Not many UK rappers have the same reputation as slowthai when it comes to live performances. Whether coming out at the Mercury Prize award ceremony holding a severed Boris Johnson head prop, or performing at both Glastonbury Festival and Jools Holland’s show in just his boxers, slowthai certainly knows how to rile up a crowd. Now the time has come for him to continue his bold live shenanigans across the biggest cities all over the UK on his Hell Is Home tour to promote his excellent 2021 album TYRON. Starting in Dublin on the 13th of March and ending with a double bill at the O2 Academy Brixton on the 30th and 31st, I went to his penultimate show.
The Northampton MC isn’t alone for this tour, of course, and has brought with him a slew of special guests to support him. These artists in question are indie-pop songstress Deb Never, London rapper Knucks, American hip-hop artist Wiki and multi-instrumentalist Ethan P Flynn. However, depending on where you see slowthai perform, the support act you get will vary.
For my concert experience, I witnessed support from the former two acts. The sold-out show had fans waiting in a queue that circled the venue. Seeing everyone waiting in either a pair of Jordans, a tracksuit or a Carlsberg in hand made me feel right at home rocking up in my Puma trainers, slim fit joggers and Champion T-shirt. Arriving at the venue, it didn’t take long for some entertainment to fill the stage as we were treated to our first support act Deb Never, alongside her DJ. Never’s young, vibrant attitude came across as really fun and exotic. Dancing and spinning in the air whilst singing with a delicate but strong voice, the set was a blast to watch. The 21-year-old did a great job at setting the tone for the rest of the night, bringing bags of energy and charisma.
Deb Never wasn’t who the crowd were hungry for, as just mere seconds after she walked off stage I heard a repeating chant of “Knucks! Knucks! Knucks!” After 20 minutes the crowd got what they wanted, as the lights changed to a slightly lighter shade of blue and Knucks entered the stage. It was clear how much the atmosphere had improved as soon as Knucks started rapping. More people had joined the crowd since Deb’s set, the rowdier tracks Knucks brought were firing the crowd up, and the bass levels got tested even further. This was pleasing the concert-goers more than the previous act. I too was enjoying the set, as Knucks brought a raw energy that matched what you’d expect to see at a slowthai concert. The rapper also brought out a couple of friends to perform songs that they featured. All in all, after Knucks’s 45-minute set, had ended, I along with everyone else needed a breather before the real show began.
The time was 9:16, the lights were turned off and the show was about to begin. As the hard-hitting bass of ENEMY started erupting from the speakers, the curtain was raised and there, upon a set roof, was the main man himself; slowthai’s silhouette crouched down like a gargoyle. The only lights that shone on slowthai came from the screen behind him, which was playing a video of him being filmed at night time with a night-vision lens, drenching the room in a murky dark green. This mixture of eerie visuals and music made for an intoxicating opening and reminded me heavily of what Playboi Carti has been doing with his live shows. However, the big difference here is that instead of letting the music do the rapping for him, Thai rapped every single word like his life depended on it. No background vocals, just the instrumental. And what a breath of fresh air that was. The ferocity didn’t end there, with the fans getting their first TYRON track of the night; CANCELLED ft. Skepta. Skepta needn’t be present to rap the chorus, as the crowd recited it word for word in roaring numbers. The track ended after slowthai’s verse, giving everyone a 10-second break before the 1-2 punch of WOT and DEAD. It was now time for slowthai to allow for some more somber cuts from his latest project, those being nhs and i tried. It’s important to note that before going into i tried, slowthai spoke to the crowd whilst sitting on his set chimney and explained how the next song was for those people going through a tough time. He also spoke briefly of his past suicidal thoughts, proving hopefully that if he can get through his demons, you can too. It was a touching moment and one that everyone seemed to connect with as it gathered cheers and claps from pretty much everyone attending. As i tried came to an end, slowthai finally climbed off the set roof and ran on stage with none other than British rapper Pa Salieu to perform his song Glidin which featured our headline act. The two performers had a great sense of chemistry on stage and brought a new emotion to the show. We’d had creepy, we’d had heavy and we’d had melancholic, but now was the time for good old fashioned fun. This could not have been more exemplified than with the next track, MAZZA. As the crowd screamed in unison the iconic phrase “mazzaleen”, a huge wall of fire shot up from the stage, catching everyone off guard and reducing most of us to scream and shout in excitement. The use of pyrotechnics at a concert is nothing new, but it was to us on that night. We had no idea it was going to be used, but there’s no better song to introduce it in than TRYON’s biggest banger.
After a couple more tracks, including VEX and Psycho, the Nothing Great About Britain rapper treated us to a new track from his upcoming project. It seemed to go down quite well, mainly due to the crowd’s only rule (set by slowthai before playing the song) being to raise our middle fingers in the air and scream “f*ck my opps” at the top of our lungs. I’ll admit it was fun and was surprised to hear new music from someone who only just released their latest record less than 14 months ago. It wasn’t the only new song we got to hear either, as two more got played throughout the show. slowthai chopped and changed where he performed during the gig, but what he never changed was his mannerisms. Demonic smiles, wide, staring eyes, eyes rolling to the back of his head (usually accompanied by laying out his tongue, as if he were being possessed) and a generally evil presence. It was like watching a villain succeed, and he made it feel so right. However, these theatrical and over the top expressions weren’t the only side of slowthai the rapper we got to see. We also saw the other side of slowthai, the human being Tyron Frampton.
Most notably near the end of the show, when he announced he and his fiancé were expecting a child. The news of slowthai becoming a father was especially touching and reassured us that the ‘Drug Dealer’ persona wasn’t the only version of the man we saw that day. Footage of the child inside his fiancé’s womb filled the screen during the show’s closing moments of feel away and brought everyone together to sing along to one of the most emotional cuts from his latest album. At 10:24 pm, slowthai left the stage to thunderous applause. However, we knew that wasn’t the last song we were getting that night. There was one more song to be played. Before slowthai could even walk off the stage, the crowd chanted in demand of Doorman, the rapper’s most iconic song. It took just one minute for the infamous intro to kick in, giving us one last chance to give it our all, and that we did. As did slowthai, who gave his all the entire show.
As concerts go, you can’t get much better than what I experienced at the O2 Academy Brixton last week. 24 tracks oozing with atmosphere, emotion and a level of theatrics that only slowthai’s personality could make work. So no, he didn’t come out holding the severed head of our Prime Minister, nor did he strip down to his tighty-whities, but what he did do was perfectly execute his vision and put on a real show.