The Sun Never Sets On slowthai

A Far-Ranging Conversation With The Brexit Bandit About Love, Music, And The Not-So-Great Britain

On October 24th 2019 » By Michael Penn II

slowthai

“This is a weird dynamic:

y’all are up there,

and I’m down here…

I feel a bit intimidated.”

As I watch from the GA of a Flume show at Red Rocks, I’m floored at the prospect of Tyron Frampton, 25, being intimidated by anything. Or slowthai being intimidated by anything, at least. But alas, we shared a similar discomfort on that August sunset: slowthai - still clothed for the moment - cliqued up with producer-best friend Kwes Darko, gawking out at a sea of caucasian faces scaling upward on a literal fucking mountain in Colorado. Me, alone, Notes app in palm and no one to hold me down at the Flume show. In fact, none of the rave-ready teens would let my fellow staffers into the section to ride this out together. (It was a small social hell for them to let me sit down.) Neither me nor Ty have done this before. But, if one knows the slightest thing about his stage reputation, Ty’s measures don’t come from desperation. His giant spirit would headbutt a mountain if said mountain talked shit outside the pub on the wrong night.

In under 10 minutes, he’s boxers-only: slowthai on the waistband, these ain’t Calvins! My first observation: well, that’s one way to avoid dirtying up that black maharishi tee; I bet that shit cost a check! My subsequent thoughts border wonder and obvious susception to advertisement:

I charge up the mountain bleachers in my slowthais.

I stare down an arena camera in my slowthais.

I shoot the messenger, shoot ‘em up! in my slowthais.

I tell the crowd to show me they’re alive in my slowthais.

The crowd does not give me much in my slowthais.

The final thought was no fault of Ty’s own; through sweat, champagne, and Kodak moments, the Red Rocks crowd had no time for anything that wasn’t the Flume they paid for. It lived on via Twitter: a barrage of tweets from unconcerned young folks, bashing Ty and JPEGMAFIA for being too weird, too boring, or too unfit to set the Flume stage for two nights. Once both men reprised their support roles from the Hi This is Flume mixtape, the crowd dropped their torches and pitchforks for warm, in-context receptions. I survived on a single bottle of water, watched Flume break plenty of glass, and made it down the hill alive, $80 Lyft be damned.

Earlier that day, it’s a small marvel, watching Ty pace through Twist & Shout Records with his manager, Lewis, and Kews by his side. They read as unnervingly cool, clearly not of Denver, and only so approachable even with a giddy smile to go around. Ty’s thumbing through vinyl, a stack steadily growing in his hand. Eventually, he’s onto the collectibles, fixating on a Child’s Play 3 Chucky Doll and various toys from South Park. The register debate of the moment: does the self-proclaimed Brexit Bandit pay for UK shipping, or just buy another suitcase for the cultural fortune he’s amassed as he roams through the elevation? This question is no small flex for a Spring Boroughs boy-turned Mercury Prize nominee, sprinting across the globe in celebration of his seminal debut Nothing Great About Britain, this month’s Vinyl Me, Please Rap & Hip-Hop Record Of The Month. He’s built his name from a highly-autobiographical vision spinning punk-rap tales from the fringes of the British working class, articulating the beauty and depravity of everyone we’ve forgotten. Therefore, another suitcase proves most suitable.

When one’s accustomed to seeing slowthai find the sea from a toilet bowl, or suffer through pro-Britain propaganda via Kubrickian torture, it’s easy to neglect the pointed intimacy that fuels every romp of a madman. From three feet away in a damp record store office, Ty’s an unbelievably warm presence that will talk at-length about anything that intrigues him. Or life, so to speak: he’s rather enamored by the loaded dance of walking this planet, clinging to a childlike curiosity that enables every passionate tangent. He tells kids not to join the military. He’s inspired by the homeless Chicagoans he engaged with on tour. He’s a child of the Blockbuster era, rubbing alcohol on a scratched disc. He despises liars. He’s the first to admit he only wants to love, and be loved in return. By interview’s end, he’ll give me four dap-hugs, and he meant them all. It’s this burning intentionality, meshed with a riveting attention to detail, that’s made slowthai one of the UK’s most intriguing rap exports of the decade. Even if he doesn’t net the “Kodak moment, Polaroid picture” from the bored mob at Red Rocks tonight.

