Slowthai @ Forum Birmingham, 26th March 2022

Slowthai – On the Highway to Hell

As the nation locked down at the start of 2021, Northampton born rapper Slowthai (Tyron Frampton) locked himself into the studio, providing the finishing touches to his sophomore album ‘Tyron’. Following on from 2019’s post-punk debut ‘Nothing Great About Britain’, album number two solidified the image of Frampton’s eccentric, demented and yet somewhat sensitive alter-ego. A year on from the release of ‘Tyron’, Slowthai is on stage again for an extensive tour of the UK. On March 26th, the ‘Hell Is Home’ tour took residence in Birmingham city centre, bringing to life Slowthai’s critically acclaimed new material.

Tonight’s show is a sellout, 3,000 fans descending to the depths of the newly renovated Forum basement. The venue is a dingy labyrinth underneath the streets, an apt place for hell to call home. Emanating from the darkened stage, the spoken word intro to ‘Enemy’ crackles into life; “send your thoughts to Slowthai, God bless the boy”. Despite the prelude, Slowthai is an artist who needs little introduction. The set-opener takes place against a bioluminescent backdrop, eerily reminiscent of the night-vision visuals in ‘The Blair Witch project’. Slowthai swaggers back and forth across the stage, grinning maniacally between the breakneck verses.

Barely pausing for breath, Thai gives the crowd their first taste of ‘Tyron’, performing album single ‘Cancelled’. Ensuing cuts ‘NHS’, ‘Mazza’ and ‘I Tried’ construct a holistic view of Tyron’s world, from praising British healthcare to berating Northampton drug dealers. ‘I Tried’ is a laidback slice of suave hip-hop, unusually down tempo in contrast with its predecessors.

For fear of slowing down too much, Slowthai ferociously launches into ‘BB Bodybag’, released as a single to his name in 2020. The song reflects the animosities of the time it was first penned, an anxiety inducing, aggressive rap track from Slowthai’s back catalogue.

But such feelings are revelled in by the audience, feelings which were once painful to bear now outpouring into mosh pits. As instructed by Slowthai himself, his fans are here to have a good time. The setlist favours material from ‘Tyron’ again, hitting a sweet spot with ‘Push’. Thai is joined on stage with collaborator Deb Never, whose tender vocals smoothen out the rougher edges of the song. The pair prowl back and forth like a lion and a lioness, Slowthai’s predatory verses tamed by Deb Never’s soothing refrains.

Alone again, Thai turns to older material, picking out tracks from his debut album ‘Nothing Great About Britain’. Double-hit ‘Ladies’ and ‘Drug Dealer’ incites a sense of nostalgia amongst the crowd, impressionable songs written by a more naive artist. Slowthai’s rise to popularity has been as quick as his lyrical delivery, a journey which has accentuated him as an artist and as a man. Gone is the troubled youth who yearned to leave his hometown, replaced by a matured adult who has the global rap industry in the palm of his hand. But behind his berserk eyes and toothy grin, Tyron Frampton’s child-like spirit continues to manifest itself in every song.

Slowthai rounds off the set with four fan favourites, the first of which is ‘Deal Wiv It’, co-written by producer Mura Masa. ‘Deal Wiv It’ leans towards a post-punk origin, staccato bass and obscenely inappropriate lyrics. The next song resides from a similar genre, a cover of ‘Momentary Bliss’ by Gorillaz, on which Thai was a feature. What the song lacks in its missing performers, Slowthai makes up for in abundance, blissfully unaware of their on stage absence. True to form, the closing tracks return to original material. A photo of a baby scan illuminates the screens, Slowthai proclaiming that his son is “the greatest thing to have ever happened” to him. In a moment of sincerity, he drops his alter-ego for a stripped back performance of ‘Feel Away’, an ode to the future of his family.

But for set-closer ‘Doorman’, the brashness of the Slowthai moniker returns with vengeance. The song causes chaos throughout the audience, limbs flying to the terrifying tempo of insubordination. ‘Doorman’ is a defiance of those above you and a helping hand to those beneath; on a societal basis as well as amongst the thrashing pit. Slowthai slips backstage unnoticed by the rapturous crowd, his vocals made redundant by hollering teenagers. An encore is unnecessary on this occasion, the set having already covered an eclectic mix of the best of Thai’s discography. As the lights come up, bleary eyed hoards of fans make for the exit, giving up on seeing any more on stage action tonight. The abrupt and elusive end to the show raises questions about what’s next for Slowthai. His remarkable career has been full of twists and turns: shame at the NME awards, unprecedented collaborations, two acclaimed albums and a sold out headline show across the UK. Wherever the road leads him, Slowthai will arrive with devilish mischief and hellish energy.


Review by George Wainwright


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