A Rose By Any Other Name
If there's anything you can take away from his debut studio album, "Nothing Great About Britain," it's that his sound is inextricable from his character, his essence. No one else could have pieced that puzzle together with that same wit, edge, and experiential poignancy. Using his medium to tackle some of the UK's looming issues such as class hostility, a widening poverty gap, and Brexit, the rapper demonstrates with striking veracity just how powerful ones artistry can be when it emanates from a genuine place. Slowthai is unabashedly himself and unapologetically so, and everything about this album, down to the last lyric, is a testament to that fact.
He reminds us why we love music, why we need music, and why music is the unofficial language of the universe. Good music doesn’t determine what we wear, where we go, and who we want to go with. Good music doesn’t put us in a box. Good music sets us free, it enables us (if only for the duration of a forty-minute hazy back alley rendezvous) to forget all those trivialities that tear us apart and to remember all those beautiful things that bring us together: fun, freedom, and that nagging little impulse in the back of everyones mind to just wanna fuck shit up.
But that's just the currency his sound deals in-the bounce of his beat compells you to leave it all that toxic whacked-out bullshit on the floor and walk away (sans 3lbs) with a clear mind, a full heart, a dopey smile, and the stench of a good ass time. In a monotonous world chocked full of sheep, I can rest easy at night knowing there are a couple of Slowthai’s in the mix to shake shit up on the pasture. What you see certainly isn’t what you get, it’s a hell of a lot better.
Read our interview the rapper below.
Hit me with the basics.
I’m Slowthai, I’m from the UK, from North Hampton, a small town outside London, I’m 24, I make music.
Nice. Describe your sound identity in one movie title.
Inglorious Bastards- it’s that feeling of being at war and then finding the calm in the war, and then outsmarting your enemy and killing them, I suppose.
Damn, yo, ok! What’s your sign, I’m getting some major fire vibes.
I’m a Sagittarius.
I’m a Gemini, we’re opposites! An iconic duo. Someone living, dead, fiction or non-fiction that would be the funniest and/or most satisfying to punch in the face?
Ahhhh, there’s so many! Probably Hitler.
You can do better than that, everyone wants to punch Hitler in the face.
Margaret Thatcher, but she’s a woman so I feel like I can’t say that.
You can say that! This is office, anything goes up in here.
It’s weird, you don’t really think about who’s dead that you’re down to punch.
They don’t have to be dead, they can be alive.
Donald Trump! Donald Trump indefinitely, I’ll deck him. I probably shouldn’t say that, I won’t be coming back!
He’d be good, I feel like his tupe would get rocked.
Yeah, I’d send it up, I’ll uppercut him so hard that his hair would go flying into the next stratosphere.
I’ve never punched anyone in the face, at this point I’m saving it for a really good person because there’s so much riding on that first punch, you want it to be fantastic.
Save it for the perfect chum, you don’t wanna punch just anybody, you want to save it for the one that needs it.
As an artist, what do you think the relationship is between intention and reception?
I think that they’re both the same thing because in order to send your message, to get it across, you have to have that intention behind what you want to do, and people have to receive it the way you want it to be received. But at the same time, it’s open for interpretation; I think that’s the most important thing about music or art, that it means completely different things to every person, so if it relates to you in a different then that’s the way it’s meant to be. But while intention and reception are both important, they both have to be top [notch], intention always has to be paramount, because otherwise you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
I agree with that. Do you think as someone who has a platform, someone who people look up to and want to follow in the footsteps of, do you feel that you have any obligations to your audience?
I think that you’re not that obligated to do it for them because you should always be making your art for yourself. But if you have a point and a message to put across and you wanna say something that makes people wake up and think for themselves, you need to use your platform. Now I’ve got a voice and people take me seriously, I have to bring light to things that I disagree with and that I don’t like. Otherwise I’ll just be turning a blind eye. You give your opinion on how the world should be and hopefully everyone receives it the same way or they don’t, or you give them the opportunity to think for themselves. You gotta say something on your platform, otherwise you’re just like everything else, just like all those people who only care about what they look like.
This is a very interesting time to be alive just because there is so much of that.
Yes, exactly-nobody cares about values, everyone just cares about how they look, how they appear to others.
And most of these people, they have sense, they have a view, but they feel like it would be corny, they don’t want to put themselves out there in that way because they feel like it ruin their image. I think that’s the thing that gives younger people the view that I’ve got to look this way, I’ve got to be this way, when it’s truly about being content with yourself just the way you are. If you don’t have that much, make yourself in your mind feel like you’ve got a million things, make yourself internally rich than focus all your energy and time on what’s on the external.
