Whilst 2016 was the year that UK grime firmly hit the mainstream, both here and overseas, UK hip-hop has always seemed to lag considerably behind its American counterparts. This, however, may all be about to change thanks to the British rapper Loyle Carner. The Croydon MC’s poetic lyricism and old-school sound has been attracting a growing fan-base of late, selling out London venues and even supporting the legendary Nas on tour. Carner’s debut album, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, is the culmination of these years of hard work – a studied tribute to hip hop and jazz, tackling everything from death and religion, to mums and pancakes.
Aged 22, Loyle Carner (real name Ben Carner-Loyle) has already had his fair share of grief in life. After the sudden death of his step-father, the young musician abandoned his studies at drama school in order to support his mother and brother at home. This personal loss runs deep in ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, his frustration seething on stand-out single ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ – a dedication to the ‘men of the house who were far too young’. The opening ‘Isle of Arran’, meanwhile, confronts the absence of both father figures and God in the rapper’s life, ironically joining a powerful gospel sample to Carner’s despondent conclusion that: ‘there’s nothing to believe in/believe me’.
Certainly, at times it would be easy to forget Loyle Carner’s young age when listening to ‘Yesterday’s Gone’. Throughout, Carner presents himself as wise beyond his years, not only in his lyrical dexterity and his chosen subject matter, but in the overall sound of the album. Produced alongside his friend Rebel Kleff, who can be heard comically lecturing Carner on ‘Rebel 100’ to just ‘live his life…eat bad food, party’, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ remains faithful to the original masters of hip-hop on the infectious ‘NO CD’ and ‘No Worries’. Then, when dealing with matters of the heart on ‘The Seamstress (Tooting Masala), Carner’s favourite deep sax sounds alongside the crackle of vinyl, lending the album a heady dose of romantic nostalgia as he sips ‘a lot of whisky’. Old school beats meets a more youthful feel, though, on ‘Damselfly’, a joyously summery track featuring J Dilla inspired prodigy and frequent collaborator, Tom Misch.
At its heart, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is above all an album about family. Loyle Carner cares most about his nearest and dearest, a bond made stronger by the tragic passing of his musical step-father, Nik, whose song ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ closes the album and inspired its title. On the soothing ‘Florence’, Carner shows his softer side as he raps alongside UK singer Kwes about cooking pancakes with the little sister that he never had: ‘freckle faced fidgeter, me but miniature’. Carner’s very real mother, Jean, who frequently appears in his music videos, holds particular importance on the album. On ‘Swear’, she jokingly tells her son off for blaspheming, and performs her own poem on the very touching ‘Sun of Jean’ – a proud mother’s tribute to her ‘scribble of a boy’.
Perhaps what makes Loyle Carner so increasingly popular today is his sheer likeability. On ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, he shows himself to be someone, who, beneath the youthful swagger of tracks like ‘NO CD’, is at heart an old soul, sensitive and most concerned for his loved ones. Indeed, in recent months, the rapper has also opened a cookery school (aptly named ‘Chilli Con Carner’) especially to help fellow young adults with ADHD, a condition which he himself has. With both solid cooking skills and a masterful debut album in hand, yesterday is very much gone and the future looks bright for Loyle Carner.