slowthai’s actions were inexcusable, but should it define his future career?
Video footage of the NME Awards shows rapper slowthai harassing the event’s host Katherine Ryan and starting a fight with an audience member. His behaviour towards Ryan is clearly unpopular with the crowd: the person in the audience who he attempts to attack had called him a “misogynist”. Katherine Ryan is a comedian, and therefore best equipped to deal with heckling, and so she lightly (albeit sexually explicitly) mocks him. The response on social media was overwhelming, as they severely condemned slowthai’s actions. I found this reassuring, as it feels like there has been a palpable change in culture – that of people taking the woman’s side first.
slowthai should be made to feel repercussions for his actions, and indeed he has, with the announcement that he will no longer be this year’s ambassador for Record Store Day. According to a statement made by the organisation discussing his actions, “slowthai’s behaviour and statements do not reflect [record stores’] values or those of Record Store Day.” He was roundly criticised on social media, with many people taking the opportunity to discuss similar situations of harassment they had experienced.
However, I feel he should be allowed to redeem himself. In the video slowthai is clearly intoxicated. As many people have done on nights out, he makes an absolute fool of himself. He believes he is being funny when he isn’t, and harasses Ryan when both her body language and her words make it clear that she is discouraging him. “In vino veritas” – “in wine lies the truth” is a Latin phrase denoting drunk words being sober thoughts. This is only true to a certain extent, in my experience. Many times, I’ve witnessed and become involved in misunderstandings and arguments that only happen in the presence of alcohol. On a heavy night my friends say things they assure me they couldn’t ever have meant, and I myself have said things I wouldn’t normally even entertain the thought of. I assume that slowthai knew the event was being recorded, and he was onstage, which should have been reason enough for him to drink less. As it stands, footage now exists for posterity that he either drunkenly misunderstood Ryan’s attempts at physical boundary-setting or wilfully ignored them. To be able to give him a second chance, we must hope it was the former case.
The common narrative of the rapper is that of the childhood struggle – of having “started from the bottom” – and slowthai’s life fits this mould. He experienced the death of a younger sibling and grew up in a deprived area. He has publicly discussed toxic masculinity, saying “when you’re with the boys on the estate, it’s all about who’s the roughest, how you dress, what you’ve got, how many girls, all stupid shit”. Growing up in an environment where sexist attitudes are encouraged means that those attitudes will take time to be corrected. This, to a degree, explains a lot of the misogyny seen in hip-hop. A rags-to-riches story means starting with less, and this all-too-frequently extends to education. Less access to education means less access to different viewpoints and a higher likelihood of learning only from whoever happens to be around you. If those people happen to be sexist, then you will most likely agree with them. Unlike many rappers, however, such as Drake, slowthai appears to be taking steps to learn about the world and educate himself. His apology to Katherine Ryan was well-written and sincere. On Twitter, he assumed all responsibility and requested that his NME Award for Hero of the Year be given to Ryan because, he explained, he is “not a hero”. He is politically engaged, and creative: He brought an effigy of Boris Johnson’s severed head onstage for his Mercury Prize performance. His masterpiece album, Nothing Great About Britain, is a witty and brilliant discussion of the state of the nation.
It has to be considered, also, whether Ryan’s reaction to slowthai, in her calm response to his behaviour, prevented it from escalating. If the host had been a different woman, with a different past, it is not inconceivable that she would have found the situation incredibly psychologically distressing. This isn’t something we can know for certain.
I believe it would be a shame if this was the beginning of the end for slowthai’s career. He is a promising talent, but most importantly, in his interviews and actions he appears to be considerate of others, including women. His treatment of Katherine Ryan cannot be ignored, and it should not be forgotten. Yet, I find myself giving him the benefit of the doubt. There are too many variables in his actions to enable a clear conclusion about his character. In this 24-hour news cycle, we need some room for nuance. It is important that we distinguish between actions like slowthai’s and those that are more severe, and distribute punishments accordingly. His reputation depends on his future behaviour. In a world of black and white, we should allow for a little grey.