“We’re in a time where everything’s become stagnant and no-one speaks for the people,” says Slowthai. “I just got fed up and wanted to say the truth.”
The Northampton-born rapper and self-styled “Brexit Bandit” is explaining the thinking behind his debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, a sabre-toothed polemic that questions what it is to be British.
Songs like Inglorious, Doorman and the title track sizzle with sharp observations about the monarchy, the police and the far-right – but the focus of his ire is the way the government’s decisions filter down and have an impact on people’s real-life problems.
“This album is recorded for the people from small communities that have been forgotten about,” he tells the BBC. “It’s for the people who feel they need it.”
Released in May, the album went straight into the top 10, and triggered one of Glastonbury’s most compelling performances: Slowthai, dressed in just his boxers and socks, conducting a chaotically demented mosh-pit at the front of the West Holts stage.
His live shows, like his music, are infused with furious urgency – but in person, Tyron Frampton (for that is his real name) is quietly spoken, considerate and ever-so-slightly bashful.
Ahead of this week’s Mercury Prize, where he’s the bookies’ favourite to win album of the year, the 24-year-old sat down to discuss the making of his album, his friendship with Stormzy, and his five-year career plan.
Congratulations on being nominated for the Mercury Prize. How does it feel?
Ecstatic. It means the world to me. I’m not good at articulating how things like that make me feel – but it makes me feel like I’ve got daisies in my stomach. I’m nervous and shy.
For people who haven’t heard Nothing Great About Britain, what’s it about?
It’s about community. It’s about remembering the people around you, and remembering that’s what makes this place great.
Things like gentrification, they’re trying to push all the communities away and we’re losing that sense of togetherness – which is the thing that actually makes Britain great. Or any place in the world great. We all have to work in unison to make things better.
What do you remember about making the album?
The studio was dark, it was sometimes very hot, very smoky. I’d sleep on beanbags. I spent a year sleeping on beanbags. The little balls came out, so the beanbag went flat.
There were a lot of stressful times and a lot of facing up to emotions. You have to go through pain to get to a brighter future.
It’s a record that straddles punk and grime and hip-hop. Have you been surprised at the range of people who come to the gigs?
Nah, it’s one of them things. People who connect with it – it doesn’t matter [their] colour, creed, sexual orientation – they’re taking the moment to see what it’s all about and they’re feeling it. That’s a blessing. Everyone’s part of the movement.
I loved the way you worked the crowd at Glastonbury. Where did you learn that stagecraft?
I think it’s just from doing it. When you first come out and it’s all new to you, you’re going like a bullet from a gun. You’re on 100% the whole way through. But dynamic is everything. In any artform – film, music, art, dance – it has to have ups and downs, like life. You have to take people on a journey.
You talk about your mum a lot on the album. Has she ever made it into a mosh pit?
She actually did, when we played York Hall!
My mum’s young, so she’s mad bubbly and she’s always been on the raves. She loves the mosh pit – she’d rather be in there than watching from the back. She wants to see what it’s all about, and she loves the music, so it’s like a blessing, I suppose.
The other thing that happened at Glastonbury was Stormzy calling you one of the best new talents in British rap during his headline set. What did you make of that?
I was in the crowd watching it. He wasn’t just making history, he was pushing our culture forward. Regardless of a shout-out or any of that, seeing him do his thing was beautiful. You can’t ever hate on that. He’s an inspiration to me.
Instead of basking in the spotlight, he was humble enough to recognise the musicians who’d paved the way for him, and to elevate everyone who might follow.
That’s the thing. That’s because he’s been part of it and seen everyone struggle – and now that he’s actually come through and bust down the door, he’s trying to make sure we stick together and push things forward. Because through that it’ll just get bigger and become a movement that no-one will be able to stop.
For him to take the time to do that, and not to make it all about himself, it shows you everything you need to know about his character. He’s so humble and grateful. He’s a beautiful soul.
Could you see yourself up there on the Pyramid Stage?
Yeah definitely. Next year.
It’s booked already?
Yeah, after another album it’ll be undeniable! I want that same slot, man. Me and Stormz can do it together.
Wait, you mean the second album’s coming soon?
As soon as I finish.
You’re not hanging around, are you?
Nah, man. The whole time I was making Nothing Great About Britain, I’d already planned out my next few albums. You’ve got to be 10 steps ahead of everyone else or you get left behind.
How far into the future have you planned?
I’ve got my next two projects, definitely. I’ve got the concepts and I’ve got the ideas and I’ve got the titles. I’ve even got names of songs and the messages. It’s all there – I just have to go in and do the work.
Everyone’s telling me I should bask in the moment and absorb it – but I want to push forward.
The first album is broadly autobiographical – so will that be the connecting thread?
It’s social commentary. It’ll be all social commentary – but I feel like, to evolve, I can’t just keep doing the same old thing. I’ve got to look for other angles to explain and express things. That’s the challenge.
It’s a shame there isn’t more happening in the news for you to talk about….
[Laughing] Yeah, yeah, but it’s not about being relevant to what’s going on right now. It’s taking that stuff and painting a bigger picture with it; getting into the nitty-gritty of things.
But also I want to uplift. On the first album, I was down. The next one I want it to be more about lifting people and fighting against everything that holds us back as people.