“UGLY:” slowthai’s Hopeful Therapy Session
April 5, 2023
Tyron Frampton, better known by his stage name slowthai, has quickly become one of my favorite up-and-coming rappers to watch. His previous album, “TYRON,” was one of my favorite listens of 2021 as you saw someone who was an angsty grime-rapper, open up about his struggles with anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. The first half of this album showcased what slowthai had been known for since his debut, “Nothing Great About Britain,” punky hip-hop bangers with themes of politics, class, and the internal stresses caused by those topics.
The second half of this album however, we saw a side of Frampton that we’d never seen before. These songs took a more down-tempo, melancholic approach and touched on topics of slowthai’s past relationships, battles with mental health, and even thoughts of suicide. Side B of “TYRON” blew me away on first listen so it came as no surprise that he continued down a similar path with this new album “UGLY.”
Though “UGLY” is similar in theme to the second half of “TYRON,” the sound is much more post-punk inspired and brash. The album starts with one of the best openers I’ve heard this decade so far, “Yum.”
Frampton begins with a spoken-word inspired flow, discussing his therapy experience. The track then slowly evolves into this harsh Nine Inch Nails or Death Grips inspired beat with slowthai chronicling his abuse of substances, sex, and anything that could take his mind off his deteriorating mental state.
The album continues down this heavy path with “Selfish.” This track further cements the ideas of “Yum” and how slowthai fears what others may think of him. “Sooner” and “Feel Good” seem to lighten the mood musically but are still filled with existential bars about suicidal thoughts and trying to remain optimistic while the world around you crumbles.
The track “Never Again” is one of the album’s most gut-wrenching; as you get some of the best storytelling Frampton has penned thus far in his career. The song puts you in slowthai’s place as he bumps into his ex-girlfriend’s parents at the supermarket and learns that she has fully moved on.
We then get an aching chorus with lines like, “I still got pictures on my phone,” and, “I still sleep on your side of the bed.” The subject matter gets even darker as the song goes on, discussing substance and physical abuse in his ex’s new relationship and finding out that he would truly never see her again.
Getting into the latter half of the project, the song “Fuck It Puppet” acts as a midway interlude with slowthai playing devil’s advocate. This is also where we reach the album’s thematic centerpieces of “HAPPY” and “UGLY.” Both songs deal with themes of slowthai wanting to progress and love himself, despite his battles with mental health.
I would describe the last few songs as the album’s “falling action,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t full of strong moments. “Wotz Funny” is the last taste of driving post-punk the album has to offer as slowthai details how the media can make entertainment out of rather saddening issues like poverty and homelessness. “Falling” and “Tourniquet” feature some of Frampton’s most heart-wrenching vocal performances ever as he seems to be at an all time low mentally. The latter is especially moving as the instrumental just builds until nothing but a deafening wall of sound is left to fill the void in slowthai’s psyche.
The album closes on a somber note with “25% Club.” This track is the perfect contrast to “Yum” as it leaves the listener with a keen sense of hope and drive to love themselves despite all their issues, misgivings, and shortcomings, which is ultimately what this whole album is about. Overall, I believe “UGLY” achieves its goal. While many songs on this project may leave you feeling isolated, anxious, or weak, each song carries the same uplifting message throughout, “U Gotta Love Yourself.”
My rating: 9.8/10