The emotive South London rapper on growing up

On a bizarrely warm late-February afternoon, Ben Coyle-Larner - AKA Loyle Carner - has already had one of the worst but typically British starts to a Monday. He’d been stopped by the police for riding his bike on the pavement and then shortly after, fell off it. Despite this, he’s upbeat as he arrives at Clash’s studios in Dalston, sporting a Gang Starr hoodie.

Growing up, he says, he missed out on the chance to buy rap merchandise the first time around and has since made it a hobby of his to collect - similar to his prized vintage football shirt collection. “For the first time, I feel like I can say that I’m really happy, which is weird because people say that’s not the best time to be making music, but for me it’s wicked,” he says with a broad smile. “I feel like I’m in a space where I don’t have to create but want to create.”

‘Yesterday’s Gone’, his debut album, which dropped in the summer of 2016, marked a huge milestone for his life beyond music. Of course, there are the financial benefits of releasing an album, but for the South London rapper, it means so much more than that. “Loads of things happened for me: I was able to move out of my mum’s place and help pay her mortgage, which was cool. I was able to stretch my legs a bit more, and then I met my missus, you know? All these small things, bit by bit, added to life getting better for me.”

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Since his first gig back in 2012 when he supported MF DOOM in Ireland, Loyle’s been hard at it, rarely skipping a beat. “This is the first time I’ve really been able to enjoy the fruits of my labour and I was working really hard. I was touring for three or four years straight and there was no time in summers to go away and see the world. Last summer, we went to Sri Lanka, Croatia, and all around the world and got to saw bits I hadn’t seen and have a little break,” he explains, admitting that it’s often difficult to define exactly when he’s working. “Because it’s creative, it’s what you want to do, so it blurs the line between work and pleasure. My girlfriend works a lot harder than me - she’s a teacher and so’s my mum, and they’re the ones that deserve the trip, especially when they’re working every day and marking essays over the weekend. I’m glad I just get to be there.”

On his forthcoming album ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’, Loyle Carner uses that expression to address the falling out he had with longtime friend and producer Rebel Kleff. “Falling out with friends and trying to understand my relationships with them. That’s the whole idea of the album and its title,” he reveals. “It’s easy to think that because I have moderate success everything’s fine, but that’s far from it. I was happier, but it comes with its new stresses.”

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“People said I changed but I didn’t do all this stuff just to stay the same,” he says, paraphrasing Anderson .Paak. “I didn’t work this hard just to remain the same guy and I wanted to grow up a bit and have a better relationship with the rest of the world. I just recently became cool again with Rebel, who I fell out with, and it was nice but it’s about accepting the fact that people drift. It’s just acceptance. I feel like I’ve grown up a bit, which is nice; it’s about time.”

“I feel like there’s two different disciplines for me when I’m making music,” he continues, “not to show off or prove how good I am, but I’m using it to express how I feel. And there’s the artistry when you add the choppy flows and you start to break it down and I know I can do that. I don’t need to rap like ‘I’m the best rapper’. As I grew, I realised I wasn’t reflecting myself because I was too busy replicating the stuff that I love.”

On his way to East London this morning, Loyle was reading Earl Sweatshirt’s recent interview with NPR. “He said rap is black expression and that he’s just trying to bring it back to where it comes from, with the blues, jazz and soul, and that’s how I feel about what I’m trying to do. In interviews people say I’m doing something new, but not really; I’m just doing something that I know that existed pre-rap. Whether that’s me rapping over a piano or spitting to a Jembe, that’s the stuff that gets me going because it’s expression. There’s no way it can be wrong and that it can’t be rap.”

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The kind of thoughtful direction Loyle Carner has taken on ‘Not Waving, Just Drowning’ sees him observe the world around him and his position in it. Where previously he was finding his way to happiness on ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, his second album gave him room to explore what his blackness meant to him. He speaks of feeling safe at home growing up, despite being the darkest in his family, but finding that it was the outside world that scared him the most, pushing the rapper to question who he is. To which Loyle responds on ‘Looking Back’, with razor sharp but stark delivery: “My great grandfather could have owned my other one.”

There’s a clear lineage and timeline that Loyle’s music can be placed in; he’s a descendant of the Jehsts, Kanos, Skinnymans, Black Thoughts and Commons, but his recent work and collaborations have pushed him further from his comfort zone than ever before.

“This album was like a purgatory for me,” he says, as our conversation draws to its close. “A shedding of the skin of what I was doing and an embrace of where I am now.”

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Words: Jesse Bernard
Photography: Lillie Eiger
Fashion: Sam Thompson
C
reative Direction: Rob Meyers

Loyle Carner’s second album, ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ is out now. Catch him at the following UK shows:

MAY
03 Brighton Concorde 2
04 Bristol Trinity Centre
05 Liverpool Sound City
07 London The Roundhouse

JUNE
08 Manchester Parklife

JULY
12 London Lovebox
13 Shepton Mallet NASS
19 Henham Park Latitude


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