One hundred percent. Quick one, dogs or cats?
Yeah I can always sniff another dog person out. Cat people I don’t trust, they’re a little wonky, a lil off.
See I like cats but I’m allergic, I can’t breathe, it’s horrible, man. It’s funny, we were talking about dogs and cats yesterday, about which one you would eat if you were on a desert island. I was like I couldn’t eat either, cause cats, ugh, and personally I don’t think they’ll be very nice. And dogs, I love dogs too much. If you left a dog in the room with someone who died and the dog was starving, the dog wouldn’t eat the person, but if it was a cat it would eat the fuck out of you. It’s like a snake-that’s why you’re never supposed to put your snake tank next to your bed, because all night they’ll be sizing you up, constantly stretching itself out, eating to the point where they’re big enough to eat you.
Oh shit, I did not know that and I’m not sure I wanted to know that.
I love snakes but they can’t be trusted.
No allegiance-dogs have allegiance. Cats will sell you down the mother fucking river.
Loyalty! Cat’s, they don’t really have it, they’re stray, they’re out there tryna fuck everything! That’s why when you have a female cat it comes back and its pregnant.
That question took a nice lil turn. Where do you consider to be the most sacred place on earth?
Your body, it’s your temple, it’s the most sacred place because you have to live with it for the rest of your days. But other than that I would say Mecca. The pilgrimage of going there, the 3 belief system the discipline, how they all bond together and go to one place, that to me you can’t really beat.
I agree, its beautiful. Do you come from an Islamic background?
No, I don’t. All my friends who went to jail converted to Islam. Islam has always interested me but I feel like my religion is myself. Ha, that sounds bad! I mean my belief in me, my belief in the people around me. I don’t feel you need a rule set but I believe that religion in general is something that people need because it gives you faith, it gives you hope. They need to believe in something and they need guidelines, and anyone who follows those guidelines tend to be the happiest people in the world.
It’s funny you say that because I just interviewed a prisoner at Rikers Island and faith came up, it seemed easier for him to rationalize the actions that led up to his incarceration because of his faith. And when were having this discussion all I could think in the back of my mind was what a cop-out that mentality was. But as our discussion progressed the more I understood that if he didn’t have that belief system, if he didn’t truly believe that everything happens for a reason, that god will always forgive you for your actions no matter what, I don’t know what he would have.
Yes, and that’s where you get lost, on the other side of the fence. Life is about exploration and experiences. If you feel like you can only go somewhere if god tells you to, that cuts off a lot of opportunities. There are people in the world that can cope with that, faith and belief-they can find it another way or in other things. And others, they need a belief system, a set of rules and guidelines, otherwise they’ll go crazy.
It’s such a slippery slope.
That’s why I say you are your own most sacred place, because it’s only what’s paramount to you that means anything, if it doesn’t mean anything to you then what’s the point?
If you were to get rid of one of your limbs, which one would it be and why? That’s tough, I love all my limbs! I’d probably get rid off...I’d get rid off...probably...my...right arm.
You a lefty?
Nah, I’m a righty, but I’d get rid of it cause then it would force me to make this one stronger. I couldn't take anything else because my brother was disabled, he was paralyzed from the neck down, so that wouldn’t feel right saying my legs could go. So my arm, but only to make myself stronger.
Ok, ok, I like that. Make a three course meal that perfectly encapsulates your personality.
It don’t have to be fancy, right?
No, no, of course not!
Alright, so for the starter, I’ll probably have cereal, cocoa pops. That’s my favorite cereal cause when it goes soggy it becomes chocolate milk. Either them or Lucky Charms because of the marshmallows, but we already get them back home, so it wouldn’t be a treat. For the main I’ll go with a sunday dinner, so a roast. Chicken or beef, and there’d be beef with horseradish sauce on the side.
Whaa, is that a thing?
Yeah, with beef it’s bangin’. Then you get roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, some broccoli...Oh, if it weren’t that it’d be sticky jerk wings, macaroni pie, and broccoli and dumplings.
Yo this is one of the wildest meals I’ve ever heard of.
For afters, a battered Mars Bar-you get a Mars Bar and you deep fry it with batter, and then when you eat it it’s all gooey inside. Then for a drink, I would probably have a pint of lager. It would be either krombacher or kronenbourg, I think they’re pretty British. There’s a meal.
Why all these things?
Because roast is my favorite meal, it’s the things I live for-battered Mars Bar I grew up eating as a kid. Cereal cause I’m like the kind of person that eats cereal all day, so I’ll eat that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And Cocoa pops are mixed race, so I’m chocolatey, I’m good, a lil’ bit of everything!
