Injecting some young blood into UK hip-hop, 20 year old Loyle Carner has made short work of achieving most aspiring rappers dreams. Whilst at college he worked himself through support slots for Joey Bada$$, DOOM and Bishop Nehru, before releasing his own project A Little Late last year. Combining emotionally charged bars with pared down production, Carner distinguished himself as a touchingly honest voice in British hip-hop.
Nearly a year after the EP’s release Loyle’s kept at the forefront of the scene through a steady stream of tracks, straying into pensive prose on Guts with Kate Tempest, and sitting atop Cadenza’s haunting production on When Will I Stop Dreaming with Kiko Bun. Answering my call, he sheepishly explains he’s teaching his brother to pitch a tent for the Duke of Edinburgh award and I’m given a pertinent reminder that this is an artist whose music and life centres around his family. We caught up about writing, grime and old school hip-hop.
Last time I caught you A Little Late was about to drop, how’s it been since the initial release?
It’s been a bit mad. I didn’t think it would reach as many people as it did, it was just about me getting some stuff out of my head. It was a bit of a shock I suppose. It’s still relatively small, but for me it felt big.
You were supporting Bishop Nehru, DOOM and Joey Bada$$ way back then before anything was out. What’s it like stepping into those shows at the start of your career?
I supported DOOM a while back, when I was still at college. That was mad. About 16 or 17, before I’d even seriously considered giving it a go. It’s amazing but it’s petrifying. Obviously no one knows who you are, you’re going on stage in front of thousands of people. You need to convince them that you’re supposed to be there. You’ve got to go with it, step your game up. It puts you in at the deep end.
As well as supporting some big names you’ve also done quite a few notable collaborations in a relatively short space of time, what do they offer you?
A fresh way of thinking and lots of different ideas. Usually you’re sat by yourself a lot of the time but having someone else there gives you that inspiration. It helps both parties because you both work in a way that you’re not necessarily used to, you both compromise.
Who’s been your favorite person to work with so far?
I’d say Kate Tempest. I worked on a track with her for Speedy Wunderground. The idea is that you get to the studio and you only have twenty four hours, so the beats are being made while you’re writing. The guys at SW feel like so many people overwork a track, which I kinda hear because I’m a bit of a perfectionist with my music, I’ll keep going back to it and keep trying to make it better. But the idea is that you work on it was you work it, and however it sounds that’s it, anything else you do to it will fuck it up.
Could you ever write an EP like that?
We do this thing called 16 bars in 15 minutes which is a similar thing where you write a verse and stop once the time is up. It’s good it stops you fucking around. You sit there and rack your brains, write off the top of your head. It’s a bit more honest I suppose you can’t really filter it.
Is that an important part of your writing process, not filtering your writing too much?
Yeah definitely. When I was younger and I wrote poetry I’d only ever write for me. Maybe I’d show it to my mum but I never thought about splashing it out it in front of everyone. It was just my main outlet while I was at school. My mate’s a boxer, and if he’s had a good day or a bad day or whatever he trains and leaves everything there and goes home. It’s kind of the same for me with writing.
Yeah, that process is really clear to see in A Little Late, now you’re out in the spotlight a bit more is that focus going to shift away from these personal insights?
I’m just finishing up a single which I’ve been sitting with for a while, because I’ve been trying to get it right. It should be out fairly soon. It’s still about family I suppose. Before everything with my dad I’d just write about girls and shit but then when I needed to step up as the man of the house I started writing about family stresses that come with the territory, and being an adult.
What you do in UK hip-hop seems quite far removed from the US counterpart. You’re content allows you to be quite vulnerable against the image of invulnerability and braggadocio in the US scene.
I think it depends from where you’re listening from. I disagree to an extent about the girls and money and stuff, obviously it’s there in abundance, but I suppose I grew up with a lot of 90’s and early 2000’s music. Common is an idol of mine because he was so honest. And the same for Mos Def. It was less about how much money they had and more about what they did. I think I drew inspiration from those artists because they were genuine, there was no façade.
The current scene with commercial hip-hop is kind of shit, because people aren’t really saying much. There’s an emphasis on production so if you’ve got an album worth of ridiculous beats you’re going to pop off and it doesn’t really matter what you say. Eminem for example, was commercial but lyrically and intellectually he’s a genius, he’s ridiculously talented which is what this generation of hip-hop is missing. They’re superstars but they can’t back it up so they’ll keep coming and going, when you need to prove your worth as an artist that’s when they’ll go ‘oh shit, I was just talking about women and how much money I’ve got.’
Who does have some staying power in the scene?
I’m a bit crap because I’m bad at keeping up with blogs and stuff. Benny Mails, he’s a friend of mind. He’s wicked he’ll go far. UK hip-hop but more grime influence than me, and a bit more up tempo, more party music. Check him out.
Do you think with grime dominating the UK rap scene at the minute the UK hip-hop has taken a back seat?
Someone like Little Simz is really high profile and she’s UK hip-hop, but yeah there been a distinct lack of it until recently. Although I don’t know personally who is and who isn’t part of the scene. In America it must seem like all UK rap stems from grime. But over here there is such a divide between grime artists and hip-hop artists – if you’re a rapper, that’s what you do. Really we should be trying to stand together a bit more. I think it’s fantastic that Skepta, Stormzy and Novelist are over in America flying the flag because you can’t see that as anything other than a positive.
You’ve directed a couple of your videos now, BFG and Cantona. Is that a something you enjoy adding to your music?
I really enjoy it. I think it is important because when you’re writing a song you visualize it. But it’s also just really fun, it’s an added bonus, you get to put a song out but you also get to make a video. You have full creative control and the possibilies are endless. You get it written down in a storyboard and a few weeks later you’re watching it on YouTube, there’s definitely a sense of achievement.
Words: Alice Lewis
You can see Loyle Carner playing at Love Saves The Day on Sunday 24th May. More info is available here.