Slowthai's latest represents a dramatic departure from the rapper's previous works, the critically acclaimed Nothing Great About Britain (2019) and the somewhat letdown of TYRON (2021). Instead, UGLY (an acronym for U Gotta Love Yourself) is a daring continuation of fresh sonic terrain, expanding more on TYRON's punk sensibilities with Slowthai morphing from charismatic solo rapper to frenetic band frontman. However, UGLY also transports listeners into a heady vortex of emotional depth and layered complexity with its eclectic mix of punk, hip-hop, and electronic sounds. Produced by a team of diverse virtuosos, including Dan Carey, Sega Bodega, and Kwes Darko, UGLY bypasses the minimalism of Slowthai's past sound, taking listeners to exciting new heights. Overall, it is a more-than-solid third outing for The Northampton wunderkind.
Now, as the compelling lead singer of a band, Slowthai has thrown himself entirely and unapologetically into the spirit of the genre, combining it with his unique rap style. The resulting sound is fresh, authentic, nostalgic, and contemporary. His collaborations on UGLY showcase this punk influence in different ways. For example, on the title track, Slowthai teams up with Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. into a brooding atmosphere that permeates throughout the album. Meanwhile, 'Fuck It Puppet' confronts the self-destructive imp in us all:
Bro your mum is bias, shut the fuck up, wait for your arthritis/I'm depressed
No you're not/Wanna kill myself
Good, you wouldn't do it anyway bro you need the push - Slowthai
But UGLY is more than just a showcase of Slowthai's musical talents. The album is also deeply reflective, with many tracks exploring self-reflection, identity, and belonging themes. For example, 'Sooner' speaks to the exhausting burden of trying to be liked by everyone: "Whilst living in the real world, I don't feel like I'm a real person / So, tell me, did you say something? / Did you say something? No, you're paranoid".
Never Again is a poignant tale of a woman murdered by her drug-addicted lover, and the child left behind: "I ran to the block, there was flowers on the shop front / I dropped to my knees, then I seen a pretty picture / The one she cut me out, that was still up on her Insta'". These tracks, and others like them, reveal a vulnerable and thoughtful side of Slowthai that is often absent from his more aggressive and confrontational music. But that isn't to say there isn't aggression too. Album opener Yum is the best example of Slowthai at his most debaucherous ("More coke, more weed, more E's, more trip, more evil”). Together, Slowthai weaves them all into an intimate and universal narrative, allowing us to see ourselves in the characters he creates.
UGLY is a triumph of artistic expression showcasing Slowthai's range and willingness to take risks. While it may not be the direction he ultimately sticks with, its authenticity makes it compelling. Its punk, hip-hop and electronic sound mix reflects Slowthai's restless and boundary-pushing spirit. Yet, simultaneously, its self-reflection and introspection themes reveal the rapper's more vulnerable and empathetic side.
In a world that often seems dominated by manufactured pop and auto-tuned vocals, Slowthai's UGLY is a call to arms for artists and listeners alike to embrace their unique voices and push the boundaries of what is possible. This album will stay with you long after the final notes have faded.