Loyle Carner: Yesterday’s Gone review – a startling debut

Croydon rapper Ben Coyle-Larner is candid and driven on a beguiling album that features a guest turn by his mum…

Hip-hop has a sentimental streak a mile wide. Few rappers miss the chance to build up a bittersweet creation myth, establishing hard-knock lives as well as street cred. And there’s no shortage of rappers who love their mums. But newcomer Loyle Carner (Ben Coyle-Larner, to the Student Loans Company) takes these old tendencies to a startling new place.

He not only loves his mum, he gives her airtime – to recite a poem about him. Where most 21-year-olds might have a stoned skit, Swear finds Ben teasing his mother about her swearing.

It takes a lot of guts for a rapper to be called “you shmoo” by his mum on his debut. Yesterday’s Gone reveals Carner as an old soul who sinks “too much whisky” (The Seamstress) but seems to have dispensed with much of the crap that comes with being a twentynothing male, cutting instead to important things: family, friends, love, pain, doubt and loyalty. The Isle of Arran opens the album with a glorious gospel choir and a pugnacious crisis of faith in father figures. It’s the sort of track that would end most other albums. For Carner, “there’s nothing to believe in, believe me” is just for starters.

Although he has come of age in a place – Croydon – and in a time in which grime is resurgent, Carner is not an MC in the strictest sense. His wordplay is more languid, his subject matter more internal. One track, No CD, uses a none-more-old-school backing of drums and guitar to pay tribute to the 90s masters and track-making itself. “We got some old Jay Zs, couple ODBs,” offers Carner. “Place ’em up in perfect order ’cos [of] my OCD.”

Elsewhere, his productions favour easy-going soul or laidback jazz. One of the older tracks included here, Ain’t Nothin’ Changed, tackles themes of ambition and defeatism with the sonic refinement of fellow young south London King Krule or Jamie Isaac.

Watch the video for Loyle Carner’s The Isle of Arran.

It’s not all heavy going. Carner worries about girls too, and text messages (+44). Another interlude, Rebel 101, finds him being ordered to “eat bad food and party” by producer Rebel Kleff. But instead of posturing then landing a couple of blows to the soft tissue, Carner’s scuffed, wry flows grab you by the feels from the get-go and do not relinquish their grip. All of his candid songs so far have built up a picture of a thoughtful young man rejected by his biological father, sustained by his family, propelled forward by his ADHD diagnosis (he has set up a cookery programme for others with the condition, Chili Con Carner).

On Florence, he imagines cooking pancakes for an imaginary little sister; Kwes sings the hook. The death of his beloved stepfather in 2014 prompted Carner to give up a place at the Brit School studying drama to take his place as a breadwinner. In this sense he’s a hustler, parlaying his biography into pounds and pence.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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