Just 67 miles north-west of London, apart from being the birthplace of grime haunt Sidewinder, Northampton isn't exactly known for its musical innovation. In recent years, grime has become something of a phenomenon, with the likes of Izzie Gibbs, Rawza and Statz making their voices heard from the Shires. But while recognition has been a slow and steady process, Northampton is well and truly on the rise. The latest in the line to shine is the unorthodox rapper slowthai, whose hard-hitting approach really is a breath of fresh air.
Though not prolific as far as releasing music, what we have heard from the beat-making emcee has been nothing short of hard! His debut project, slowitdownn, which dropped earlier this year, gained the 22-year-old hundreds of thousands of plays on SoundCloud, and was his official introduction, perfectly getting across his penchant for braggadocio, mixed with social commentary of the grittier side of life in his place of birth. Project highlight "T N Biscuits" was gritty but bumping, the kind you blare out of your car speaker, with slowthai's erratic vocals piercing through thumping drums; one listen and you feel like he's exorcising some real demons, but in such fashion that maintains his animated steez.
Sonically, slowthai treads lines between hip-hop, garage, and grime—moulding each sound with each other to self-produce a sound that is all his own. It's claustrophobic at times, much like his vocal delivery, and they come together to create a world of chaos surrounding the rapper. But in his arsenal is energy and tongue-twisters aplenty, as evidenced on tracks like "Jiggle".
Digging deeper, there are coherent messages that display how multi-layered slowthai is. On "Netflix +", he speaks of his anguish at the mundaneness of life, with lines like: "Feel I get taxed every time I breathe/Money only clouds my dreams."
The pursuit of riches is of no interest to him, and he doesn't want life to pass him by, striving to make his time on Earth something for the masses to remember. Meanwhile, on "Jiggle", he takes you on an adventure around his Northampton ends, warning you not to roll by unless you want to get "robbed like LIDL". It's this duality—the yin and yang, if you will—that makes slowthai relatable and relevant to young people living in Britain today. Most of us have probably questioned our purpose in life one day, then yelled out allegiance to our respective city the next, and slowthai is no different.
In an interview with The Basement earlier this year, slowthai said of his musical aims: "I was always inspired by the people I was around, like the older people spitting in my area or in Northampton, but I just always wanted to be better than the people that was around me. As long as I'm the best here, it don't matter—I'm the best. My music just stands for being true to who you are."
It's clear that he has fans, too; 2017 has seen slowthai collaborate with a number of different artists. His skills warranted inclusion in the P+F Sounds mixtape, compiled by photography duo Places + Faces, in collaboration with Red Bull, in which slowthai featured in two of the project's 12 tracks, including a solo cut of his own: "CSM". On a tape featuring rising stars Kojey Radical, Daniel OG, Oscar #Worldpeace and Lancey Foux, to name a few, a solo cut is no mean feat. He also lent his skills to a collab with producer JD. Reid on the recently released track "Interior", stealing the show with his unstoppable energy. Having also performed at Boy Better Know's takeover at London's O2 Arena last month, and with a new single ("Murder") out now, it's clear slowthai's making noise where it matters most.
This rising act is here for the long term, and is not forsaking quality for the purpose of releasing bundles of music; less is certainly more for the young emcee. And as his star continues to rise, he hasn't lost sight of himself and has transcended the county of his birth, bringing Northampton Town to greater heights.