Slowthai is the most compelling MC in Britain. For now. And Nothing Great About Britain promises to be the searing polemic we all need.
But polemicists often find a home along the cutting edge of hip-hop’s rapidly shifting frontier. An affinity for abrasion and aversion to compromise makes hip hop fertile ground when it comes to sharing hard truths.
Boy, are there some truths worth sharing at the moment.
The country’s colonial legacy; authoritarian institutions; the rise of the far right; lad culture; door prices – all are thrown aggressively into the spotlight on the MC’s debut.
But then again. The pitiful state of the world around us is hardly new news. Indeed, hip hop and punk, the spirit of both finding a home in Slowthai’s music, owe their long legacies to the world being persistently shit.
On the acerbic opener Showthai slurs “I’m a product, yea they made me.” Another fiery comeuppance, then, back to bite a brutish system?
At his best moments, though, the Northampton MC tweaks all that’s gone before him. Slowthai pairs a sense of resigned humour with a welcoming familiarity.
‘Doorman’s immediacy doesn’t come from the track’s breakneck pace, but rather from the fact that everyone, everywhere has had a run in with door staff. Everyone, everywhere, has been fucked off by the cost of a night out. “Spent all my money, you ain’t having any more.” Too right.
The blare of an iPhone alarm that opens and recurs throughout ‘Peace Of Mind’ is another in-joke everyone’s part of. The hostile klaxon we all depend on and fear. The fact that it appears with one of the album’s more compellingly introspective track shows how deep this pseudo-humour runs.
Which perhaps makes the posturing of, say, ‘Deadheaven’ seem a bit wearying. Whether and how Slowthai ‘runs his town’ isn’t really interesting. More importantly, it isn’t endearing, and what’s great about Slowthai is how likeable he is in his grievances.
Similarly the Peter Pan idealism of ‘Grow Up’ drags, undermining moments of worldly insight with its naivete – “Why waste your life trying to grow up when you can enjoy it every moment? Don’t get old, be bold. Don’t get told, be bold.”
But Nothing Great About Britain makes the most of its contradictions. It sketches both sides of a coin while polishing neither.
Despite its title, Slowthai promises “Hand on my heart I swear I’m proud to be British”. When he raps “Bottle of Bucky in Buckingham Palace” you might wonder which half of that pairing is supposed to be grotesque. When ‘Crack’ likens romantic attachment to drug dependency, it’s hard to say whether it’s a grossly offhand reference to the country’s substance problem or a revitalisingly direct attempt to parse love into lived experience.
It’s neither flawless nor visionary. But an attempt to be either would detract from the amiable, relatable core that drives Slowthai’s music. He isn’t ‘the most compelling MC in the UK’ thanks to devasting lyrical dexterity, or forward-thinking beats. It’s because he’s so easy to relate to. What he says makes sense. When clarity and ferocity come together, that’s something approaching compelling. Even if it’s inevitably impermanent.
NOTHING GREAT ABOUT BRITAIN BY SLOWTHAI IS OUT NOW ON METHOD RECORDS. ORDER HERE.