Loyle Carner captured the hearts of music fans across the UK in 2019 with his sophomore album ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, striking a chord with his refreshingly honest and soft-centred take on a traditional hip-hop sound.
It was when I was recommended Loyle’s 2nd album by Tony, a 60-something year-old whose favourite band is The Clash, that I knew the South London rapper had achieved something extraordinary with this release. He’d made hip-hop accessible to virtually everyone, a feat I’m not sure has ever been achieved in the UK. When I say ‘everyone’ I don’t mean he’s made it accessible to pop fans, I mean he’s made it accessible to British music fans in general.
His sound is inoffensive yet still exciting, it captures the essence of old school boom-bap with the mellow-dial turned up to the max, rounded off with an almost poetic delivery. Loyle’s a rare calm voice in a genre dominated by aggression and bravado. Above all though, it’s Loyle’s lyrics that really struck a chord, they’re filled with stories of family, friendship and life’s everyday struggles that we can all relate to in one way or another.
There was a sense in the air that we (the sold-out O2 Academy crowd) were in for a treat this Halloween as we waited for Loyle to hit the stage in Newcastle. UK hip-hop’s everyman had turned the stage into his living room. Framed classic football shirts, record stacks, a shoe rack and a sofa meant Loyle was at home on stage and this house party was about to pop off.
The man himself finally leaped out and dived straight in to his new album. Aided by live instrumentation but opting to still have a DJ spinning the beats, Loyle found a perfect way to give his smooth sound that extra kick live. Guitars, a keyboard and even a saxophone added the extra spice needed to keep the energy high. The atmosphere quickly became that of an ‘old school’ hip-hop show, there was no moshing or crowd surfing, just heads and hands bopping in unison. It was surprisingly refreshing not having to worry about getting a sweaty elbow to the face at a gig.
Despite Loyle being an absolute master at telling stories through his music, he still gave the occasional touching anecdote about a song. “I used to always struggle with my identity,” Carner told us, before going on to explain his journey of self discovery when investigating his mixed-race background and the absence of his dad.
Much like his music, every time Loyle addressed the crowd it felt genuine. Not like he’d rehearsed a speech to say at every show (like a lot of artists do). After performing what he claims is ‘the favourite song he ever made’ “Still”, Loyle gets emotional. “Yeah, I’m crying and I’m not sorry,” he says, looking over the sea of cheering faces. “I’ve had a shit day, just one of them where you can’t be arsed. But then it’s nights like this, seeing you people that brings me up.”
Loyle’s entire performance, from arm waving hype man to tear-filled story teller, was filled with passion. He’s one of those rare artists at this level where you can tell he’s genuinely grateful to be in the position that he’s in, performing to sell-out crowds across the country. It’s that passion and down to earth attitude that’s captured the hearts of fans – he’s not only a great artist, he’s also just a really good bloke.
Photos by Adam Taylor