenter before being given the “Hero of the Year” award. Social media had a field day with it, many proclaiming his career over before it had truly begun. “I went from ‘Hero of the Year’ to the ‘Zero of the Year’ in the space of 30 seconds,” he says. “Nobody’s perfect, man. We all have our flaws. But it’s all about how you move forward and that’s what I’m trying to do, just keep moving forward.”

If you’ve ever been in a theater production, you might know how much fun it can be to play the villain. You can yell as loud as you want, break a couple of rules, and indulge in some scandalous vices, all without consequence. In the real world, life in the spotlight is much less forgiving, and Tyron Frampton is tired of his performative bad boy image.

Known to his fans as the politically outspoken, punk-influenced, and oft-shirtless English rapper Slowthai, Frampton is sitting in what he calls “the office” of his Northampton home digressing about his frustrations with hip-hop’s culture of rampant toxic masculinity, pushing him to subsume himself in the reckless side of his musical alter-ego. “Being a man in hip-hop, there’s the alpha-male complex, you’ve gotta be this guy,” he says. “So, I’ve always been brash, aggressive, hype. And the more I’ve been in it I’ve realized, Yo, man, maybe I’m not so this way anymore. I’m growing up and I’m changing. It was affecting my headspace.”

Frampton has had plenty of time to check in with himself since his 2019 debut, Nothing Great About Britain, a punishingly hard-hitting salvo against the divisive political climate that led the country to Brexit. The album was nominated for the 2019 Mercury Prize and saw him touring his antics around the world with acts like Brockhampton and Flume. “I always wanted to be in a band,” he says in his thick East Midlands accent. “But no one would ever let me. They only wanted me to be the hype man.”

Rising above and beyond the hype, Frampton’s new album, TYRON, turns away from global issues, instead offering a look inward. Split into two halves, one with song titles in all uppercase and the other in all lowercase, Frampton puts the two sides of his personality on full display. On one, he delivers a second helping of the distorted, aggressive grime stylings we know, issuing taunts with glee as he draws influences from dancehall, hip-hop, and punk rock. On the other, he reveals the laid-back, emotionally intelligent man he’s striving to become, set to a more calm and melodic backdrop. There’s an audible chasm between the scorching, bass-heavy “MAZZA” featuring A$AP Rocky and the piano-laden “NHS,” a tribute to the UK’s progressive and publicly-funded healthcare system which Frampton describes as “let’s smile and be joyful and go kick our heels in the fields of sunflowers” music.

The sonic shift between the two halves of TYRON reveals a striking concept album full of thorough self-reflection as Frampton explores the difficulties of learning from your mistakes and growing as a person. Of course, finding the right balance between staying defiantly true to who you are at your core and the parts of yourself that might need development is a long, often messy journey. For him, the pinnacle of these exaggerated antics came during one fateful night at the 2020 NME Awards, when an inebriated Frampton overstepped the boundaries of scripted flirtatious banter with an awards presenter before being given the “Hero of the Year” award. Social media had a field day with it, many proclaiming his career over before it had truly begun. “I went from ‘Hero of the Year’ to the ‘Zero of the Year’ in the space of 30 seconds,” he says. “Nobody’s perfect, man. We all have our flaws. But it’s all about how you move forward and that’s what I’m trying to do, just keep moving forward.”

Nobody’s perfect, man. We all have our flaws. But it’s all about how you move forward and that’s what I’m trying to do, just keep moving forward.

Nobody’s perfect, man. We all have our flaws. But it’s all about how you move forward and that’s what I’m trying to do, just keep moving forward.


Frampton’s discovery and acceptance of the two halves of himself was heavily inspired by his better half—his new fiancé, pop singer and model Katerina, who he says was a major catalyst behind the album’s softer side. “It’s mad because people might take this out of context, but if you’re not trying to kill each other and you’re in a house for so long, then I suppose you’ve met the right person,” he says.

