It’s the usual way of rap artists to be a bit self-aggrandising, to burst onto the scene with a swagger and some bling and proceed to tell everyone how great they are. That isn’t Loyle Carner‘s style though – this 21-year-old from South London is rather more restrained.
His back story is a sad, yet inspiring one – his stepfather died in 2014, which was the trigger for him to start writing songs and rapping. A couple of years later, he was supporting US rapper Joey Bada$$ and superstar Nas while also collaborating with Kate Tempest.
That’s all not to mention Chilli Con Carner, the initiative Carner is working on supporting young people with ADHD (a condition that he suffers from) by getting them involved with cooking. It’s a surprise he managed to find time to record a debut album, but we should be grateful he did, for Yesterday’s Gone is one of the finest debuts you’ll hear for quite some time.
Opening track The Isle Of Arran sets the tone beautifully – a gospel choir (a sample of a 1969 track by the SCI Youth Choir) giving the track a gorgeous sort of swell as Corner raps about his troubled background. “My mother said there’s no love until you show some, so I showed love and got nothing….I wonder why my dad didn’t want me, my ex didn’t need me…there’s nothing to believe in” runs one line, and although it threatens to sound more like a therapy session than a promising slice of UK hip-hop, you can’t help but be pulled in by the song’s doomy melancholia.
The majority of Yesterday’s Gone is downbeat and soft spoken, with Florence, a sweet little number about making pancakes with an imaginary little sister featuring some impressively smooth vocals from Kwas and the light jazzy noodlings of Damselfly being immediate highlights. Carner’s style is pretty deliberate and languid, but he can change to a more rapid-fire flow at will – Stars & Shards sees him spitting rhymes about a friend who’s taken a wrong turn in life, while the brilliant ode to retro records No CD sees Carner play tribute to some old masters while also poking fun at himself: “we got some old Jay-Z, couple ODBs, place ’em up in perfect order cos my OCD…”
Carner’s samples are wildly obscure and eclectic – from Piero Umiliani‘s gorgeous saxophone introducing Ain’t Nothing Changed to the blissful Ladybird by Brian Bennett on Mean It On The Morning – and even the ‘skits’ (which sometimes threaten to destroy an album’s momentum) add some depth and shading here. There’s a lovely little interlude where he teases his mother for swearing too much, while +44 deals with the problem of sending unwise text messages when you’re feeling a bit horny.
Mostly though, this is an album which celebrates the love of family – there’s an incredibly touching bit in Sun Of Jean where Carner’s mother appears again reciting a poem she’s written about her son, and the pride in her voice is palpable. As should be the case: yesterday may be gone, but the future of UK hip-hop belongs to this man.