UGLY review | Slowthai delivers raw, emotive punk invention

Slowthai delivers some of his best work since his 2019 debut, with a ferociously charged album that returns to his punk-rap roots.


Slowthai’s recent ‘SELFISH’ live stream, which filmed the Northampton rapper imprisoned in a transparent box for eight hours, was an unorthodox promo stunt — even for a controversial artist who’s grabbed headlines for starting a brawl at the NME Awards, appearing onstage in Canada wearing a badly-misjuged anti-Nazi T-shirt, and in more positive news, selling out a 99p ticket tour in minutes.

From the razor-sharp social commentary of debut Nothing Great About Britain to the introspective lyricism of 2021 follow-up TYRON, Slowthai has continually carved out a solo lane across the landscape of UK rap.

Despite his high-profile collaborations with innovative UK rappers like Skepta and Pa Salieu, a punk ethos, connection with the downtrodden post-industrial towns of Brexit Britain, and strong interest in DIY guitar music has always separated Tyron Kaymon Frampton from others within the scene.

Slowthai Ugly

On his third studio album UGLY (an acronym for ‘U Gotta Love Yourself’), all three of these trademark elements are present, but it’s the latter that takes centre stage. From start to finish, the album bristles with distorted rock guitar, moody grunge melodies, and dark lyrics that take us to the depths of the Northampton rapper’s conflicted psyche.

To communicate the addictive urges, depressive episodes, and social dilemmas that have impacted his life during the rise from East Midlands council estate kid to international star, he seeks refuge in a brand of abstract, emotional rock music that harks back to his early love for bands like Nirvana and Radiohead.

Shaping the project around an intimate band mentality, he hones this sound by bringing in vocalists like Shygirl and Ethan P. Flynn, producers Dan Carey and Kwes Darko, plus Beabadoobee guitarist Jacob Bugden and drummer Liam Toon.

At the forefront of the moody bedroom punk sound he creates, Slowthai morphs into a more melodic vocalist, leaning on tuneful hooks in tracks like ‘Sooner’, which features a high-tempo, swinging beat and crisp guitar licks that resemble those of the Libertines in their mid-noughties pomp.


But these pop-rock structures come and go; much of UGLY is fragmented and chaotic, its vocal lines tortured, reflecting themes of mental anguish that are summed up by lyrics like “Excuse me while I self-destruct / Cause I don’t give a fuck”. Featured on album opener ‘Yum’, a thrashing, industrial track that rages about Frampton’s struggles giving up binge drinking and drugs, this lyric is reinforced throughout UGLY, the best example being in ‘Fuck It Puppet’.

Titled after the name Tyron’s therapist gave the self-destructive devil on his shoulder, it’s a dark, disjointed one-minute lyrical battle between the rapper’s dual mindsets, featuring lyrics like “I’m depressed / No you’re not! / Wanna kill myself / Good! You wouldn’t do it anyway bro, you need a push”.

The dark subject matter and unpolished live instrumentation brings to mind Plan B’s raw, narrative-driven debut Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, although it would be unfair to suggest Slowthai hasn’t always had this side to him. He shows the same explosive anger that defined NGAB, directing it towards examining internal conflicts rather than telling the stories of that angry, disenfranchised young man who even threw profanities at the late Queen back in 2019.

You could argue Slowthai is yet to present a body of work as powerful and well-crafted as his debut, but in 2023, he retains a ferocious sense of raw emotion and inventive spark. UGLY, which lurches from moody Cobain-like guitar licks to anthemic screams of “I feel like I’m falling / Like I’m drifting away” (‘Falling’) shows that Frampton’s independent spirit is as strong as ever.

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