For this week’s edition of Go Left: GRM’s guide to alternative grime, hip-hop and R&B, we’ve got something a little different than usual. Rather than bring you our usual weekly round up – which will be back next week – we got on the phone with Loyle Carner, a 21 year old rapper from South London who has consistently gone left.
While South has emerged as the breeding ground for successful trap and road rappers (and beyond) in recent years, Loyle Carner has stayed on his own steady path, releasing deep, sentimental and intelligent hip-hop. His lo-fi and honest lyricism has launched him into a path of ever growing success. Over the past 2 years, he’s toured with Joey Bada$$, opened a cooking school for kids with ADHD, all the while working on his debut album.
Ahead of his appearance at LeeFest Presents: The Neverland, Loyle Carner goes in depth on all of the above, as well as plenty more, in his conversation with Griff below.
For those who don’t know, how would you describe Loyle Carner as an artist? What do you want people to take away from your art?
“It’s a difficult one. I guess the best way is just to listen. I never know what to say because it’s different for everybody, but I guess to help out in some sort of way. Just to resonate with someone or something someone’s going through. But yeah, I guess just honest music. “
Your latest single “Stars & Shards” is great. What does that song mean to you and what’s the message behind it?
“Basically, ‘stars and shards of glass’ was something I used to say a lot. I know a lot of stars and I know a lot of shards of glass. Not stars like celebrity stars, but stars like how your Nan would call you a star. As I was growing up, they never seemed to get on too well, those two different kinds of people. For the song itself, it’s about a guy I knew who was more of a shard of glass. If you look at a shard of glass, it looks like a star from afar, if it’s in the right light. The closer you get it loses some substance.
Is it part of an album coming? What’s the next project from you?
“Yeah so… I guess it is. I’ve been trying to not put a label or any time frame on it. I do have something in mind, but Id don’t want to put pressure on it and rush it, and let people down. But I am working on my album, and actually, over the last couple of months it’s really taken more shape than I thought it was going to at this stage. I feel like I’m a lot closer with it than I thought I was.”
The last EP was very honest, melancholic and deep. Can we expect the same kind of mood and themes from this new one?
“I’d hope it’s a progression. I’ve grown up a lot, because I recorded a lot of that (previous) stuff between the ages of 16 and 18. For this next one, it’s the latest stage of being 18 to 21. It’s just the next snapshot of growing up as a young person in South London. I think it will be the same though, not much has changed since then. There’s a few more things that I’ve gone through, but yeah I think it’s more of a progression of the same thing. There’s not too many big changes.”
You mentioned South London. You’re from Croydon, right?
“Yeah. I grew up in West Norwood. My Nan and Grandad lived in Brixton at the top of Streatham Hill. I bounced around between there until I was about 14/15 and then I moved up to Croydon because I got in to a school down here. I moved out here and have been here ever since.”
What do you think it is about the South that has seen so many successes over the year?
“Morley’s. I reckon it’s the Morley’s chicken. But nah, it’s been happening for a long time. I spent my whole life in South, I’ve known people making good music the whole time. Be it my Dad’s friends, my uncles, my cousin’s friends, whatever. In South it’s been bubbling up, there’s been a hub of creativity, it’s so overflowing in culture and diversity. I think now it’s getting a chance to stand up and people are really flying the flag for London in general. But the South, Croydon, Thornton Heath; Stormzy, guys like him, are putting our area on the map.”
In your Twitter bio it says, “bringing the South back without trap”. What do you mean by that and do you listen to trap?
“Yeah. I keep my ear to everything. When I’m working I don’t get a chance to listen to as much new stuff, like when I was younger. When I was at school, I found it a lot easier to keep up. I knew every F64 off by heart. SBTV and GRM Daily are what I grew up with, what I checked for every week. All the Daily Duppy’s and stuff, that’s all I ever knew. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been more difficult for me. My brother is the one who keeps my ears to the streets now.
“But yeah the trap thing, it’s because I’m not in any sort of trap… it’s the balance of both, I don’t make trap music myself and also I’m not in any form of trap. I work hard and I’m supporting my family, but there’s no illusion that I’m in some underworld or what not. I’m legit!”
I’ve heard you talk about how much grime influenced you as a kid. Who are your top 5 MC’s and why?
“The best rapper that has ever come out of the UK is Jehst. He’s my number one and the rest are kind of in no particular order. Ghetts, definitely. Ghetts and Kano were two of my favorites growing up. I had everything from Ghetts, ‘Freedom Of Speech’, ‘Ghetto Gospel’, every thing he did. Same with Kano, I was all over it. I like Skinnyman as well, because he kind of bridged the gap. He was one of the first I heard from a UK hip-hop stand point, him and Roots Manuva I heard of at the same time. That’s when I realised there was more that you could do with an English accent. All the UK hip-hop I’d heard before had an American twang to it, and I was in to it, but I didn’t feel like I could identify with it.
“Fucking hell… I couldn’t even tell you (any more)…. Actually, I do know, a guy called Shimmer. This was like time ago, he kind of disappeared, but he had a Westwood freestyle with Dot Rotten and a few other people. I remember his 16 in that was the best Westwood freestyle ever.”