During his last album cycle, you never would have caught Frampton worrying about context and what people might think. But living through a global pandemic with the love of your life is guaranteed to come with a mixed bag of emotions. “It’s opened me up to being kinder. I’m pretty cute when I’m at home! It’s mad that this man who runs around like a nutter is like ‘awww,’” he says, followed by an incomprehensible stream of high-pitched noises as if he were greeting a playful puppy. “Maybe I’m just getting old, and going a bit senile,” the sprightly 26-year-old says through a barrage of chuckles. “But I think I’m coming to terms with the lovely things, and the nice side of life.”

Even with these new discoveries, it doesn’t diminish the importance of the most out-there aspects of Frampton’s raucous public persona to his understanding of his personality. Both sides are necessary to live a happy, fulfilled life. In fact, he hopes the album’s darker side will help put his fans in a positive headspace and improve their mental health as well. “Films, art, and music have helped me in my darkest moments,” Frampton said in a note he posted recently to social media. “I would hope that it can help someone as a distraction amongst the chaos.”

Frampton compared the cathartic release triggered by aggressive music to the sense of happiness and achievement you might feel after putting your body through strenuous exercise. “Somebody’s giving you their truth, and you connect with it,” he says. “I listen to a lot of sad music but it somehow makes me really happy. It’s a mad thing to think about.”

On his new album artwork, Frampton appears sitting under an apple tree, wearing devil horns with an arrow through his head; a response to feeling as though people are quick to “paint [him] as the bad guy.” Looking a bit closer at the cover reveals a Where’s Waldo puzzle of symbolism—from a bird in the tree representing Twitter to a falling apple bringing to mind Isaac Newton’s famous revelation: “What goes up must come down.” Now jokingly applied to his own reputation.

“I’ve always been misunderstood,” he says. “I’ve always had the right intentions, but to get my point across sometimes I have to do stuff that might piss a few people off.” You can chalk up calling the Queen of England the “C” word on his last album as one of those moments. “You’ve gotta break a couple eggs to make omelettes, you know what I mean?” he smirks.

I’ve always had the right intentions, but to get my point across sometimes you have to do stuff that might piss a few people off.

Frampton is vocal about his ADHD diagnosis, a condition that’s only exacerbated these prior incidents and misunderstandings. On the track “adhd,” a passionate, half-sung slow-burn, he asks for divine forgiveness. “I feel the most connected to that song,” he says. “I just don’t think people get why I’m so up and down and my focus is so strained. But that’s no one’s fault. It’s what keeps me ticking.”

While making this album, Frampton placed immense value on being able to make deep connections with his collaborators and musical mentors. He names his work with UK crooner James Blake on his recent single “feel away”—an atmospheric and ethereal track that stands up as one of the best in his career—as his all-time favorite collaborative experience. “It was the time in between, just talking,” he says. “I was in Electric Lady, Jimi Hendrix’s studio where he lived. There’s so much history there. And for two days, we didn’t make one song; we were just talking. It was like therapy, and we worked through our problems.”

Those deep conversations have given him quite a few academic essays worth of ways to describe his journey to self-realization. “I believe humans are all contradictions. As we get older, we spot our contradictions, change them and then we grow. So, for me, it’s always taking note, and sometimes I might get carried away and I have to come back and ground myself,” he says. “It’s like a constant battle. It’s going around in circles and driving yourself insane until you find clarity. That’s it, man.”

For all his talk about growing up, Frampton still believes there’s no better way to fully experience life than through the eyes of your inner child. “I see it with my nieces. I could watch them endlessly,” he says. “It’s just the joy they have in seeing new stuff. My cousin’s daughter is just two, and you put the headphones on her head…” Frampton trails off, imitating his niece’s awestruck, delighted face. “When something’s new, it’s inspiring. And if you’re inspired by every single thing around you, that’s a beautiful way to be. For me, that’s the most important thing. You get old, and you get serious, and life becomes miserable and everything’s gray. But when you’re young and everything’s new, the sky is blue and it’s beautiful. That’s the reality I’d rather live in.”

That’s why Frampton will always be unapologetically himself—it just might fall on a different side of that duality than you’d expect, depending on the day.



Photographer: Crowns & Owls


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