Nothing Great About Britain

Nothing Great About Britain

“I think the statement ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ has done everything that it needed to do—bring people together,” slowthai tells Apple Music. “It’s for people to make their own judgment.” The Northampton rapper has given an electrifying voice to an embattled generation, chronicling everyday life in turbulent times with wit, fury, frustration, and pathos—placing him in the lineage of pop sociologists including Mike Skinner, Dizzee Rascal, and Damon Albarn. However, with slowthai addressing the Queen by the c-word on the opening track, the album’s found less favor in Britain’s more patriotic quarters. “It pissed the right people off,” he says. “People who feel they’re part of old Britannia or the colonial spirit, I suppose. If you tell anyone their nan’s roast potatoes aren’t that great, they’re gonna bite your head off.” The album title was never meant to be a definitive declaration on the state of the nation, though, just a conversation-starting question over 11 searing vignettes on class, identity, isolation, and the enduring pleasure of toasted crumpets. Here, he talks us through each one. “Nothing Great About Britain” “I wasn't sure if we would open the album with this. It always sat either being the intro or the outro because it sums everything up. I haven't seen anyone take that much offense to it. I think it kind of made everyone have a little laugh because it was just one of them things no one would think to say. The only thing someone said to me was ‘Imagine if it was your nan, and someone called your nan a c**t.’ It’s not the nan that I’m getting at: It’s the person having a title that gives them authority, or places them on a pedestal, that I’m against.” “Doorman” “I’d been partying all the night before and had an hour’s sleep. I thought, ‘Ah, man, this is going to be s**t.’ But when I got [to the studio with Mura Masa], we made the song in two hours. It’s about the house party I was at in Chelsea, and it was mad: I’d never been in that environment, I’d never seen a house like that. The lift opens and that’s the front door—it was like The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. The song was my way of saying, ‘Let me in. I want some of this.’” “Dead Leaves” “‘Dead Leaves’ is basically about cutting people off who are taking energy from you or draining you of life. It’s saying get rid of them so you can evolve and become who you were meant to be. We always have people clinging on to our ankles, especially when we’re about to go to the next stage in our lives. You feel like you need people, but the only person you need is yourself.” “Gorgeous” “I wanted it to be a way people could get to know me more, where I come from and why I’m the way I am, who’s in my life. I felt like I’ve lived a run-of-the-mill life that everyone in the UK could relate to. Most of my life, I’ve gone from group to group and stereotype to stereotype. I feel like I have an understanding of each of them—being the people that you feel no one wants to be but, if you go anywhere in the country, everyone pretty much is. I think we always try to separate ourselves, we long to be different, but really we are just one and the same.” “Crack” “It’s like my love song. It’s in two tales; it’s like addiction, which can be both ways—like with a relationship or with drugs, or just anything in life. That’s why it opens with ‘I love you like a crackhead loves crack,’ because crackheads believe crack is the best thing in their lives and it’s the same with relationships: This person may not necessarily be bad or good for you, but you have to see it for what it is. No matter how bad something is, we see it as the best thing, and no matter how good something is, we see it as the worst.” “Grow Up” (feat. Jaykae) “When you’re a kid, you don’t care about what anyone thinks, but as you get older, you care more and more and you dilute yourself. So this is a way of saying to a younger version of myself, or anyone in that position, ‘Make the most of this.’ And even when you get to that older stage, still be this, still be like a kid. The joy of a child—never lose it. Jaykae is someone I’ve always appreciated. Being from the Midlands, similar place, similar thing to say, he could understand. I went so hard on this tune he couldn’t say no. He had to be like, ‘Yo, I want a piece of this.’” “Inglorious” (feat. Skepta) “I think Skepta wanted to make a song, and I wanted him on the project, but it was about finding the right one. I had a couple other songs, but when I played him this one, he was like, ‘Yeah, this one’s hard.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I thought the other ones were, but OK!’ It comes from the Quentin Tarantino thing [Inglourious Basterds]: being at war, and literally just trying to end it and being the one that comes out on top. I’ve always felt like I’ve been stereotyped and painted with a certain brush, so it was just my way of living up to the title—being an inglorious bastard and winning. This is my rap song, standing there and doing my rapper thing, but keeping it with a point.” “Toaster” “It’s just being fed up with all the bulls**t. I spent a lot of time living up to expectations and going out and doing things that I didn’t necessarily want to just because I felt like it was the best thing and I was going to have a good time. It’s coming to terms with, like, ‘Yo, I’m happy to just stay at home, make some crumpets, chill out and watch TV.’ We neglect how much we appreciate the moments when you’re just at home in your own zone. I wanted it to be normal, about little things that everyone does—rather than it be some bulls**t facade of ‘I go out and pop bottles’ and ‘I wear my Rolex.’” “Peace of Mind” “The only time you have peace of mind is when you’re dreaming of living someone else’s life. We always believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence when it actually isn’t. It’s just my way of saying be thankful for who you are and try and live your life to the best of your means. The Buddha said it: Everyone’s got problems, everyone’s got issues. If you are rich, you still have problems.” “Missing” “The whole song is about feeling vacant and not feeling like yourself, being lost in it and getting to a point where you just want to jump off a building—and the only time you feel any emotion is right at the moment of falling before you hit the ground. Everyone puts on this bravado like ‘I don’t cry,’ but the realest people in my life are the people who own up to their feelings, their emotions, and how they’re feeling within themselves. The people who think they’re the realest, they’re the fakest and they should just f**k off. That’s what I mean by ‘Because real men cry and thugs go home.’” “Northampton’s Child” “This was the one song that I was unsure about because it’s so personal. It’s like, ‘Oh, no one wants to hear my sob story.’ It takes [the album] to the point of what makes Britain great. And it’s not a monarchy, it’s not all these trinkets, all this bulls**t that we associate with it. It’s your family, your loved ones, and the communities, the small places. That’s what makes any country good, or great, or whatever terms you want to put it in. That had to be the way to close it: crowning my mum as the only queen, the only royalty in my life. ‘Loyalty’s royalty, that s**t is priceless’: That’s my thing.”

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