The 24-year-old rapper’s debut LP, Nothing Great About Britain, is a combustible response to a country that can’t stop kicking itself. But he’s still Northampton’s child.
Tyron Frampton was standing on a corner in his hometown of Northampton one night about a decade ago, getting drunk on Lambrini and smoking up with two of his friends, when a 50-something-year-old man with a frazzled, ash-grey beard walked out of the darkness and started up a conversation. Frampton had no idea who this guy was, but one of his friends — “he was a bit more indie” — knew right away that they were listening to Alan Moore, the iconoclastic graphic novelist best known for V for Vendetta and Watchmen. Moore talked for an hour, mostly about his books and the way Hollywood had bastardized and glamorized his ideas. Then he left.
“We didn’t know what to say to each other after that,” Frampton, now 24 and better known as the grime-punk rapper Slowthai, told me last month in the restaurant of a luxury hotel in Downtown Manhattan. “You meet him, it’s like meeting a wizard. He’s just so calm and, like… magic.”
The two have a lot in common. The front cover of Slowthai’s furious debut album, Nothing Great About Britain — out today via Method — has the rapper naked but for a manic grin, locked into wooden stocks in front of the Northampton council estate that he still calls home. It’s the same block of flats that Moore grew up in, and he still lives just around the corner. Northampton — a town of 200,000 people an hour’s drive from London that’s mostly famous for having a fourth-tier soccer team and an effectively bankrupt local council — inspires them both. “The more time you spend in London, the more you become a Londoner,” Ty said, smiling beneath his white Prada bucket hat, knowing full well that I was from London. “I don’t wanna be a Londoner! Growing up, that was hell — being one of them kids who wears Air Force 1s and that. It made me feel sick.”
They also share an uncompromising vision, and Nothing Great About Britain reflects that vividly. The album title is tattooed on Ty’s torso, but both on skin and on record it’s more a provocation than a declaration — a challenge to nasty British masculinity, parochialism, and Brexit-bolstered xenophobia. “Hand on my heart, I swear I’m proud to be British,” he bellows on the title track, and he means it. He loves the country’s “fighting spirit,” “the summer days where everyone gets in their shorts even though it’s fucking 15 degrees,” the sense of community; he hates “the empire we built when we raped and took millions and stole everyone’s culture,” right-wing extremists like Tommy Robinson, the skinheaded racists who seem to multiply every week. He tried to figure this all out at the restaurant, tripping from one thought into the next, but, like most Brits right now, he ended up exasperated. “Wing it until you win it — that’s what it means to me. That’s why I’m proud,” he said before turning away. “I don’t know, man.”