Photo: Mike Prior
Differentiating between pride for and blind loyalty to a failing institution is an important distinction that has historically plagued any hope for healthy discourse. More often than not, it is typically met head-on with the conversational roadblock of “Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you get the [insert expletive of your choice] out?” Yet, it is this important distinction and its surrounding moral, social, and political issues that build the foundational crux of slowthai’s landmark debut album, Nothing Great About Britain.
The long-awaited debut album from the critically-acclaimed English rapper arrives as equal parts love letter and biting critique of the Britain slowthai has grown up in and is currently witnessing burn itself down to the ground. Written in a post-Brexit world, Nothing Great About Britain is expectedly grim, but its sonics are anything but. Featuring the likes of Skepta, Jaykae, and Mura Masa and inspired by hip-hop, grime, garage, and a healthy dose of UK punk, the expansive 17-track outing is diverse as the portraits it paints.
Throughout his impressive debut, slowthai draws marked parallels to the Britain of now and the one that shaped him, simultaneously evoking notions of nostalgic naivety and current political outrage. In “Dead Leaves,” we get the all too timely lines, “‘Cause I run my town but I’m nothin’ like Boris/ Tyrant for PM.” Yet, a track later, in the album’s lead single “Gorgeous,” we come across a slowthai that is a far cry from the explosive figure he manifests on and off the record. “Been the same since Game Boys and stick fights/ Stabilize push-bikes, for your shineys jump off the push-bike/ Tony jacked my Yu-Gi-Oh cards/ I’ll allow him, he’s a shook guy,” the English rapper empathetically reflects in a series of lines that could have been ripped from any of our childhood memories.
It is this multifaceted portrayal of slowthai as an artist and human that brings us back to our distinction between pride and toxic blind loyalty. There is a genuinely heartwarming moment to be found in the outro of “Gorgeous,” as slowthai recounts a childhood memory of his stepdad trying and failing to take him to a Liverpool game. From that outro alone, it is readily apparent that slowthai doesn’t hate Britain and the memories of it he clearly holds so dear; he just hates where it is at and dreads where it is headed. This is an album that resounds like a momentous wake-up call for a nation, as well as the debut of a new impossible-to-ignore force in the English rap game.
Listen to Nothing Great About Britain below: