“Coming to Northampton College gave me the chance to open my mind and see the world from another perspective. It allowed me to meet people I‘d never normally meet, I listened to them and learnt from them. My world got bigger overnight.”
With his debut album earning five star reviews, collaborations in the bag with the likes of Skepta and performances at Reading and Leeds Festivals booked in for the summer, former Northampton College music technology student Tyron Frampton (better known as slowthai) is on the verge of the big time.
But the grime artist, regarded as one of the most exciting young talents in the UK, is not letting the success change him.
“I’m not leaving Northampton” he said, during a visit to Booth Lane just hours after his critically-acclaimed album ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ dropped. “I love the people here, I love my family and I love the smell of the air. This year I have travelled more than ever, I’ve seen South Africa, I’ve seen Dubai but I feel like I belong here in Northampton.
“You have to stay true to yourself in life. Surround yourself with good people who will tell you straight, not just what they think you want to hear and do what’s right for you. That’s what will set you apart. That’s what will make you different.”
His experiences at home in Northampton have shaped much of the content of his album. “We’re all a product of our environment and conditioned by the people around us” he says, while handing around a plate of chocolate digestives and jammie dodgers to current students who have come to listen to him in the lecture theatre at Booth Lane.
“I wrote ‘T N Biscuits’ after getting my new loafers filthy while walking in the mud in Abington Park on the day I lost my job in Next. I’d got sacked for giving my mate a discount on a new suit and I thought ‘nah, this ain’t for me’. I couldn’t do that job, I needed to focus on music.
“I started writing and I worked hard. I’d sleep on the floors of music studios in London for weeks on end. I’d churn out 1,000 rubbish songs in the hope of finding five good ones. I’ve never been afraid of failing. Keep on trying because every failure is a lesson. Fail until you can fail no more, then you will find success.”
The 24-year-old is certainly finding success right now. He was a Level 3 Music Technology student at the college in 2011 and, since leaving, has established himself as one of the hottest new acts in the UK. He’s been named one of the BBC’s top five acts to watch in 2019 and is quickly earning a worldwide reputation for his progressive lyrics and unique style blending grime, rap, dubstep and garage.
He was listed at number four in the BBC’s Sounds of 2019 poll – an annual search for the artists most likely to break into the mainstream over the next 12 months. His music has been championed by Radio 1 and he has recently returned from a sell-out European tour.
It’s all a long way from his upbringing on a Northampton council estate but staying true to his roots is a key part of slowthai’s message. He has enlisted the help of his cousin and another former Northampton College student, Lewis Levi, to act as his manager and best mate Rufus, who he met at Booth Lane, is his right hand man.
“Rufus is probably my biggest influence” said slowthai. “If I hadn’t have come to college and met this guy, none of this would have happened. I was ignorant to the world that existed outside of my little circle but he enabled me to see what else was out there.
“My time at college allowed me to make better choices in life. I could easily have gone down a very different path but thankfully I chose music.”
Spending an hour with current students before heading off to sign copies of his album for fans, slowthai had plenty of advice for young musicians looking to follow in his footsteps.
He said: “If you’re a fish in the ocean don’t stay in your little rock pool, get out there, have a swim and see who’s around. Keep knocking on doors, work out where you want to be, who you want to work with and find a way of getting there. Most importantly, say everything and do everything as though you mean it, no half measures. Carry yourself properly, be a decent person and be confident.”
His album launch coincided with Love Our Colleges week – a national campaign to lobby Government to put Further Education at the heart of the forthcoming spending review – and slowthai had a special message for Prime Minister Theresa May.
“People need education and colleges give people an alternative view on life, the ability to have confidence in themselves and to learn and grow. They deserve support.”