Obviously there’s a couple UK hip-hop names there, but you’ve gone with Ghetts and Kano. They’re particularly lyrical over grime, is that something you look for?
“What’s an MC if you can’t rap? The whole lyricism thing, I just latch onto it. I love storytelling. When I was growing up, my Dad used to listen to a lot of folk and a lot of blues and that’s the same thing. Guys like Bob Dylan, or BB King, guys who tell you a story. As much as it wasn’t the same structure, it had the same sentiment behind it. So when I heard Kano, songs like “Brown Eyes”, there was just so much content there. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot time for just straight bars and flows over beats, but for me musically, if it had a story, that’s what got me. Ghetts and Kano, they paint a picture instantly. Whatever they say, you were there. They’re what I base a lot of my stuff on.”
With such a diverse array of sounds and the blurring line between rap, grime and trap, what do you think the future of UK rap holds, in all it’s forms. Can they co-exist and thrive?
“I’m excited for it. I’m really excited. The perfect example is (Little) Simz, her at the 1Xtra grime prom. Because she raps and I understand the differences between grime and rap. But for her to be on the same stage as Stormzy and who else was on that, who were doing the straight 140 stuff, but she’s here doing like 90 bpm. It showed the bridging of the gap, that she was able to be a part of that. It made me feel like it’s all being widely accepted as a whole. Rhymes, whoever is writing rhymes can do that together… The beauty of it, is it’s becoming more accepted. Like, we’re all from the UK, lets stick together, lets support each other.”
You’ve toured with a bunch of people, like Joey Bada$$. What’s the craziest story you’ve got from being on the road so far?
“To be fair, it’s never been that crazy. There are things that have gone bad. We played a show with Joey in Manchester and there was talk of this after party afterwards. It turned out to be in Liverpool. This was one of our first tours and it was one of the first times we were getting paid, and we were all very, very gassed. I was like, ‘yeah fuck it, I’m going to this party.’ Joey said, ‘yeah we’re all going, don’t worry.’
“So we all set off from Manchester, in cabs, to Liverpool. It’s a ridiculous journey, something like an hour and a half. We were all sat in the cab a little bit drunk, getting more and more sober as the journey goes on. By the time we get to Liverpool everyone is stone sober, but we get to the club where the after party is supposed to be. Joey and that haven’t even made it, they’ve all just gone home because they realised it’s a bad idea. Statik Selektah was meant to be DJing, but he’s not down for it. Skinnyman was supposed to be spitting at the night as well and he didn’t show up. We got there and there was about 7 guys in there. That’s what tour is really like. We were just standing in Liverpool, I had to text one of my friends and stay at hers. Like, the whole entourage was staying at this girls house. Then we left for the next show the next day.”
You’re performing at LeeFest this year. What can fans expect from a Loyle Carner live show?
“People usually expect me to be a bit more laid back. People I chat to, they don’t know how it’s going to translate to a live show because a lot of the early stuff is quite subdued. But nah, (the shows) are energetic. I’ve got ADHD, so when I’m in the flesh, I’m nuts. I think it’s different every time though. But it’s emotionally charged. It’s raw.”
I heard you’re opening a cooking school for kids with ADHD. What’re the details with that?
“I’ve been cooking my whole life and it’s always been one thing that I was good at, and the one thing that used to relax me. Having ADHD, there’s not many things that can calm you down. When I latched onto cooking, I would come home and cook for hours. I’d get back at about 4 o’clock and cook until 6, and have the food ready for my family when they got home. I figured if it worked for me, then maybe it would work for kids that are a bit younger and in a similar situation, so I set up the school. The first one is over a week in the summer, from the 18th to the 22nd. We’re still looking for a bit of funding, but there’s quite a lot we got together already. If Jamie Oliver reads this, then hook me up.
“We’re going to premiere a short film as well, not to expose the kids, but more to show what they’re capable of. There’s so many misconceptions about ADHD and I think it’s important to start showing the positivity that can be found within it. Because for me, I think it’s the only reason I am where I am. So that’s happening, we’re opening a pop up restaurant where the kids and myself will cook for the public. Then hopefully we can let it grow and try and build the school properly, and turn it into a proper charity.”
Finally, you’re a football fan and support Liverpool, right? What are your predictions for the Euros?
“I love the underdog, like I love Vardy. The defence is whatever for us this Euros, but England have got a crazy attack. There’s loads of strikers, loads of different and diverse strikers. I was thinking we might actually do bits and get a lot of goals. I reckon England will hit quarter finals. Maybe, we might go through to the semis if we’re lucky.
“I want them to win, but I reckon it’s gonna be France. Just because of Payet, that’s all I really care about. His fucking free kicks. He’s a ridiculous player. They’ve got a good side. I’m not a big fan of Giroud, but he’s alright.”
That’s just about everything. Thank you bro!
Loyle Carner is one of the many acts set to play LeeFest Presents: The Neverland this year between the 28th-30th July at John Darlings Farm in Kent (TN8 5NP), alongside the likes of Lianne La Havas, Ghostpoet, Little Simz, DJ Luck & MC Neat and many more. Weekend tickets are still available from £99 – and for more information on the festival and tickets head to leefest.org.
Words & interview: Alex Griffin
Original photo: Stew Capper