‘UGLY’ by slowthai: A hybrid of nihilism and contentment


Edwardx |Wikimedia Commons

Mia Euceda, Arts & Culture Editor

Ugly is the last adjective most would use to brand themselves. This is not the case for British rapper slowthai, who shows off his new face tattoo of the word on the album cover for “UGLY” released on March 3.

In an interview with “The Fader” the rapper, born Tyron Frampton, explained why he got the tattoo. “It’s a reminder to myself every day when I wake up and look in the mirror,” he said. “It’s the first thing I see. When I’m walking around and people go, ‘You’re not ugly,’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it don’t mean that.’”

The title is an acronym that stands for “U Gotta Love Yourself.” It reads more like a command than a suggestion.

The album is an energetic, punchy release that grapples with optimism and nihilism during its 38-minute runtime.

This seemingly aggressive positivity persists throughout the album. The opening track “Yum” opens with slowthai breathing heavily as if he’s hyping himself up for what’s to come. He repeats affirmations over a skittish industrial beat.

“You are great. You are good. You’re a king. You’re a queen. You’re a genius,” the song says.

Despite the uplifting intro, he quickly descends into a self-destructive frenzy filled with bars about excessive partying and failing to understand his therapist’s suggestion to just breathe.

The rapper taps more into his post-punk influences and occasionally omits rapping to sing instead. For fans, this is not a surprise. He’s already experimented with this style in his 2018 single “Doorman” and collaborated with punk duo Soft Play on songs like 2019’s “Missing.”

Slowthai said in an interview with Apple Music that “UGLY” was an album that he’s “always wanted to make,” but previously didn’t have the tools to.

“Feel Good” is a textbook example of “fake it till you make it.” In the interview with Apple Music, slowthai revealed he made the song when he was in a “bad mood” and wanted to write a song to uplift himself. The chirpy synth accompanying the rapper’s repetitive mantras of feeling “so good” help mask the underlying self-loathing.

The title track’s distorted guitar and angsty vocals sound like a ‘90s Radiohead-inspired outtake, but in the best way possible. Slowthai spells out “UGLY” in a chanting manner to assert his mantra in the chorus. He is s ugly, and he is s proud.

However, by the end of the song, his self-defeating attitude returns. “I’m sick of thinking there’s a reason I’m here. We’re just puppets in a simulation,” he muses.

Throughout the record, slowthai struggles to look on the upside, but on the closing track “25% Club,” he ends on an uplifting note to remind the listener they can always rise from the ashes.

“But I got some glue so we can rebuild.”

Itis a sweet message, but the execution is a bit bland. The acoustic instrumental sounds uninspired and slowthai’s half singing and half rapping vocals sound a bit awkward, like he cannot decide which route to take.

“UGLY” mostly received positive reviews from critics. Alex Petridis of “The Guardian” gave the rapper a glowing five star review, saying “he’s succeeded in minting a sound that’s entirely his own.”

The album provides just enough energy to start a mosh pit in the living room, but also invites the listener to introspectively sit on the couch between songs.

Overall, “UGLY” is a short but ambitious addition to the rapper’s discography. While there are some lackluster moments, he easily makes up for them with his high stamina.

To promote the album, slowthai announced a U.K pub tour, selling tickets for as little as one pound. Itis about as punk rock as one can get.