Loyle Carner – ‘Hugo’ review: an honest, unflashy storyteller

Fatherhood pushes the London rapper to reconsider his story and offer "a true representation of the facts" on his third album

Atop a Guyanese coastal clifftop, gazing into the camera alongside legendary poet John Agard, the closing shot of Loyle Carner‘s new video ‘Georgetown’ encapsulates the south London rapper’s inspiring journey. Produced by hip-hop royalty Madlib, named after Carner’s paternal grandmother’s birthplace, and sampling  Agard’s seminal poem Half Caste, the single’s wide scope departs from the subtle, personal storytelling of early hits like ‘Cantona’. The message is clear. On his third album, Loyle Carner is opening himself up to the world.

Known for mellow, jazzy UK hip-hop beats and clever, introspective rhymes about family, friendship, and grief, Carner is an honest, unflashy storyteller. After 2017 debut ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, collabs with artists like Jorja Smith and Tom Misch propelled him into the mainstream, before 2019 follow-up ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ cemented his status as one of UK hip-hop’s brightest talents.

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Laced with melancholic reflection, ‘Hugo’ was written in lockdown, when global protests against structural racism impacted Carner dramatically. The result? An album that explores themes of race, identity, and belonging in new depth. ‘Ladas Road (Nobody Knows)’ reflects on being a mixed race man facing anti-Black racism without the Black community’s full embrace. He raps “I told the black man, he didn’t understand / I reached the white man, he wouldn’t take my hand” , his tone reinforcing the purposeful energy of the album’s opening cry: “Let me tell you what I hate!”

A new father, Carner recently called his music “a true representation of the facts” for his son to look back on, documenting his status as a young, Black, affluent artist processing a difficult past. ‘Blood on my Nikes’ encapsulates this. A haunting snapshot of a murder Carner witnessed aged “barely sixteen”, it features ominous horns and a poignant speech on knife crime by teenage activist Athian Akec. Enriched by powerful bars like “So I grew up scared of the night bus / Scared of the boys who looked like us”, the track quivers with an infectious darkness.

Sonically, it’s his most polished record yet. London producer kwes delivers a soulful, melancholic sound that helps Carner move from dynamic, multi-syllabic storytelling to a more honest, reflective voice. It’s personal, yet far-reaching; the rapper mourns his father, but he also mourns strangers, kids lost to violence, crime, a hostile state. He’s sorrowful, fully aware of the injustice of the world, but more at ease with his place within it. In ‘Homerton’, the Croydon lyricist underlines this vision, rapping “I start to think about the legacy I leave”. One thing’s for sure — after ‘Hugo’, that legacy is richer.

Details

  • Release date: October 21, 2022
  • Record label: EMI, Warp Music
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