The following interview was heavily condensed, and edited for clarity. We regret the gems we left on the floor, but we hope you enjoy this selection of slowthai’s insights nonetheless.

VMP: Let’s jump right into it: Nothing Great About Britain as a concept, a function. When I hear it, it proves like it’s a double-edged sword in a way: you’re kind of unconcerned with the glory and the old guard of things, but you still like crumpets in the toaster, you still talk about tea and biscuits and shit. You rap about that shit so often, so as a Brit, how do you handle this dichotomy of reconciling what it means to be British for the good things — for the people — but also knowing all the bullshit?

The things we consider to be British — even though most of them remain inside the community — are the small vibes, the small parts that we forget about. The main point I’m gettin’ across is that out of everything, the only thing that remains true is my family, my friends, the people around me. That’s the realization I’ve come to, that, man… Britain great, and that’s like the greatness that everywhere has, is that we neglect it. And that’s why I feel like even though it’s things that seem relatable only to British people, the underlying message is that worldwide, everyone feels the same. Or if they don’t, they need to because it’s what we forget, and that’s why the world’s coming to a place where it’s all fucked. We’re actually in this together, we’re working toward something, and if we all stick together - forget the bullshit - we’ll come out on top. And that’s the point, man, you can’t get clouded with all the other bullshit, that’s just surface-level shit, man.

There’s something about Northampton, I didn’t know anything about it until I heard of you, until I listened to your music, and going through your shit, I meant to ask you, George, have you given him his copy of the album yet?

No, ‘cause I haven’t seen George, man. He’s one of them guys, he’s always in different spots around the town. So I haven’t had time at home, really, so the times I have been and I’ve walked by, George hasn’t been nowhere to be seen. But I’ve got it for George; it’s at my yard waitin’, and I’ve got a vinyl for him.

How do you describe the U.K. in general post-Brexit for someone who’s never been? Especially for like a U.S. dude, I don’t have the super context for it as someone who would be in the thick of it.

I think at this point in time, the only thing that is a clear sign is the value of the pound. It’s dropping; before, coming to America, you’d get like a $1.50 to the pound, you know what I’m sayin’? But now, it’s just gettin’ lower and lower as the day goes through. So, I think the money so far, but it’s all gonna start changing. I’ll tell you what else I noticed: you know passport control, they have the machines, but only for British people. And if you’re from somewhere else or you’re traveling international, you have to go to the guy and show him your passport. But now they’ve made it so everyone can just scan the thing and go through. Obviously that’s just technology movin’ forward. At this point of time, because we’re still in confusion of it, like we’ve not actually got a deal, and we’re not actually out yet, it’s like, it’s not hit home. It’s gonna be, like, things like, to come to America we’ll need visas, it’ll be, like, you need to apply for a visa to go somewhere in Europe, you need to just pay. It’ll be like you pay tax to basically travel outside the U.K.

Jesus.

And then our trading agreements: because we don’t actually produce that much, we don’t have that many exports. (laughs) We’ve shot ourselves in the foot, man.

It sounds like hell, like a limbo.

Yeah, we’re sat in a limbo, waitin’ for some kind of decision to be made, but it just keeps gettin’ longed out. By next year, we’ll be out, and then we’ll see how fucked it is.

And clearer than it is right now.

There’s no clearer, it’s just the downfall, man. There’s no good to this, it’s just bad.

Especially as much as you movin’ around now, that must be hell.

