The UK is currently teeming with hot new rappers, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out how 24-year-old Tyron Frampton has attracted attention amid the post-Skepta, post-Stormzy deluge. In the serried ranks young British MCs, he cuts a very anomalous figure. He certainly isn’t the only rapper for whom music represented an escape from a miserable-sounding life on a stigmatised council estate, but he may be the only one whose shift was inspired by both some kind psychedelically-enhanced epiphany and exposure to Radiohead’s Creep. His live shows have garnered huge interest, as well they might, given that he seems to regularly perform clad in nothing but his underpants and prepares for shows by donning boxing gloves and beating himself around the head.
He reps, as they say, not for south or east London, but Northampton, a city that resident Alan Moore – apparently an acquaintance Frampton’s – has called “the centre the universe” but has thus far been ignored in the capital-centric world UK rap. “Yeah man, I’m a cobbler,” he spits on his debut album, which presumably constitutes hip-hop’s first shoutout for League Two strivers Northampton Town FC, before going on to mention the Spring Boroughs estate and the suburb Moulton among Gorgeous’s litany youthful misdemeanours.
As an artist, Frampton’s background rests in hardcore punk shows rather than pirate radio. You can tell: amid the guest appearances from Skepta and Drake-approved grime artist Jaykae – neither whom, it’s worth noting, overshadow the star turn – Nothing Great About Britain features Doorman, a track that boasts a puglistic bass-guitar riff not unlike that the Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog and a sample a news report about that great bugbear the era gobbing and safety pins, glue sniffing. The rest the album cleaves to a more straightforward musical template – its beats flecked with the influence grime – but the sound is trebly, lo-fi and menacing, reaching a kind crescendo on Missing, where a backing based around an f-centre guitar part grows gradually more queasy and ominous, boosted by disorientating samples choral vocals and a tinny organ that recalls Ghost Town by the Specials, a band whose defiantly provincial take on urban strife provides one Slowthai’s touchstones. Another is self-styled electronic punks the Prodigy, whose late frontman Keith Flint is clearly an influence on Frampton’s big-eyed on-screen persona and who, he claims on Nothing Great About Britain: “made me.”
Meanwhile, the cover Nothing Great About Britain – Frampton naked, chained in a set stocks outside the estate where he was born, grinning maniacally – carries a faint echo the famous 1977 photo Johnny Rotten, crucified on a makeshift cross, leering at the camera. Mentioning the Sex Pistols in the same breath as a young artist is right up there with referring to someone as “the new Dylan” in the damning-by-association stakes, but it isn’t the only way in which Frampton invites the comparison. On Peace Mind, a track bisected by a vehicle reversing alarm, he namedrops Sid Vicious. The most obvious likeness in his vocal delivery is Dizzee Rascal’s edge–panic yelp, but there’s a distinct hint John Lydon’s contemptuous sneer as well. Nothing Great About Britain’s title track concludes with Frampton adopting a faux-aristocratic accent and muttering “I will treat you with the utmost respect only if you respect me a little bit Elizabeth, you cunt”, which certainly ups the ante a bit on calling her a moron or suggesting she ain’t no human being: the video for the track concludes with a rousing chorus God Save the Queen.
The album’s vision Britain in 2019 is compelling, potent and proundly grim: divided, wildly unequal, the far-right a fact daily life rather than a fringe (among tea-drinking and curry-munching, in the album’s evocations Britishness, lurk the EDL, “real English boys, St George’s flag, Doc Marten boys”). He’s clearly prepared to play with loaded imagery in a confrontational way – consternation was caused when Frampton took to waving a Union flag around on stage – and there’s an obvious state–the-nation aspect to Nothing Great About Britain. But to paint Frampton as just an unflinching chronicler the times feels slightly reductive, not least because it ignores how funny he can be.
Few UK hip-hop debuts are complete without a heartfelt depiction the artist’s family. Frampton sounds close to tears discussing his mum’s struggles on Northampton’s Child, but elsewhere approaches the topic from a noticeably different angle: “Gotta thank mum for the 23 years she wiped my arse.” Doorman has a serious point to make about class consciousness, but its saga the bedlam that ensues when he attempts to pursue a posh girl in a posh nightclub is genuinely witty and self-aware. Clever, bleak, funny, bracing, aware a broad musical heritage but never in thrall to it: after you hear Nothing Great About Britain, it’s even more obvious why Slowthai stands out.
This week Alexis listened to
There’s a sweaty Losing My Edge vibe to the music, while the lyrics demolish a too-cool hipster: “You’re an ice-cream – go fucking lick yourself.”