A lil’ bit of everything, a mixed bag! You added in the drink I didn’t even ask for that, but you need something to wash this all down with.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you need something to accompany the meal. Or iced tea cause I’m tea, I’m Thai.
How do you think your upbringing has translated to your sound?
With "Nothing Great About Britain", specifically, I was trying to talk more about my experiences growing up and how I’ve lived. I think your upbringing is fundamental because you’re a product of your environment and how you’re raised-your personality comes from your parents, it comes from your friends, your family. I was always given a freedom, I was always allowed to be who I am, I was never forced into anything of any kind and that taught me to make do with what I have. Maybe that’s why my sound is so DIY. It taught me to believe in myself, to believe in the people around me, its taught me not to care about money so much. It plays every part, it’s fundamental to my sound identity because without my upbringing, I would have nothing to talk about. I wouldn’t have my personality or my music.
That’s beautiful. Do you know MFK? Marry, Fuck, or Kill. Meghan Markle, Satan, Homer Simpson.
I’d fuck Satan, kill Homer Simpson cause I feel like he needs to be strangled for what he done to Bart, Bart always getting abused and layed flat. I’d probably marry...it could even be fuck Meghan and marry Satan, cause that would be fun, indulge in the darkness, sacrifice some shit. You live in the heat, we all love the sun, you know what I’m saying! You raise the dead, like it’d be a party down there. Meghan is nice, she’s kinda cute but I think her personality is boring, like a coke thats got no bubbles. Yeah I wouldn’t kill her, I’d kill Homer, I’d definitely kill Homer.
Who do you think you were in your past life?
Sid Vicious. I just relate to him, not like I want to kill my girlfriend...only sometimes! Nah, nah, just his personality, the way he was, he’s just...him. I feel like I’ve been reborn to live the same life, anarchy and just fucking fucking shit up. Being young and not caring about anything, about having a good time and doing what I wanna do. And I’ve got the same eyes.
I was gonna say! I can’t read them!
Yeah, that’s it! They’re the entrance to your soul, man, you can’t just open it up and be like well c’mon in!
My friends say I have cow eyes.
Hmmm, not really, cow eyes are just black, they’re just fully black. But they’re wide-you’ve not got cow eyes but you’ve got that softness, that vulnerability in your eyes. Cow eyes are a bit mad. We used to tip cows.
Yeah, when we were kids, growing up there were all those little fields around your house. They would be sleeping, they sleep standing up, and when you tip them they can’t get back up. It was so cruel, like now I feel bad about that but as a kid that shit was funny. The farmer used to hate us.
Shit, I would too!
He would come in his truck, he drove like a Ford land rover 4x4, he’d come vrooming up, and I don’t know if it was a myth but he had these dehydrating bullets so that when it hits ya you can’t run anymore, it puts salt or some shit in your blood so you can’t escape. I don’t know if that was real, but as a kid we’d be running, ‘he’s gonna shoot ya he’s gonna shoot ya!’ Running through rivers!
Walking on water!
On some SIS mission just to tip cows!
Man childhood was so much fun, you get into all that good stuff. I have a lot of family in the deep deep south in Georgia where you don’t get any reception, my nana lived out there. My cousins and my brother and I had nothing to do so we started having rock fights on the daily.
That’s some fun shit because you be doing those crazy dodges! You’re imagination is wild at that age so you could always make due with that you had.
Exactly, that’s why I feel bad for kids these days.
They don’t even communicate. That’s what kills me, especially when you go out to eat and everybody is on their phones. I mean I do it myself, but you never actually used to see that until now.
You see whole families, people on dates, like why would you want to go out on a date if that’s what you’re gonna do? Just order takeout!
Yeah, that’s the weirdest. There’s this British show called First Dates and they’ll go to a restaurant and the people on the date are always on their phones. That’s why I appreciate how I met my girlfriend, I actually met her out partying.
It was natural.
Yeah, you get to meet someone for real rather than meet the fake them.
Rather than meet the persona they want to project to the world.
[Social media] gives you a preconception of who a person is, of who they should be, and then you meet them and you realize they’re nothing like you thought. It’s a weird one.
It’s twisted. I always think about how there is going to be this whole generation of Tinder babies, isn’t that weird?
