Sound of 2019: slowthai 'telling the story of the people for the people'

By Kev Geoghegan
BBC News reporter

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Slowthai: 'As an artist I want to go to the limit and then over as far as I can take it.'

He's either a grime MC making punk music or a punk making rap music. Either way, slowthai - number four in the BBC's Sound of 2019 - is unlike any artist to emerge from the past 12 months.

The 24-year-old "class clown dunce" and his nihilistic, often funny tales of petty criminality have taken the music industry by storm with effusive praise for his energetic live shows.

Born Tyron Frampton, slowthai was brought up on a Northampton council estate nicknamed "The Bush".

Raised by a single mum, his name comes from his childhood habit of talking slowly (Slow-Ty). But his vocals are anything but as he spits lyrics with the furious pace of a young man who has much to say, whether it's about race...

Brown sugar never been so sweet / But vanilla ice cream is my favourite dish / Blacker the berry, the sweeter the drip - make a cheesecake, last bit, we can split it / Why you care what my pigment is?

...or a tribute to the women in his life.

This one's for the ladies / 'Cus they have our babies / And they drive us crazy / But they made us men.

The issues of class, unemployment, hopelessness and and feeling like a outsider also loom large in slowthai's work. In Doorman, he writes about dating a girl from a different social background:

Doorman, let me in the door / Spent all my money, you ain't getting no more wages / Sure Sir, Sir, are you sure? / In short - I'm not a mop you can drag 'cross the floor.

He released his debut track, T N Biscuits, in 2017.

Hi slowthai! We hear you just got back from South Africa...

I was there for a gig, it was amazing. I never thought I would go to South Africa to play a gig but to get there and see people going crazy and knowing all the tunes... it's a completely different way of life out there but it was beautiful to see, it was a pleasure, a blessing man.

What is it about your music that makes travel?

Over there, people feel alone, it gives them a sense of - no matter where you are, there is somebody out there that has a similar understanding or viewpoint or perspective. It's connection to the music. Anywhere you go, where people are at the bottom, we've all got the same outlook on life and want to strive for more. It shows people that haven't got much, I haven't got anything, that they can do whatever they want to do.

What's been the standout moment of 2018 for you

Probably going to Dubai and going to South Africa, shutting it down. Also my first tour, I never believed that we'd get that far selling out a European tour. I wouldn't say that was one specific point because they all amount to something. Just being in the position I've been in, from where I was last year, it's life-changing. I never expected to be anywhere so to have done it is just crazy

Congrats on making the Sound of 2019 top five...

It's crazy man. As a kid you always looked to BBC Radio and think that's how you make it, so to be acknowledged, it's a blessing man, to put something out into the universe and it gives it back.

What does it mean to a kid from a Northampton council estate to be on the list?

I don't know if there's ever been anyone from Northampton on there. It gives people back home confirmation that something is really happening. It shows them that they can do whatever they want, if I can do it. The majority of people who know me, know the situation I'm from. They can be like, 'He's strived, he's stuck to what he's doing and he's got somewhere.'

Image source, Burak Cingi

Are there many opportunities for young musicians in Northampton?

It's always been a band town, there's always been good music but never a strong scene to keep it going. People want the quick and easy route, they give up too easy, but it's coming to a point where everyone is picking back up the instruments and starting to get involved.

Is your plan to stay based in Northampton?

I don't believe in the whole thing of staying anywhere - we are meant to explore, to travel and meant to spread our roots. (He recently toured Europe and South Africa). I'm trying to go everywhere I can and connect with people who feel the same way who haven't got much and give them a voice and let them know they're not alone, not just in Northampton.

You've already had support from Radio One with a Hottest Record, that must have been cool?

It was a shock and a surprise, I've had three Hottest Records, I think Polaroid, Rainbow and Doorman and it's been a blessing. It shows you don't have to make poppy music. I need to do that every time now though. Every time I release a new record, it has to be the hottest.

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In terms of songwriting, your life has changed a lot for you. How will that affect what you talk about in your music?

I led a life before music and I've got so many stories to tell - I've not got to this point in time yet. I feel like when people are talking about how they make music or how they are the biggest rapper, I don't understand how that's relatable to people. I don't want to write about catching flights or how nice my life is; it will be more about what I see on my journey. I always want to talk about real life not about material possessions. I've got to tell the story of the people for the people and not for celebrity or fame.

How do you think you will avoid the trappings of fame?

Everyone that's on my team, that I make music with, is a friend. I don't make music with anyone - I have to connect with them first. I still have the same friends I had from before I was making music, I've still got all my family and any time I'm getting too big for myself, they will tell me.

None of that stuff has ever appealed to me really, I mean I would like diamonds and jewellery and flashy things like other people but it's not fundamental to my every day. It's about going and picking up cultures, I'm going to places where people won't go because they're scared of getting robbed and spending time with people who are living real life and that's how I tell the story and keep it real, regardless of how big my bank balance is.

What are your hopes for 2019?

Just happiness, man. All I strive for is just to be happy, make music, explain where I am in life to other people. I just want to have a good time, that's all. I'm in this because it makes me happy, that's all I want.

What would you be doing now if it wasn't for the music?

I'd probably be in jail now or doing something silly. Just in an all-round bad place.

Does music have a stabilising influence on you then?

It's my expression, it's a way that I can fully release. You get lost in it, it's my escapism when I'm feeling something or have pent-up aggression, I can explain to myself and talk to myself and give myself a good reason to live. Just taking a bad situation and making it good.

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