“What’s good?” Slowthai has had the briefest of introductions to the students in the packed lecture theatre at Northampton College and now he is asking the questions.
“What’s good? What’s good?” he demands and the students are doing what people do in this situation – not saying anything, not thinking that he is expecting them to have the answer. He steps forward and looks someone directly in the eye.
Now he’s moving up the gangway between the two banks of seats. He tells someone to sit up straight like a teacher would but also like a teacher wouldn’t. The F-bomb goes off when he speaks. It just happens. He laughs at how he sounds like “one of those inspirational speakers” but that is exactly what he is like. Ripples of awkward but excited laughter stir around the room. It is like lights switching on all over the lecture theatre.
Someone’s big moment finally arrives: “Everything!” comes the answer.
Slowthai makes us all sit up straight and chorus it back at him.
“What’s good?” he asks, and wants the response to come from deep within our chests.
“Everything!” it comes out full force.
Slowthai is present and so, finally, are we.
He was up late the night before drinking champagne because his album, Nothing Great About Britain, is being launched today. He’s refusing the plates of biscuits because he has “champagne bloat” but he passes the plates round the students when one of them cheekily uses the Q&A to ask for a jammy dodger. He wants them to ask for more. He wants them to expect more.
“I was like you. I sat there like you. I was in this lecture theatre four or five times. I sat there and there and there. We had a talk about crashes from the fire service, about how important it is to wear a seatbelt. Now I wear a seatbelt…”
The pious conclusion to that anecdote elicits another burst of laughter because Slowthai is like the living embodiment of too cool for school.
He freely admits he wasn’t the good kid in the class when he started out at college. He turned up late. He missed lessons. He wasn’t the star pupil and he felt the same as the students do when they just aren’t up for it, but his message is that he really values what his college years gave him.
“I could have been a dickhead. Yes you do your work and you get your qualifications but the whole experience of being at Northampton College turned me round. The people I met. The things they showed me. You have to take from it what is right for you, be who you are meant to be.”
Slowthai picks out a slightly alarmed blond-haired young man from his entourage at the front of the lecture theatre.
“This is my best friend Rufus. I met him at the college. We used to sit up at the back in the corner there. He introduced me to so many ideas. He showed me so much.”
Rufus is blushing but we are being introduced to everyone with Slowthai. Ellis does the camera work. Duckman does the clothes and Lewis, a former film-making student at Northampton College, is the manager and also Slowthai’s cousin.
“You have to surround yourself with good people who feed you ideas and their vibe so you know about things. If you sit at home and do drugs all day what are you going to know about? Drugs.”
Far from looking like he has a champagne hangover Slowthai is buzzing with warmth and energy. He wants these students to believe in themselves and take themselves seriously. He picks out a student in the third row.
“What’s your instrument?” he asks, modestly assuming that the appeal of this lecture is mainly to music students.
“I’m studying acting,” is the reply.
“What’s your monologue?” Slowthai comes back without missing a beat.
“I don’t have a monologue…” is the understandable but wrong answer.
“You’ve got to have a monologue. I would love to do the Joker’s monologue…” Slowthai slips into character as Batman’s arch enemy and reels off a couple of lines of dialogue.
“What are you going to do when you’re in McDonalds and Quentin Tarantino walks in? Hey Quentin Tarantino listen to my monologue!”
He picks out another student and teases out of him that he is a drummer.
“Don’t be embarrassed to be a drummer. Do it every day. Give me your details. That’s how it works. Someone needs some drumming, you do some drumming for them, you get paid to be a drummer. It’s not embarrassing to get paid.”
In the blink of an eye Slowthai is passing his phone across so the young drummer can put his details in and I’m having to remind myself that this is a 25-year-old Northampton guy and new talent, not some showbiz veteran with years of experience holding an audience in the palm of his hand.
“I was the weirdo sitting in the corner who kept trying and failing. Keep failing. Keep failing until the people who are laughing at you run out of things to say. You can learn so much from failing. Do it. You’ll get there in the end.”
When a student asks him what his Plan B was, Slowthai grins his already familiar ugly-beautiful grin and says: “I can’t say what my Plan B was.”
He does however sum up the other life he might have lived as: “Being a dickhead.”
He talks about losing the job he got after college. He got sacked for giving a friend a discount in Next and on his walk home, his feet soaked by a walk across a sodden Abington Park, he came up with the track T N Biscuits which is his first track that really ‘blew up’.
Now Nothing Great About Britain is the Guardian’s Album of the Week and Slowthai proudly crows about the five star review. Reviewer Alexis Petridis is thrilled with Slowthai’s brand of edgy punk powered rap.
While Slowthai speaks to the college students the track Inglorious, featuring Skepta, is trending on YouTube with over 300,000 views even before he has passed round the biscuits.
When you browse through the tracks on his YouTube channel it’s gritty and authentic but there is intelligence everywhere: in the look, the sound and the lyrics. If you are going to be offended then it will be by his truth.
Northampton is the other thing that is everywhere. Ugly-beautiful Noho is the backdrop for his work in video after video and he is not ashamed of it. Alan Moore, who Slowthai first met simply by spotting him walking through town and saying hello, appears on screen. They have a lot more in common than might be apparent at first glance: two Boroughs boys with a have-a-go philosophy, wanting people to believe in themselves and believe that when we are doing our thing we are all good enough, no matter where we come from.
“I love Northampton, I will never leave it. I have been all round the world this year but when I get back here it just smells like home,” Slowthai says.
After the talk the plan is for Slowthai to retreat to another room to avoid being stuck in a swarm of people wanting photos. But Slowthai wants to know where the smoking area is so everyone moves through the corridors. You can hear the murmurs of recognition passing among the students down the hallway.
“No it isn’t…”
“What’s he doing here?”
It’s busy out in the smoking area. Some bolder students come up and say hello but there is a lot of smiling and discrete gawping going on. As he makes he way back down the corridor there is soon a shoal of selfie hunters around him and Slowthai has time for everyone.
I ask the Duckman if they have a couple of big Range Rovers out in the parking lot.
“We’re not about that. For a start, none of us can drive,” he smiles.
Slowthai has to get away for his album launch event at the independent record shop Spun Out in Gold Street. By the time he is due to perform at The Garibaldi later in the evening, Spun Out will have sold out. He thinks 2019 has been a great year but to me it looks like it is just the start.
The visit is a coup for Music and Performing Arts Curriculum Manager Sarah Thursby:
“I just reached out through their main contact email at first and once I got talking to Lewis they were really keen to help.”
Before Slowthai, aka Tyron Frampton, heads off to continue being all that he can be (there is maybe another album and down the line work in other media seems likely, maybe a graphic novel) I invite him to come up with a coverline for the next edition of the NQ.
He thinks for a bit and traces his finger across the copy I have given him as inspiration.
“If a pigeon can fly, then why can’t I?”
I can’t be a fan of this kid – I’m 50-years-old for God’s sake – but I don’t think I’ve got any choice.