And that’s the worst thing, is that as soon as you start makin’ it… I’ve been so broke my whole life, and now I’ve started makin’ money that can change my family’s lives significantly, and it’s just going to be of no value. So everything that I kind of worked towards - feelin’ like, “Yeah, we’re gettin’ somewhere.” - they’re gonna half it, like, bam! What you valued as this, is then gonna drop to this. It’s just bullshit.

So, you bounced around a lot: Spring Boroughs, East District, Tasha’s house and the living room… and being half-Black, like, how did people perceive you from a racial standpoint coming up? Because, again, I don’t have a frame of reference for how mixed kids - especially mixed Black kids - are treated in the U.K., what was that like?

Well, Northampton is I think 90-percent white, and it’s a population of 230,000. So, then you figure, how many Black people are there or any [other] ethnicity, it’s mad. But, being from an estate, there were times when I felt it, and times when I felt like I didn’t belong to any group. Because it’s like, “Well, you’re white,” and it’s like, “No, I’m not white.” Or, it’s like, “You’re Black,” and it’s like, “But I’m not, I’m just both.” I’m like, I’m mixed, I’m just a human. And I’ve seen it, moreso with my friends who are full-Black or Asian, and it’s weird.

But now I think we’re gettin’ to a time - or maybe I’m not around it anymore - where it’s not looked at like that anymore, man. It’s not the separation. But then that’s me, just lookin’ at people as people, I suppose, not really surrounding myself with them kind of people. But goin’ in pubs and that, there’ll be certain places I won’t go, because they’d be instantly loookin’ down their nose at me.

But it’s mad, like, everyone on the internet, they think I’m white.

Still?

Yeah, I don’t know.

How does anyone look at you and think-?

I don’t know how they don’t do research, but because I smoke a lot of weed and shit, I’ve gotten pale. And I spend a lot of time indoors, so then…

You’ve been outside, though, clearly.

I’ve been in the sun, and the sun’s beautiful at the minute, man, so… I’ve just been takin’ it, soaking it up and tryna just live my best life.

I also noticed in your Julie Adenega interview right around the time when your album dropped, you said you were crying a lot, like, you were somewhere, you said you felt lost. And now you got sold out dates, you sellin’ out Brooklyn and shit. You got a Mercury Prize nomination! So how have your feelings been fluctuating as you’ve been consuming all these experiences and taking all this new shit in, while the world’s kind of crumbling but you’re comin’ up? Where you at right now?

I’m in the best place I’ve ever been, man. I think that’s what I was confused about, and lost, ‘cause I’ve never been in a place where everything is good. Like, I needed some kind of shit. And I think abusing too much, doing too many drugs and shit, and just bottlin’ it up and never feeling that. And then when it comes to something where I was overwhelmed, it made me just get emotional. I was wakin’ up feeling like, “Fuck, is this real?” And as it started feeling like you’re in some simulation, and it’s like, “This can’t be real!” Because it’s been like… When you’ve had just shit for so long, it don’t feel like it’s gonna get to a place where you’re like, fuckin’, “Aw, this is all good.”

But then… that’s the most saddening thing: that I’m doin’ so well, and then to see other people not, and shit just gettin’ worse. It’s coming to a place where I’ve got to a position where it’s like, “Yo, this is good,” and then the world’s just crumblin’. And you’re just like, “Well, what can I do, how can I help this?” And then sometimes, like, I can do everything in my power, but I can’t change it. It’s the way it is, it just has to play itself out. But blessed, man. I’m not too religious; I was at one point, but I feel like there’s powers inside - whether it’s my dead relatives or the energy that they’ve got above - that are just makin’ everything happen. And it’s the universe, man, I’ve not prayed, but I put it out and thought about this every day since I was a kid.

So, that’s that. Now it’s just settlin’ into it and gettin’ better as an artist, and as a voice for people to hear and make change. Try and do somethin’, man, that’s what I’m aimin’ to do. I don’t want to leave the world feelin’ like all I’d done was recorded music. I wanna try and change something, change people’s lives for the better.

