If “nhs” and “feel away,” hinted that British rapper Slowthai’s upcoming album TYRON would see more tender lyrics and softer melody, his newest single reminds fans that he can still replicate the success of last year’s Nothing Great About Britain. The song, aptly titled “Thoughts,” is a blistering stream of consciousness which feels as cold and distant lyrically as the best tracks on NGAB.
Rappers usually approach their sophomoric attempts with greater confidence; for Slowthai, that means opting for limited production to foreground his caustic vocals. On both “nhs” and “feel away,” production flourishes felt secondary. The vocals shown through in the mix, departing from the more aggressive instrumentals on NGAB. “Thoughts” similarly values Slowthai’s vocals, but JD. Reid’s production feels rawer and more engaging than TYRON’s two singles. A throbbing bass runs under a glistening keyboard and a droning synth loop. Boom-bap kicks and snares set the pace, giving the song an alluring and off-putting ‘90s veneer. The dissonant horn melody recalls the best of Outkast. While ceding center stage to the sixty-eight bar verse, the production satisfies and unnerves, to great effect.
Slowthai raps brilliantly over the spare production, taking his song-writing to new heights. At first, one worries he will stumble over clichés: “there’s a fine line between love and hate,” he opens. But what appears as empty profundity spins into a web of internal contradictions and bleakly comic hyperbole. On the sixth bar, he raps that he’s considered killing his parents. The reason? His idols have become his rivals. By taking a hip-hop staple and following it to an exaggerated conclusion, Slowthai deftly mocks hip-hop convention without dismissing it entirely. Such impulse made NGAB a bruising and funny masterpiece. It also eschews the self-seriousness which plagues rappers as they rise in stature. In effect, Slowthai’s wit and outward contempt stay fresh without sounding juvenile or whiny.
The highlight of the track, however, is Slowthai’s flow, which give his lyrics the legs to run roughshod over Reid’s beat. From the jump, Slowthai raps quicker than the beat normally allows, creating space for himself between breaks while pausing in the middle of bars. It’s a perfect flow for the ominous instrumentals, and it only gets better as the song develops: Slowthai gets faster, louder, and pitchier in his delivery. The whole sound is off-kilter, matching the ominous throb of the beat. TYRON is scheduled to release February 2nd. “Thoughts" indicates Slowthai will deliver.