Loyle Carner is Benjamin Coyle-Larner, a 22-year old rapper and Brit School graduate from West Norwood.
Loyle Carner emerged in 2014 with A Little Late. The EP found Carner struggling to come to terms with the death of his beloved stepfather. On ‘BFG’ he sung the hook “everybody says I’m fucking sad/of course I’m fucking sad I miss my fucking Dad,” a necessarily blunt riposte to would-be critics of his emotional lyrics. On ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ from Yesterday’s Gone Carner seems to reference this, both thematically and linguistically: “I’m somewhere between the struggle and the strain/they ask why every fucking song the fucking same/and I tell ‘em it’s ‘cause ain’t nothing changed.”
But in truth, this is misdirection. Whereas A Little Late found Carner still grieving for what was lost, Yesterday’s Gone finds him in a place of greater acceptance (as the title suggests), able to celebrate both what is gone, and what remains.
Carner raps over jazz and soul-sampling instrumentals with vinyl-crackle warmth and boom-bap beats, which perfectly complement his melancholy and introspective lyrics. His flow is impeccable – dextrous, dense, and delivered with an absorbing voice which hints at vulnerability, as if he’s forever stumbling over a lump in his throat.
Family remains all-important on Yesterday’s Gone but there is a new focus – his mother Jean. While rappers loving their mothers is nothing new – take Skepta bringing his mum up on stage to accept the Mercury Prize, or Tricky’s Maxinquaye – Jean’s involvement here reaches new levels. She recites a poem about Carner, features in a skit, and is referenced frequently throughout. She appears in the video to ‘NO CD’, and the album cover is a family photo. You get the impression that this album is of great personal importance to Carner, and that honouring his mother and his family, their struggles, survival, and triumphs, was its main purpose.
While at times it can feel intrusive to witness Carner and his mother mutually affirming their bond, overall it succeeds – this is an incredibly mature artist at work, with the strength to appear vulnerable and sensitive. How often do you get that with rappers? There is virtually no bravado, no mindless hedonism, and no misogyny. His commitment to integrity is evident: on stand-out track ‘Isle of Arran’ when he sings “I ain’t like them damn liars,” or on the skit ‘Rebel 101’ when he argues “there’s more to this than getting waved.” He criticises other rappers only once: for putting “cheddar over lyrics” on ‘NO CD’.
If you can’t warm to the sentimental tributes to his mother and late stepfather then you’ll have difficulty enjoying the album, but you’d be missing out on a lot. Yesterday’s Gone is a series of intimate and authentic portraits of the people in Carner’s life, the same figures who shape the course of so many people’s lives – mothers, fathers absent and present, siblings, ex-girlfriends, friends, drug dealers, alcoholics. Carner’s great achievement is to pursue his singular vision of how a British rapper should sound, turning personal upheaval into art which is universally resonant and ultimately triumphant.
Featured image: Varsity Online