Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It Was Drilled into Me from a Young Age That Music Had to Have a Story; Rapper Loyle Carner Injects a New Emotional Honesty and Introspection into London's Recent Hip-Hop Resurgence, He Tells Jimi Famurewa

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It Was Drilled into Me from a Young Age That Music Had to Have a Story; Rapper Loyle Carner Injects a New Emotional Honesty and Introspection into London's Recent Hip-Hop Resurgence, He Tells Jimi Famurewa

Article excerpt

Byline: Jimi Famurewa

LOYLE Carner has a theory that becoming famous is like the slow creep of gradual weight gain. "It's very difficult to notice it when it's you," says the fast-rising rapper, flashing a grin. "Like, everyone else may be saying you're getting a bit podgy but you won't know you're fat until you look in the mirror and go, 'Bro, I'm huge.'" To extend this analogy, in purely figurative terms, this slender 22-year-old south Londoner has been steadily piling on the pounds of late.

Having been anointed as one of the acts on last year's BBC Sound Of 2016 list, Carner -- whose stage moniker is a corruption of his real name, Ben Coyle-Larner -- has parlayed support turns for big ticket hip-hop acts such as Nas, a sold-out autumn gig at Camden's Koko and a single that made 6 Music's A-list (bass-twanging, crate-digger's anthem No CD) into a growing flock of evangelising fans. And his ascent -- culminating on January 20, he'll hope, with a decent reception for debut album Yesterday's Gone -- is a reminder that Britain's recent rap resurgence isn't strictly limited to the tracksuited 140 bpm phenomenon known as grime.

Although there have been clumsy press attempts to bracket him with the likes of Skepta and Kano ("Just very f***ing ridiculous," he laughs), Carner's style is languid, introspective and jazz-infused, audibly splicing the conscious street narratives of De La Soul, Slum Village and Common with Nineties-era boom bap and a healthy helping of youthful London wit. It's an approach that turns Yesterday's Gone into a dazzling brew of nostalgia and millennial swagger -- most potently on the gospel-tinged single Isle of Arran -- and, rather than being a cynical play for the wallets of ageing A Tribe Called Quest fans, it all comes directly from Carner's upbringing.

"In my house [growing up] it was David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith," he says, leaning forward in his seat. "Also, my mum and dad were heavily into punk, soul, blues and jazz, so when it came to me watching Channel U and MTV Base -- discovering hip-hop -- they didn't want to hear about anything that was superficial. But if I brought them, say, a Nas album then that would bridge the gap. So it was drilled into me, subconsciously and from a young age, that music had to have a story." Story, family -- and, for that matter, family history -- are abiding themes for Carner but, mercifully, there's nothing heavy or too worthy about him in person.

We meet amid folding bikes and faded sofas at the BBC's Maida Vale Studios as Carner and best friend/regular producer Rebel Kleff rehearse for a Radio 1 live session that will take place here later. Wearing gold rings, an outsize checked shirt, black Vans and Ninja Turtle socks, Carner (who goes by Ben to those who know him) is energetic, eloquent company, talking at a sprint in a husky south London voice while joking about everything from his face ("I do look like a frog, to be fair") to a festive Instagram video of him dancing with a cat on his back ("If it wasn't for the RSPCA I'd do it on stage"). He radiates charisma and good vibes. So it may seem odd that grief has been a major catalyst in his music career.

Raised in West Norwood by his mother Jean (a special educational needs teacher) and City worker stepfather Nik (his biological father is a musician and former bookshop worker of Guyanese descent who Carner has minimal contact with), he wrote his first poem about a best friend called Christian who died of leukaemia when they were both just seven years old. "I showed it to my teacher, kind of embarrassed, and she made me perform it in front of the school," he says. "Not long after that I would just write and write." Having been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, Carner soon gravitated to the performing arts via a stint at The Brit School (alma mater of Adele and Amy Winehouse) and a sideline in writing raps. …

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