NORTHAMPTON, England — The British rapper Slowthai has a tattoo in scratchy letters on his stomach. It reads, “Nothing great about Britain.”

That provocative phrase is also the title of his debut album, which is due to be issued in Britain on May 17. The release date was intended to coincide with one of the proposed dates for Britain’s departure from the European Union, but the withdrawal from the bloc was postponed twice — somewhat spoiling the symmetry but perhaps underlining the rapper’s point.

Slowthai, whose real name is Tyron Frampton, released his first single in 2016, the year Britain voted in favor of Brexit. As the country’s leaders have squabbled about how and when the country should depart, Frampton has been releasing stridently political tracks and performing them for a growing base of young fans.

His first full-length record is a damning critique of the all-consuming nature of Brexit, which the rapper says overshadows political discourse at the expense of the country’s social well-being.

Slowthai performing at York Hall in London on April 1. At one of the rapper’s typical gigs, he whips the crowd into a fevered mockery of authority.CreditPoulomi Basu for The New York Times

On “Nothing Great About Britain,” Frampton, 24, challenges Britons to question the status quo and to reflect on their sense of identity. “I want to speak about the place that I’m from and what I see as great,” he said of the album in an interview. “It’s pushing you in a direction to ask what actually makes this place a good place.”

Frampton was sitting in his favorite coffee shop in his hometown, Northampton, about 70 miles northwest of London, at the tail end of his “Brexit Bandit” tour. In less than three years, he’s grown a cult following: His single “T N Biscuits” has been streamed more than 5.5 million times on Spotify, and Slowthai was one of 10 artists chosen for the BBC’s Sound of 2019, the national broadcaster’s annual survey of rising music talent.

Through his subversive lyrics and the punk ethos of his performances, Slowthai has tapped into and helped expand an interest in politics among young people in Britain.

One fan, Aidan Ray, 22, said Slowthai was “pushing to give everything he has to all of his fans from all backgrounds.” In that spirit, Frampton recently announced a tour in which tickets cost 99 pence, or about $1.30.


A shirtless Frampton, center, with fans at the York Hall gig.CreditPoulomi Basu for The New York Times

With only a handful of released tracks to his name, Frampton’s fan base has grown primarily through frenzied live performances, which often culminate in the rapper crowd-surfing over his jostling fans.

A Slowthai gig is like a live political cartoon sketch, with the rapper whipping the crowd into a fevered mockery of authority. He leads the audience in shouting foul-mouthed invectives against the British prime minister, Theresa May; against the queen; and against Brexit. At a recent show in East London, Frampton divided the crowd into two groups and had them shout obscenities at each other.

“Everything I’m telling people to say is like football hooligan violence,” he said, explaining that he was trying to demonstrate the futility of tribal behavior. “It doesn’t matter what you believe in, or where you’re from,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what group you’re in, we’re all the same. We all end up in the same-sized box.”

Alex Crossan, 23, an electronic musician who performs under the name Mura Masa and who has produced some of Frampton’s tracks, said the onstage theatrics were “reflective of the attitude in his music.”

“There are two things you need when governments aren’t working for the people: revolutionary politics and revolutionary music,” Crossan said in a telephone interview, adding that Frampton “provides both of those things in equal measure.”

Crossan produced the track “Doorman” on the new album, a tale of a working-class boy on a night out partying with a wealthy girl. Behind the song’s snarling punk melody is an E. M. Forster-like plotline, critiquing class division in Britain:

Doorman, let me in the door
Spent all my money, you ain’t getting no more wages
Sure Sir, Sir, are you sure?
In short, I’m not a mop you can drag ’cross the floor.

Frampton’s mother was 16 when he was born, and his father left the family when Frampton was a toddler. When Frampton was 9, his youngest brother died of muscular dystrophy, a genetic condition, two weeks after his first birthday.

After the boy’s death, Frampton, his mother and four other siblings initially moved to a town farther north, but they returned to Northampton a year later. Frampton’s grief and the upheaval of moving disrupted his schooling, he said, and set him on an outsider’s path. “I always felt just that I didn’t fit into certain groups,” he said.

Julie Adenuga, a host on Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio show, said in an email that people like Slowthai, with working-class backgrounds, were often left out of the political conversation in Britain. Like Frampton, Adenuga grew up in public housing.

“Our upbringing has required us to take different routes because most of the time, we’re not encouraged to be in the same spaces as everybody else,” she said. “Slowthai is an example of how taking a separate path can still inspire change and empower the same young people who are constantly ignored by everyone else.”

As a teenager, Frampton’s reaction to feeling that he didn’t fit in was to act out; in “T N Biscuits,” he describes himself as the “class clown dunce.”

Frampton said that his stage name, Slowthai, was a nickname he had been given when he was 10 — a play on the first syllable of his given name, it was intended as an insult because he slurred his words. He said he had reclaimed the slight when he started making music because he knew it would raise eyebrows in his hometown, where he was known as a rebel.

“It was my diss,” he said. “Everyone used to use it in a bad way and I turned a negative into a positive.”

Crossan, the electronic musician, said that Frampton was a deft hand at turning a situation on its head. His songs have “an excited energy, not a dour message,” he said, that gave listeners “a hopeful feeling and a really positive message wrapped in anger, outrage, and all these other complicated emotions.”

The “Nothing Great About Britain” album is part polemic, part ode to his hometown. The album opens with the politically charged title track, about the police, race and patriotism, and closes with “Northampton’s Child,” a ballad for his mother, whom he hails in the song as his “only queen.”


“I’m just giving the facts that are already there,” Frampton said, “the facts that I’ve been seeing my whole life.”CreditPoulomi Basu for The New York Times

Frampton, who said he voted for Britain to remain in the European Union and supports a second referendum on the matter, said he wasn’t interested in the minutiae of political bickering. “What does it matter about us being part of a union when we can’t resolve the issues in our country?” he said. “Look at the rest of it, what we’re actually forgetting by taking so much time to look at this one thing.”

The album’s promotional campaign has included white billboards erected around London with text highlighting facts about Britain since the May 2016 referendum. One reads “Recorded offenses of hate crime in the U.K. have increased by 123 percent in the last five years”; another says “78 percent of large companies in the U.K. pay men more than they pay women.”

“Community and families are what we’re neglecting,” Frampton said. “This is what’s holding us back as people and instead, we want to look at everything else.”

Grinning broadly and looking out of the cafe window, he added: “I’m just giving the facts that are already there, the facts that I’ve been seeing my whole life.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)