Over the past few years, it’s become more and more obvious that en route to becoming the most listened to genre in the world, rap music naturally became a parody of itself in order to cater to the – predominately white - masses. While all being entertaining rappers, the likes of Kevin Gates, YG and ScHoolboy Q have played into the gangster rap caricature that has once again reached the mainstream. This is why 22-year-old South Londoner Ben Coyle-Larner (aka Loyle Carner) is so refreshing – his music is completely distanced from the stereotypes of American blockbuster rap.
It’s the usual way of rap artists to be a bit self-aggrandising, to burst onto the scene with a swagger and some bling and proceed to tell everyone how great they are. That isn’t Loyle Carner‘s style though – this 21-year-old from South London is rather more restrained. His back story is a sad, yet inspiring one – his stepfather died in 2014, which was the trigger for him to start writing songs and rapping.
Hip-hop has a sentimental streak a mile wide. Few rappers miss the chance to build up a bittersweet creation myth, establishing hard-knock lives as well as street cred. And there’s no shortage of rappers who love their mums. But newcomer Loyle Carner (Ben Coyle-Larner, to the Student Loans Company) takes these old tendencies to a startling new place.
Loyle Carner cuts an impressively idiosyncratic figure among the ranks of hotly tipped British rappers. His breakthrough came not with a swaggering, self-aggrandising statement of intent, but a 2014 track called BFG, an understated, heartbroken rumination on the death of his stepfather. Carner sounded on the verge of tears – “Of course I’m fucking sad,” he rapped at one point, his voice choking with emotion, “I miss my fucking dad.” After less than two minutes, the track petered out, as if it was overwhelmed by grief, or as if all concerned had suddenly reconsidered the wisdom of recording something this emotionally raw.
Loyle Carner’s debut album is fronted by a school photo-esque line-up, filled with close pals, family members, and formative collaborators who helped it into existence. As much as the old mantra advises not to judge a book by its cover, the first glimpse into Loyle’s first full-length record is an accurate one. Rather than aiming for looming unwieldy concepts or sprawling universal narratives, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is a deeply personal debut.