I feel like that’s the new thing. Soon it’ll be weird to just go up to someone, I mean now it already kinda is. If a guy was to walk up to a girl and be like ‘Yo, how are you?’ most girls would be like that guy is a creep! Why the fuck is he coming up to me in the street! I always feel sorry for them guys cause you see it. You’ll be sitting in the park and you see him figuring it out, should I? shouldn’t I? Yeah, fuck it! And he builds himself up and goes over and he’s tryna drop the game on her, and then she’s like no, I’ve got a boyfriend. You don’t have no boyfriend, motha fucka! You never know what he’s gonna show you, he might take you to the Ritz and you’re tryna go to fucking Burger King or some shit!
They don’t deserve that guy anyway, that guy will find someone who loves and respects him just the way he is.
Hopefully, or they end up with Cruella De Vil then they can’t do nothing. They end up being some bitch, like nah man c’mon. Let the good guy win!
I have faith in the good guy, you have to have faith that the good people persevere.
That’s the reality, though: the hero dies, the joker survives. That’s facts.
That is the sad truth. Evil takes so long to die, the evilest people live to be like two hundred years old.
That’s right, cause they thrive off their badness. Aleister Crowley believed that the key to eternal life was children’s tears.
What the fuck!
That’s what I’m saying, I was like woah...maybe I’ve gone too deep in the internet today...I should take a break...tears start coming out, get a straw and start collecting them tears, god damn!
You keep a vile around your neck for that very moment. I find it so funny that the cures for the wildest things are always something as simple as that. The cure to life is without a doubt something really dark and really simple.
That’s why there’s two paths, the dark and the light.
What path do you think you’re traveling right now?
I think I’m on the neutral path. I’m on the good path, I feel, but there’s darkness to everything, you know what I mean?
Where there’s light, there has to be darkness.
I feel like I thrive in the dark, I’m one of them kinds of people. The harder shit is, the more pain I feel, the better my music is whereas if I’m happy, I ain’t got nothing to talk about, I can’t complain, I’m good! I feel like it’s corny talking about ‘yeah, I’m happy, let’s go!’ Fuck that, that’s not me.
What is fine in small numbers but terrifying in large numbers?
The seven gnomes, not the gnomes, the ones from Snow White. The seven dwarves! Wait, I’ll tell you what it is, it’s girls.
Girls. They’re cool in small numbers but when they’re in a pack, they’re like hyenas. Them girls will tear you apart! Out of everyone, yeah, I could get punched in the face a million times, but when a girl says something to me, it resonates, I feel that shit. The little me, the inner child, is shook. I’m shook cause I grew up with women as well, I grew up with my mom and my sister so my whole life I’ve been outnumbered. Don’t even try to argue with this, women win. You win! You’re queens! So they’re fine in small numbers but as soon as you get six, they start going crazy.
I have five aunts, and when they’re all in the same room you better watch out, it’s like witchcraft.
And it’s the looks, that’s the worst thing. I would rather fight a million guys than argue with a women, and that’s 100 percent, 150.
We have that silent and not-so-silent power. The most meaningful piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Or the worst.
Hmm...I think the most meaningful but the worst is just keep failing until you can’t fail no more. I feels like that’s not really advice but at the same time, it’s the key to everything-if you’re not scared to fail and you keep trying, eventually you can’t fail no more.
Is there another that’s really stuck with you? It doesn’t have to be some profound, deep, meaningful shit, it could be really simple.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, that’s the best advice. I’m one of them opinionated people that if you’ll let me I’ll try and, not intentionally, but I’ll try and force my views upon people. That’s why this saying means a lot to me, because it suggests that people still have the option-you do something or you don’t, there’s no stress for me. Also, never expect anything from anybody but yourself, cause people let you down and that’s the fact of life.
Right, we are our worst enemy and our biggest advocate.
Oh, and if you want something done properly, you should do it yourself!
Yeah, I can’t even begin to talk about that!
They’re all them cliche ones, but those messages are a big part of my everyday life. Be it that I’m in the pub, I’m around friends, I’m in the park, it all comes back to these points. The littlest thing I’m frustrated about, these things help me to clarify why I’m stressed, what I’m bothered about.
I agree. Before we wrap up, is there anything you want to say about your new album?
Yeah, that thing! I don’t know, this is my art and it’s called Nothing Great About Britain. It’s not just related to Britain, that’s just where I’m from. It’s a way of bringing people together and reminding people that the power lies within them, within us all coming together, it reminds us that nothing else matters. Remember what’s important to you and never forget it, because that’s what you should hold dearest in your heart. So buy my album! Figure it out, listen to it, if you like it you like it, if you don’t, it’s not for you! Variety is the spice of life, enjoy it and interpret it how you will. It’s for you, it’s not mine anymore. That’s all I got!