So what do you think, personally and from what people expect of you, what is your responsibility as an artist, especially as one who takes so many explicit stands, especially as a person who is biracial and coming from where you come from, where’s the line between, “I’m just one person,” versus, “I speak for people other than myself, I need to step up for them.” How do you navigate that so far?

I mean, it’s just through my experience. I can only talk what I know, and if I haven’t experienced your life, I can’t talk on your behalf. I can give you my opinion and my perspective, but just one thing about living, man; growing and experiencing it first-hand, and then seeing new things, and then I’ll be able to [talk about that.] My responsibility as an artist is always bein’ true to myself, bein’ honest and making sure I use my voice in a way to inspire people for change.

But at the same time, outside of music, I gotta do stuff. Like, if I go somewhere, and I go and live and help people, [I’d] actually build shelters that go to homeless people. I want to do something where, North Face do these tents, yeah? And they did it before: there’s like a protest, and they basically give all these tents to the protesters so they could have a camp. So then, because homelessness is risin’ in Northampton, I’m gonna get these tents, and then I’m gonna buy a plot of land and set up a place where it’s like, boom, let’s get people movin’, get ‘em on their feet and try and just change stuff.

But that’s outside of music, man. Not gonna lie, I’m tryna do more shit: my brother had muscular dystrophy, so I wanna do a lot of charity work with that. And then at the same time, just keep speakin’ for people. Obviously, there’s times when I wanna have some fun and musically just have the vibe and people enjoy it; as much as you can be serious and talk on politics and be like that, you’ve gotta show people, don’t take life too serious.

Kwes Darko, he’s out there [in the shop:] he handled the majority of the production on the album, so what was it like when y’all were tapped in, so y’all can just tell this damn-near autobiographical story of your life?

So I think at first, we gotta get to know each other, innit? So, we met, and then we just became brothers, man, that’s like my big brother. I feel like we’ve lived a very similar life: growing up in the lower-working class or whatever, surrounded by a majority of white-working class geezers, and people that necessarily wouldn’t take us in. And then we just ended up on this road, and he’s always seen potential in me - potential I couldn’t even see in myself - and believed in me. And he always just allowed me to be myself; he never thought, “Oh, man, leave this here as that.” He more pushed me to just go out, “Do what you wanna do, man.” And then it just all clicked, man, like, we’re just there, chillin’, burnin’ up… boom, start makin’ a beat… it’s like you’re on the same frequency. It just happens. There’s no formula, it either comes out or it doesn’t. I think that was just becoming close enough with him where I felt I could speak my mind and truly open up.

And it took time: we made, like, 180 songs for this album in the space of a year-and-a-half. And I think the majority of the songs that made the album were done in the first half of that. I think it was, “Gorgeous,” “Peace of Mind,” and “Nothing Great About Britain,” we made them all in one day. And then, “Drug Dealer,” “Rainbow,” and the Denzel [Curry] tune that’s not out yet, we all made them in one day as well. Some days it was just comin’, other times it’d be weeks, where we just gotta crack away. ‘Cause when you’re thinkin’ of your memories, it’s hard to truly shine the right light. And I think my mum, and all my family and friends, they’ve seen it firsthand; so, when I played it to them at first, my cousins cried, my mum cried. ‘Cause it’s like, I’m hittin’ the nail on the head, I’m speakin’ it as I saw it - and they see it the same way - so, they’re just like, “Fuckin’ hell.” You have to see it to believe it, and they were seein’ it.

Y’all survived that together.

Yeah, yeah, we made it through, man. And now we’re on to brighter pastures, and that’s the greatest thing: for me to be able to do things, and I go back to my mum and be like, “Whatever you want, we can do that, what’d you want?” And that’s my goal I’m workin’ towards now - ‘cause I ain’t got that kind of money - but gettin’ my mom our own house because she wanted to be an interior designer as a kid, and then I obviously was born, so… (laughs) I want to get her a house, she can interior design that, and then help her find her feet to doin’ that - if that’s what she still wants to do - or she can do nothin’, but my mom’s a workaholic, so she’d never want to chill.

