Loyle Carner is the most down to earth and openly honest rapper in the game. The 22-year-old South Londoner, real name Benjamin Coyle-Larner, fuses jazz, East Coast hip-hop and laid-back pop to tell poetically intense soul-bearing stories.
Growing up in West Norwood, Loyle experienced different cultures, lots of music – “but mainly a lot of rap,” he says. “I grew up in the age of Channel U and MTV Bass back when they were good. When I was younger, I was so obsessed by rap. It was the first thing that I found an identity with… then a couple of years later I thought, ‘Cool, maybe I can do this myself.”
Getting into music wasn’t a “conscious decision” though; “it was just happening while I was growing up,” Loyle remembers. “I was making a lot of music for fun just to listen to and chill with my friends because we were all up on the same stuff. It just spiralled out of control from there…”
There was one artist in particular who inspired him: Kanye West. Seeing him on the College Dropout tour at the Brixton Academy and “being around people that were up on the same stuff,” inspired him at the show. “It was the first time I realised there were so many people listening to the same stuff as me. Rap was a big, big thing in America but it didn’t seem like it was over here… Everyone was just going crazy over The Libertines,” he recalls. “What blew my mind was how many hip-hop heads there were out and about on a day to day basis.”
Going to a Roots Manuva show, as well, was inspiring to Loyle; not least for his musical style, but because “he looked a lot like my biological dad. I though he was for a while… quite jokes.” Less inspiring was when he was taken to see Jamie Cullum at the Royal Albert Hall with his school; “it was so dead,” he remembers.
Loyle’s biggest influence, though, is his family. Growing up in a musical home with talented musicians and songwriters for parents, the music playing in their house shows a different style of artist. “There was a lot of David Bowie flying around, Bob Dylan and… All Saints (“they’re wavy, though, man”), he laughs.
And it’s family that’s at the heart of his debut album, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’. “My dad made an album before he passed and nobody knew about it,” Loyle reveals. “We found it, and it was beautiful. ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ was my favourite track off of it, It’s like he’s chatting to me again. I had it on my iPod forever, but when I finally listened back I thought ‘this is the one for me’. It meant a lot, so it made sense.”
“I wanted to get my dad back involved. I spent a lot of time missing him, and I always do, but the album is also about trying to find some new love and happiness to latch onto as opposed to just focusing on the tough stuff,” Loyle suggests of the album’s message. “The most important thing to me was to make sure it was all honest and wasn’t made up or trying to be something that it wasn’t. Ultimately, I’ve got to live with this record for my life which is quite a big and scary thing.”
Writing the album was less of a process, more a diary about what was happening in his world. “I wasn’t thinking too much when I made it; there was enough happening that I didn’t have to stop and think or rationalise it. Something would kick off, and I’d go and write about it. Or sometimes I was lucky enough to have some time off because there wouldn’t be any big stress going on. For me, when I’ve got nothing to write about, it’s a blessing because it means that nothing’s going wrong. I’m learning to enjoy the times I can’t write because it means I’m a bit content.”
Reuniting his mum and dad on the final track, ‘Sun of Jean’, was massively important to Loyle. “At the end, that’s my dad playing the piano under my mum speaking. I wanted to sample my dad’s stuff a lot, but I didn’t know how possible it would be because I needed to make sure I was doing it justice. I guess I just wanted to immortalise them together for one last time; it means a lot to me for sure, it’s scary that it’s out there…”
‘The Isle of Arran’, another standout track from the album, is about “having nothing and cracking on on your own”. “It was where I used to spend a lot of time with my granddad on holidays; we still go back there. But it was the first time I’d been able to write when I was angry, I’d never been able to do that before – when I get angry I can’t sit down, but when I’m in a good mood I can’t write,” he says of his songwriting dilemma. “I only tend to write when I’m low but not frustrated; it was the first time I got to channel my frustration on paper.”
Loyle says he isn’t phased about whether or not the album is a commercial success. He’s just happy it’s almost out there and that it’s honest. “I don’t mind if [the album] doesn’t take me anywhere. I just had to get it out, because it’s stuff that’s been bubbling up in my head for ages,” he confesses. “I’ve never really finished a project before in my life, a physical thing that I can hold, so it’s more for me – not to prove I could do it – but to make sense of what’s been in my head,” he says proudly.
