It’s no secret that Slowthai is poised to become Really Quite a Big Deal this year, but with debut album ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ dropping into a storm of hype, it’s a make or break moment for the Northampton MC.
So how does he do? Pretty well, as it turns out. Previous singles like ‘Doorman’ and ‘Peace of Mind’ hit just as hard second time around, and the majority of the new tracks reach the same quality without breaking a sweat. Verses from Jaykae and Skepta seem like they could be in danger of overshadowing Slowthai, but actually do more to show how gifted he is as he goes toe-to-toe with artists at the top of their game and holds his own.
If there’s one criticism of the album, it’s that it can feel a bit scrappy in places. There are points when songs fade out into chatting and messing around in the studio, but instead of lending the air of a mixtape, they just make it feel a bit frayed at the edges – like someone at a house party playing around with the aux cord. It’s a minor complaint, and one that’s no doubt an intentional choice, but it does grate on repeat listens.
Taken as a whole, ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ paints a portrait of a childhood spent on council estates, struggling to get by and constantly short of money. It’s a political record, but one that turns inward more than it calls out those in power – there are more lyrics about the sheer desperation of life on the breadline than angry accusations levelled at those responsible. The underlying feeling is still one of rage at the Tory government (backed up by a string of promotional billboards highlighting social issues in the UK) but the album manages to avoid becoming an on-the-nose assault on the political classes.
This turning inwards brings in the good as well as the bad. Slowthai’s mum is held up as an example of someone who prevailed against the odds and did everything she could for her family, and the council estate is shown not just as a place of violence, but of community too.
Scrappy or not, ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ is a triumph of a debut, genre-straddling, quick-witted and, most importantly, very fun to listen to. In it, Slowthai sticks two fingers up at the Britain of blue passports, the royals and the Tory party, while simultaneously raising up the alternative Britain, one of family and working-class pride.