Released: 12 February 2021
1. 45 SMOKE
7. PLAY WITH FIRE
8. i tried
13. feel away
"From the bottom, yeah, I climbed a lot
And people tryna break my thumbs, what's good?
Be the barber, gotta line it up
When push comes to shove, you gotta push"
It’s been about a year since the 2020 NME awards; a night which became somewhat of a PR nightmare for Slowthai due to his embarrassing and unruly behaviour after being ironically given the ‘Hero of the Year’ award. Clips went viral of his inappropriate comments towards Katherine Ryan, as well as his altercations with the crowd, resulting in in a drink being thrown and Slowthai being escorted by security. And while subsequently apologizing to everyone involved, as well as publicly rejecting his status of ‘Hero’ after the event, something like that isn’t easy to come back from. Although it might seem dismissive and insincere to release an album only a year after such a significant event, which seemingly makes no direct reference to his actions, there’s actually a lot more going on in “TYRON” than its first few tracks might let on.
Much like how “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was Kanye West’s apology and statement to the world for his behaviour on stage at the 2009 VMAs, “TYRON” is an incredibly self-critical and aware album that has Slowthai openly acknowledging his flaws and looking to improve on himself. The album is split into two halves; the first of which has him in character as an exaggerated version of himself, and the second of which is a critical response to that character. In the first half, he’s overly obnoxious and unlikeable, indulging in a slew of hedonistic and self-destructive habits, which at first seems almost eyeroll worthy, especially with the context of the NME awards. But although the endless verses about money, sex, drugs, and fame may seem to be made to appear glamourous on surface level, especially when backed with such trendy production and features, its clear that underneath all of this, Tyron is struggling to navigate through his own personal hell that has emerged alongside these things. With drugs come dependence and addiction; with fame comes arrogance; and the most powerful enabler for either of these things is money. And although he discusses this lightly throughout the first half of the record, the second half is where things really start to take a new perspective.
As previously mentioned, TYRON is clearly cut into two distinguished halves; something evident immediately from the literal splitting of the record into two discs on streaming services, as well as the contrast between the all-caps and the all-lower-case titles of the first and second half. And the songs very much mirror this; the first half is compiled of a series of loud and upbeat trap songs, and the second is restrained, reflective and quiet in comparison. Where Side A only hints at the underlying issues of Tyron’s upbringing, and his struggle with mental health and drug use, Side B addresses these issues head-on. Even in the tracks from the first half where Tyron is openly talking about his problems, everything is smeared by the sheer anger and vitriol that he expresses them with. By the second half, his cadence has smoothed out, the beats are far more mellow, and he slows things down in order to properly be able to work through some of these things. Where in the first half Tyron would project his frustration outward and place blame on others, here he takes it as his own responsibility, such as on the track ‘focus’.
“Slow dance with the devil, no chance so I settle
No second chance, I just gotta be better
Lesser version of myself, shoe fits Cinderella”
And although on this song he also discusses the institutions that fuelled his anger throughout the album’s first half, such as the education system and law enforcement, here he uses them as ways to recognise just how lucky he is to be in his situation. While his teachers would put him down and ridicule him as a teenager, he still managed to achieve success. And while the people closest to him may be unjustly incarcerated, he’s lucky to be a free man. And if the contemplative, reflective nature of this second half shows anything, it’s that it’s clear he’ll no longer take these things for granted.
That isn’t to say that Side B is just Slowthai reaching constant moments of enlightenment over and over in order to make amends to his problems, though. Often, he’s still struggling to work through many of the issues presented in the first half. However, it’s just more as though he’s openly expressing them to a friend or psychologist, rather than failing conceal them through a series of defence mechanisms. In ‘terms’, he discusses his difficult relationship with money and drugs, talking about the habits and dependence that has formed through a long-term relationship with weed, and the debilitating cycle of dealing drugs as his only source of income for a long time.
“Early bird wakes
Catches the worm then reverts to its base, regurgitates (Pow, pow)
And nothing I'll change
Do it again and I do it the same again and again”
And on top of this, the album ends with a poignant and affecting moment that feels like a mental relapse of sorts, with the anger of the first half of the record returning in an explosive final verse on ‘adhd’.
“I got tendencies, psycho tendencies
Touch me tenderly, Heaven, let me in
I think you got amnesia ('Nesia)
And this stress soon to give me alopecia ('Pecia)
And I'm vexed tryna smile like Mona Lisa (Smile)”
It’s a desperate and genuine cry for help, but also definitely feels as though the walls that Tyron has been trying so hard to break down throughout the album have suddenly reformed, even stronger than before. And this ending loops back into the first half quite seamlessly, creating an album that feels like a vicious cycle of struggling to open up, but ultimately being unsuccessful in doing so.
While I think this is a really good album, most of my enjoyment comes in this second half. I don’t personally find Side A to be entirely compelling on its own, even though it works extremely well when complemented by the rest of the record, which gives reasoning and context to the more obnoxious moments. And although Side A does discuss many of the same issues as the second half, it’s often overshadowed by the persona that Slowthai embraces here. As well as this, a clear weakness of the record is that during this first half, not everything really stands out. Side B has enough intricacy and variety to keep it feeling fresh throughout most of its entirety, which is due to some really excellent production from Mount Kimbie, Kenny Beats, and others. Some moments here are also unexpectedly beautiful, such as ‘push’, with Deb Never, and the stunning James Blake accompanied ‘feel away’. But in comparison, much of the first half of the album blends into each other. They’re mostly solid songs, but ‘CANCELLED’, ‘MAZZA’ and ‘VEX’, for example, are all relatively similar enough sounding that the entire Side A begins to feel a flat. On top of this, a lot of their lyrical content is really held together by the context of the second half of the album, so in a vacuum they don’t necessarily stand that well on their own. It’s only in some of the more eccentric moments of this first half, such as the bizarre Playboi-Carti-Sounding outro of ’45 SMOKE’, or the transitionary track into the second half, ‘PLAYING WITH FIRE’, that Side A really shines. The latter of these, in particular, is a great moment on the record, and does a really excellent job of shifting the dynamic away from the trap-heavy beats of the first half, into the gentler and more intimate sound of the second half. However, when I return to “TYRON” in the future, the tracks that I’ll be listening to the most will almost definitely be coming from Side B.
For an album that is essentially split into two very different and opposing sounds, “TYRON” is wonderfully cohesive. The overall structure of the record does a lot for its concept and enjoyability, even though I think it’s relatively skewed in one direction in terms of quality. The two halves complement each other extremely well, and the gentler, softer stylistic shift of Side B actually marks some of my favourite material from Slowthai so far. It’s clear that this marks an extremely significant personal moment for Tyron, hence the choice of making it his eponymous work, and although it’s clear that he has much more room for growth, the fact that he has done such a good job here in being honest and reflective about himself is a sign that he’s really maturing as an artist. Where “Nothing Great About Britain” was a great record that channelled his anger outward onto his growing disillusionment with the country he grew up in, “TYRON” does an equally great job of directing that same anger inward, nurturing it, and attempting to come to terms with himself and his own flaws. I think the direction Slowthai has taken his music with this album is really admirable, and although I’m not a huge fan of some of the material in the first half of the record, the journey he undergoes throughout this is just as interesting to listen to as it is obviously important for Tyron himself.
"Where I should never go
I've got a sickness
And I'm dealin' with it
It feels like I'm sinking
All of the time"