Loyle Carner is the breath of fresh air that hip-hop needed
"Wherever there is a negative, there is always a positive.... somewhere...”
Loyle Carner makes music that demands your attention. Since his first EP A Little Late opened with ‘BFG’, the gut-wrenching story of losing his dad, the path to his debut album Yesterday’s Gone has been one forged by an honest account of his life—without bypassing the mundane or the ugly. In doing so, he stands as a breath of fresh air in a genre usually clouded by fabrications.
Although his poetic lyricism serves as an inspiration for many aspiring rappers, he doesn’t really see himself that way. Ben sooner describes himself as a “fucking idiot” than someone to look up to. “I’m by no means a role model,” but regardless, his attitude is “jump in if you want, the more the merrier. There’ll be beer, there will no doubt be good food… and maybe some music.”
The perfect day for Ben Coyle-Larner can be described as a simple one. “Cooking some food, going to the bar for a drink. Maybe some Guinness, a bit of whisky—bit of flirting. Walking my dog. That’s about it really.” His days on tour have been anything but simplistic, yet he is enjoying them all the same. Australia has been good to the South London rapper.
Even though he misses his mother with all his heart, the people here have made him “feel at home”. The break from his lifestyle there has allowed him to live as a 22-year-old. “I feel like I’m actually living life like a 34-year-old man, so when I come away I get to finally experience having a bit more freedom and a bit less responsibility, and I love it.”
The “responsibility” he speaks of was handed down to him after his father passed away, where he had to take up a very demanding role at home to aid his family. His songs speak volumes on the pressures of such a task, and he touches on those hardships with no reservations.
This authentic, storytelling rap he is known for has many origins. For one thing, he has always been very honest with his mum. For another, he was raised on the likes Bowie, Patti Smith and Bob Dylan, and takes cues from such storytelling legends.
“When I started doing it, I wanted to tell stories and the only ones I can tell are my own. The reason I write is to get shit out of my head, so it has to be honest because I’m not getting anyone else’s shit out of anyone else’s head.” Adding to that, he takes solace knowing no one can listen to his lyrics and say, “that’s not true.” And whilst this honest account is “a scary thing at times,” it is all he has ever known.
In terms of what he has known, ‘Aint Nothing Changed’ rings true of such constancy as the lyrics bang, “they ask why every fucking song the fucking same / and I tell them / it’s cause ain’t nothing changed.” This is true in many respects, as the music is still recorded in bedrooms, but his ability to influence a change has greatly exceeded. Owing to his own experiences having grown up with ADHD and dyslexia, he seeks to help those living with a similar “reality.”
Where society often frames any disorder or disability as something to “overcome”—or “they consider you ‘good at that for someone who has this’”—Ben sees the positives instead. “It’s different for everyone and I can only talk on my experiences, but I imagine that everyone I have met who has any sort of disability, whether it’s mental or physical or whatnot, is forced to think outside of the box. You have to do something else, go at things a different way. It’s not without its difficulties but there are always positives.”
One such positive has been the birth of Chili Con Carner, a cooking school he teaches for kids aged 14 to 16 with ADHD. “Cooking was the one thing that used to make me full of peace and relax me, and I figured if it worked for me then it could work for kids in a similar situation.” King of the side-hustles, he’s also in the process of setting up a healthy chicken shop that turns the “crispy” food kids like into healthy meals that they actually enjoy. Perhaps this is the aftermath of that god-awful 2005 Jamie Oliver schools project, or maybe he has just figured out you can’t just shove broccoli in front of kids and expect them to like it. “I love broccoli but you know,” he insists, “no diss tracks, it’s just not that exciting when you’re ten.”
It is such empathy, compounded with his candid take on music that—when met with such lyrical talent—creates fans after one play of ‘Florence.’
This coming Saturday will be his last show in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s off to America after that. But his first trip to Australia is by no means his last. Being able to meet with the audience afterwards at the merch desks is a luxury his higher capacity gigs in London have not allowed. Ben has stayed back hours after the shows, meeting with everyone who waited behind. “It’s a beautiful thing when I chat to people. Anyone who says I inspire them tends to inspire me just as much. When I meet someone and they say thanks for this and thanks for that, that is then the reason that I keep going.”
The energy in the sold-out Corner Hotel gig prompted a poem at the shows close. Bare in every sense of the world, Ben opened up to the crowd, and the result was awe-inspiring. It’s rare for a rap concert to double as a turn-up and an intimate affair. Carrying his dad’s football tee over his shoulder, he has fulfilled their “promise” that they would one day tour the world together.
The show offered more than just beer and music.
His stage presence is something of an enchantment that captured the audience from the beginning and later, felt as though a spell had broken at the shows end.
Strangers truly hugged and cried together before parting ways. People were stunned silent, only for seconds before they began trying to come to terms with what had just happened. A sincere storyteller and a role model for sure, even if in this case, it’s the blind leading the blind.
Originally published in ACCLAIM Magazine | Words by Emanuelle René | Photos by Kalu Oji