Rather than “big, flashy studios”, the album was recorded in various bedrooms across South London to make the record “feel like home”. Across the record, Loyle welcomes a handful of rising producers and artists including Tom Misch, Kwes and Rebel Kleff. “It wasn’t really that I chose to work with them; it was just how it was. I wanted to make music… It’s quite a large amount of luck that I’m friends with so many people that I respect as musicians. They helped me to step outside of the box… It wasn’t a cherry-picked thing at all; they are my friends. I count everybody who features or produces on the record as a very good friend. And that’s the way it was from the start.”
Arguably his biggest breakthrough track, ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’, was a response to the haters. “People were saying ‘all this guy ever talks about is to do with his dad or his mum, it’s all about family. It’s all the same’. But the reason it’s all the same, is because nothing is different,” Loyle ponders. “I don’t lie about what I write about; if it’s the same thing that’s happening for six months, then that’s what I’ll write about for six months.
“And also, people just assumed because I’m making a tiny bit of money to be able to just about live off making music – with eBay transactions here and there to make it up,” he laughs, “that I thought I was this or that. But I really don’t,” he says defiantly. “It was getting to me because I was just like, ‘Fuck off’. I’d got into a couple of fights because of it, which I never do; so I thought, ‘I need to silence this before people keep talking’.”
Although it started getting to him, Loyle stuck to his sound and persevered. “It was interesting because as much as it was winding me up, at no point did I ever want to change my sound or lose faith in what I was making. I was never really making music for anyone anyway; it’s always just been a bonus that people seem to, bit by bit, go ‘Ah actually, this seems quite cool’. I was just making tunes for myself.”
Touring with Kate Tempest helped him progress as an artist. “That was wicked man; it was one big lesson. Whenever I go on tour or on a support tour, I’m trying to learn as much about the person I’m touring with and how it operates and to take as many notes as I can. Kate took me under her wing on that tour and taught me a lot about self-worth, self-belief and self-value.”
In terms of his own live shows, Loyle is stepping up for a massive UK tour in February. “If you have seen me or you haven’t, this new show will be different. I feel like I need to step it up for this tour. It’s just me telling stories, some happy, some sad (mainly sad),” he laughs. “It’s very honest and almost like going to the pub and having a chat with the guy who talks too much and doesn’t let you get a word in edgeways… but with songs and lights.”
The crowds at his shows are “always hyped-up”, he says, but very varied. “The young ones are at the front, and the further you get back are the older heads, which is cool. There’s never been a set type of person who listens to my music because why should there be? Crowds are just people – different walks of life, different shapes and sizes,” he ponders philosophically.
“It does get a bit nuts on tour, especially in Europe,” Loyle continues; “It depends on every night whose at the front, who knows all the words? It’s an equal thing, sometimes I bounce off people, other times they bounce off me. But usually, it’s quite energetic.”
One show that he’ll always remember is performing at Koko in London. “I got my first ever bra thrown at me onstage… and my mum was in the crowd. It was a very weird situation. The girl was like, ‘Can I have it back?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but you threw it… I don’t know how this is supposed to work’.”
Aside from music, cooking is Loyle’s second biggest passion. “I found the most peace when I was cooking when I was younger. It’s been something that’s chilled me out all throughout my life, and I figured that if it worked for me, it could work for other kids in a similar situation. At school you get told you can’t do things or can’t focus, can’t read or write. But there’s no ‘can’s – I want to show children what they can do…”
Modestly, Loyle says he hasn’t felt a real ‘turning point’ regarding his music yet. “It’s weird, at 22 I don’t think there has been one yet – not that I could say. It’s kind of like getting fat. Every day you’re getting fatter, but you don’t notice until you stand in front of the mirror and go ‘Oh shit, I’m huge’. That hasn’t happened to me yet…”
There’s no doubt that Loyle Carner is going to be huge in 2017.
Loyle Carner’s debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is out now.