Written by Jack Andrew Cribb
Like superheroes, each rapper has their origins story, a background which they use to craft their music. It usually takes the form of a debut album, the opening chapter to state where you have come from, where you have been, and where you are now. With many albums from rap artists covering these origins you can sometimes get lost in the swamp of introductions. Every now and then one of these debut albums will stand out amongst the rest. So is the case for Loyle Carner’s Yesterday’s Gone, in which he tells us quite emphatically that ‘there is more to life than getting waved.’
Carner’s (real name Benjamin Coyle-Larner) style sits firmly rooted with the grounds of confessional hip-hop. He doesn’t embrace the big grime sounds that are running bigtime in both the mainstream and underground rap games, Carner’s sound is old school, more at home on a CD rack next to copies of A Tribe Called Quest and Madlib. This sound is unique in that it takes these distinctly American features; the boom bap, the simple beats and piano licks, and injects them with this grey, melancholic, incredibly-British sounding vibe. The sort of ‘cold weather, warm people’ vibe, sitting on the peripheries of both sadness and happiness.
The album begins with the single that is currently all over Radio 1, The Isle Of Arran, where Carner drops you head first into the act of baring his soul, where his rap comes across as being half classic hip-hop and half poetry reading. The song talks of male role models, namely his grandfather and stepfather, which is part of a theme of familial love that runs through the entirety of Yesterday’s Gone, most evident in the penultimate track Sun Of Jean, which ends on a spoken word poem from Carner’s mum.
There is a distinct focus on truthfulness and distancing himself from ego in Carner’s work, where the act of figuratively baring his soul in his lyrics allows him to represent the most genuine and sincere version of himself, none of this post-Drake existential nonsense that asks cyclical questions about fame and riches, but questions on his relationships, fears, and dreams. Carner’s lyrical ability presents its focus on finding and examining deep emotion within the everyday. In Damselfly, Carner ponders on his apathy towards dating ‘It’s been a minute since I’ve been with some women, Not ’cause they been lacking, just I’ve been lacking the feelin’’ (which features a comedic and brief glimpse of hope for love in the form of a text message, only to realise it’s from his friend), in Swear, a recorded conversation between Carner and his mum joke about her swearing shows deep love in the simplest of forms, and in Florence he imagines making pancakes for the unborn sister he’s always wanted (a gloriously sweet song).
Credit: Loyle Carner
Don’t think this concentration on the darker sides of youth makes Carner unable to drop a banger. Stars & Shards and No CD represent a lighter side of Carner, even though the lyrics still focus on sad and damning topics. Stars & Shards details the truth of drug dealing, not the shining glamorisation given by film industries, but a cold and dreary existence eked out on the edge of society. No CD truly stands out as the most likely track to get played at a party, the meaty guitar riff, cocky and assured percussions and Carner’s wonderful, quick-fire rhyming combine to make a track that will truly get your head bobbing.
The main thing I love about Yesterday’s Gone is that Carner never shifts the blame. If has done something wrong in the past he admits it, if he has a doubt he airs them, if he has pains he explains those pains in detail, and this is something that definitely sets him apart. Rap has been known to orbit around an aggrandisement of the one who raps, where a significant proportion of the song will be made up of ego. Carner takes heed from the most poignant areas of the hip-hop world in that he does display cockiness and self-assuredness, you can hear it in his music, but he acknowledges it, questions it, directly challenges it. This is the kind of rap you want to hear, because it is a confession, and through its debating represents both the ailment and the cure.