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In conversation with Loyle Carner

Ben Warren discusses the importance of family with the rapper

Hailing from Croydon, South London, Benjamin Coyle-Larner is better known to the public as Loyle Carner. His brand of what the Guardian has called “awkwardly confessional hip-hop” has been steadily making waves on the scene ever since he released his first EP, A Little Late, in September 2014. Its combination of emotional intimacy and often soft, seductive beats garnered the rapper a devoted following and a fair amount of attention from music publications.

Following the critically acclaimed reception of his debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, Loyle continues to impress with a distinctive emotionally charged sound that retains its charm whilst still managing to excite.

On top of his album, he tells me he’s also recently been involved with an issue close to his heart. Namely, the ‘Chilli Con Carner’ initiative he ran with the Goma Collective last summer, which aimed to teach kids with ADHD how to cook. He insists, however, that he “didn’t want it to get involved with the music at all”, clarifying “I didn’t want kids who were into me and my music, just kids that liked to cook”.

On the subject of the musical touchstones he turned to when making the album, Loyle cites Bob Marley and Mos Def as the major influences to his sound, but also a more contemporary base: “Tom Misch and Rebel Kleff…They’re the guys I’m listening to at the moment. My brother keeps my ear to [new music], put me onto Logic” (Logic; the man signed to Def Jam in 2013 who described himself as hip-hop’s “Young Sinatra”).

Our conversation about musical contemporaries or predecessors inevitably turns to the subject of family. When I ask what his childhood musical memories were, he points to a variety of influence as a result of familial music tastes: “I guess I used to bring a lot of hip-hop home and my mum and dad played a lot of folk and stuff”. He refers to his current and past musical tastes as a “fairly eclectic mix”, and this comes across in the sonic diversity of his own compositions.

Album-opener and single, ‘The Isle of Arran’, is a good example—Carner’s direct but instinctively likeable sentimentality is coupled with a majestic gospel sample to create perhaps one of his most immediate and powerful tracks.

Family is at the centre of Loyle’s music and he admits that his lyrical focus on it “comes naturally” to him. The sixth track on the Yesterday’s Gone, the 30-second, spoken-word interlude ‘Swear’ records a conversation between Loyle and his mother, where they fondly argue about each other’s swearing. It’s unexpectedly intimate and genuine, a real-life conversation on which the listener eavesdrops, but it sits comfortably next to the intricate wordplay of his lyrics.

This concern with the everyday and the familiar, along with an emotional honesty and rawness that is almost uncomfortable in the way that the most intense conversations with a close friend are, combine to create his sound.

When I ask him how important he considers the vulnerability he exposes himself to in his lyrical candour, he claims that it is “massively important” and that, especially in regard to masculinity, being emotionally open is “not as embarrassing as you think”.

His sound translates particularly well to live shows which he says he “always enjoys…I think they’re so necessary” perhaps because his emotional honesty is never more evident than when he’s playing to a live crowd.

Carner is playing in Oxford again at the O2 Academy after a sellout success at the Bullingdon in September last year.

Infinitely listenable when on record, it is in a live venue that Loyle Carner really comes alive. It is when he’s in the same room as the people who are listening to his lyrics, when he is looking at them and performing to them with the same mixture of humility and confidence, that the emotional rawness and domestic sentimentality of his music is so powerful: “When I’m playing to hundreds of people in a room, I want it to be just like talking to your auntie and uncle”.

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