Ben Coyle-Larner, has, by anyone’s standards, has had a fucking epic year. The 23-year-old Croydon boy otherwise known as Britain’s hottest hip-hopper Loyle Carner – released his magnificent, old-school flavoured debut album, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, travelled the world and scored a hell of a lot of vintage football shirts in the process. “God, I’ve been busy,” he says 10 minutes into our chat, as we start reeling off everything he’s been up to over the past 12 months. From festivals to far flung tours, awards ceremonies and rave reviews, we sat down with the best thing to happen to British rap since MF Doom to digest the biggest and best bits.
Releasing the album
January 20 was a big day for Carner – and for US politics, with Donald Trump’s inauguration threatening to overshadow the moment the MC had been working towards for two years. “I was pissed about that!” says Carner. He needn’t have worried. Over at London’s Rough Trade East, where the album was launched, people were more concerned about getting their hands on some grub from him: Loyle didn’t just bring the tunes, he brought lunch, too. “I was serving chili con Carner – pardon the pun. I cooked it the night before at home in my kitchen – we bought two industrial vats and cooked one beef brisket chili and a veggie chili with Quorn mince.” Bigly.
Read More: NME’s Albums of The Year 2017
Basking in stars
Carner’s first album was released to universal acclaim, with NME calling it “confessional, soul-searching and very, very good”. In fact, there wasn’t one bad review. “I tried my best not to look, so potentially there’s something horrible out there…” says Carner, somewhat doubting his excellence. Well, we’ve double-checked and there isn’t. “Sick! For me that’s a big deal and I was happy that it was four stars across the board and not five stars because otherwise you’ve got nowhere to go,” he explains. “Also I was 21 when I wrote and recorded it – you don’t want to peak at 21, that would be depressing.”
Taking hip-hop home
New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco – in spring Carner took his version of boom bap old-school hip-hop back to the country where it was born. “I was probably the most nervous I’ve been about anything. Every show I was petrified,” he says of the experience. “There’s a lot of things about America that are f**ked up at the moment – especially the president – but the one thing I think Americans do really well is make hip-hop.”
Making people cry at Glastonbury
“We were playing at the same time as Run The Jewels so I’d already decided in my head that nobody was going to come and the tent would be a quarter full,” says Carner of his Worthy Farm experience. How wrong he was: the John Peel tent was totally rammo. “My friends were there, which was nice, my mum was there, which was even nicer, and a few of my enemies were there, which was even better!” Much of Carner’s music is a tribute to his mum, Jean, who even features on his album, reading a poem about her son. So it came as no surprise when he whisked her onto the Glasto stage, picked her up and spun her around like something from Strictly Come Dancing. “It had to be done – I wanted her to get the cheer that she deserved.” It wasn’t just an emotional show for Carner and his family, either. “At the end there were loads of guys crying and hugging each other. I thought that was the most important thing. Men crying is essential, to stop men from holding it in and developing mental health issues – just to let it out – it’s a really, really special thing to see that, so it was one of the highlights of my summer.”
Striking a pose
2017 was also the year Loyle Carner became a model, starring in a Burberry advert and also fronting a fancy fragrance campaign. “Oh, for f**k’s sake,” he says, head practically in his hands, at mention of his modelling work. “I look like a frog!” YSL didn’t think so: after seeing him bulls**tting his way through the weather forecast on French telly, he was called up and asked to be the face of their new fragrance. “They said, ‘We’ll also give you enough cash to pay off your mum’s mortgage,’ and I was like, ‘You know what? I’ll do it!’”
Receiving a Mercury nomination
Alongside albums from Ed Sheeran, Stormzy, J Hus, Alt-J, The xx and more, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ was nominated for one of the most prestigious music prizes around. “I cried, man,” he says. “It’s the only one I really care about, because it’s the only one that you don’t have to win. It’s the one that you can be nominated for and that is the accolade. It puts you in the conversation, and being part of the conversation is all I’ve ever wanted to be, not having to be the Number One.” In the end, Sampha’s ‘Process’ came out top, but Carner genuinely couldn’t have been more chuffed. “Sampha deserves it – he’s been working so hard for so long! Also there’s no way I could have handled it, the pressure of going to every interview and people saying, ‘So the UK reckon you’re the left-thinking genius of 2017?’
But he is!”
Not just a rapper, but something of a social activist too, this year Carner wrote the foreword to Dyslexia Is My Superpower (Most Of The Time), a book for young people about the condition he was diagnosed with when he was a kid, along with ADHD. “Things can be s**t and I know if I was 12 years old and was really struggling, [it would have helped] if I had someone who was 20-odd years old who was a rapper or whatnot and could come and chat to me and ask, ‘What do you like to do, what don’t you like to do, don’t worry about that, those kids don’t matter, you’re not stupid…” Loyle Carner doesn’t just want to make brilliant songs, he also wants to make life easier for people that have problems, and this is why we really, really like Loyle Carner.
Standing up for what’s right
In October, Carner made headlines after he chucked a male crowd member out of a show for shouting lewd comments at a female member of Carner’s support act. “You can’t disrespect a woman like that while she’s onstage – especially at a show like mine, where all I talk about is how much I love my mum and that I was raised by women,” says Carner. “It blew up and I was happy that it did, because it shined a light on all that was happening. People were going, ‘What do you expect at a hip-hop show?’ and I was like, ‘That’s the whole reason I kicked this guy out, because that’s not what hip-hop is. Hip-hop comes from poetry and jazz and blues and pain and people expressing how they feel, it doesn’t come from a man slapping a woman or telling her that she’s nothing but a body part. I don’t give a f**k what you think it is – I know what I think it is and what it is supposed to be in 2017.’” Amen.
Playing a massive birthday gig
Carner celebrated his 23rd birthday on October 6 by inviting 5,000 friends and fans to a huge show at O2 Academy Brixton, close to the site of the Honest Burger he was fired from for accidentally breaking a load of champagne bottles. “It was special – really, really special. I was so nervous and loads of s**t went wrong, but we didn’t care,” he says of the show. DJ Rebel Kleff’s hands were shaking so much that he managed to switch off the power on the decks halfway through the first song, cutting out the whole track. Oops. “I just kept on going and everyone thought it was meant to happen, but it really wasn’t.”
Football-crazy Carner expanded his collection this year, when a fan offered him the England 1990 alternative kit in exchange for free tickets to his show. “I brought that guy onto the bus. That guy can have whatever he wants – within reason; I’ve been trying to get that kit for years.” Carner, who often plays while holding onto his late step-dad’s football shirt, found out that fans too were bringing shirts that used to belong to their deceased relatives, so they could come to the shows with them. “It was a beautiful thing to have sparked and long may it continue.”
“When Loyle met Eni”
Loyle Carner and England football hero Eniola Aluko spoke at NME Lifehacks on November 23. Here’s why Loyle loves Eni
“Firstly, she plays football. I would love for my daughter to play football, because football’s sick and it shouldn’t be a gender-specific sport. Secondly, she stood up to the England manager, Mark Sampson. He said, in jest, ‘I hope your family don’t bring Ebola to Wembley’. I’m mixed race and I’ve experienced stuff like that myself. When everyone you’ve grown up with in the team is going, ‘We stand beside this manager’, to stand by it and not be scared away is brilliant. And thirdly, because women’s football doesn’t pay enough money, she is also a lawyer. She was playing football at weekend and scoring goals and midweek she’s putting people in prison.”