So, “Crack” and “Doorman” in a way shows me you’re really enamored with the idea of love. What’s the healthiest version of a platonic or romantic love that you’re seeking in this lifetime?

I don’t know, I think we confuse love with it just being between two people, and love is, to me, it’s like that feeling you get when you could be in shock, when you’re in the company of someone, when you hate somebody. Because to even feel an emotion, it’s love and hate. Sometimes it pisses you off, sometimes it’s good, but I’ve always just wanted to love. I’m a very loving person, like, I’m very touchy-feely, and if I get to know you, I spend time in your company, I have love for everybody. It’s, like, unconditional as well.

Sometimes it’s like, “Oh, fuck it,” and I’ve felt hate for everythin’; I think it was through feelin’ so much hate and seein’ so much, that all I wanted to do was just give love. With “Crack,” love’s like an addiction; there’s like a lot of addiction in my family, and with myself. You think it’s so good for you - this is more of a relationship thing - and the relationship with drugs, or another human being, you love that thing so much and you think it could be the best for you, but then at times you hate it because it’s the worst for you. There’s no right or wrong with what love is; it’s just love, and it can’t be determined by what or how you love.

Because some people say, “People incapable of loving,” but I’m sure they love something, it just depends what it is, you know? (laughs) And how they feel about things. they might love something that’s [so] out of this world, they can’t experience it. But I think the biggest lesson for me, is that you can’t love anybody or anything without lovin’ yourself first. If you have no self-love, you’ve already lost; you can’t feel it in the right way, you can’t receive it. You believe you can, but you can’t because you are hatin’ yourself. And everything you find that you hate in other people, it’s just the things you hate about yourself, anyway. So it’s like, just bein’ free, man. I hate everything, I love everything, but there’s a fine line; it’s a rollercoaster, and you have to enjoy it.

This is like a perfect segue to what I was thinking, especially with “Peace of Mind,” it makes me ask - that song in particular - which life do you envision that brings you peace, and are you close to achieving that?

Um, no, I won’t be close until I’ve experienced every walk of life, and I can truly understand myself. I think with “Peace of Mind,” we think the grass is always greener, we believe that everyone’s life is all rosy. The Buddha went and sat under a tree and figured out that even if you’re rich you have problems, if you’re poor you have problems, no matter what. There’ll always be problems; that’s the way the world is, it’s the human condition. It’s the endless journey, it’s the human experience; you’ll never know until the day you get to the end, and then whether you reach the next level, at which people say is Heaven. I think it’s another level of consciousness, or you drop down and you didn’t learn anythin’, and that’s what it is.

It’s just about rememberin’ that it could always be worse, and no matter what, everything that seems golden isn’t as golden as it seems. And then you wonder who’s got where they dreamt of and they fought to be, they end up lonely as hell, and they tell everyone it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. That’s why you hear all these.people that’ve got everythin’ sayin’, “I just wanna be back with my friends”

“I got number one albums and I don’t even fuckin’ care.”

Yeah, because that’s all bought, it’s all that superficial shit. It’s about what you feel in here (pointing to heart,) it’s about what you feel when you wake up. Chase happiness, not money, you know what I mean? Spend the money, even if you’ve not got much of it - that’s not a smart thing to say - but like, if you wanna just be happy… That’s why people live in the jungle and they’re forever happy, ‘cause they got none of these material needs or wants. They’re just happy with their family, and they laugh and joke, and hunt or farm, and they got a self-sustaining community, which, people might say that’s a cult…

Some may say.

But I’m tryna make a cult, you know what I mean? (laughter)

Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a Vinyl Me, Please staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.

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