Thank goodness for Loyle Carner. British hip-hop has often been dismissed as lacking the bite, punch and sheer skills of its American counterpart, but 22-year-old Ben Coyle-Larner has stacks of talent, some seriously good tunes and some highly decent connections – he’s already supported everyone from MF Doom and Nas to Kate Tempest and Joey Badass. He also spreads his smooth drawl over his debut album and is as proudly south London as Del Boy and Rodney Trotter.
On ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ US rap’s trademark arrogance is replaced by unabashed sensitivity and some serious emotional openness. If it seems like you’re listening to Coyle-Larner reading out his diary when you listen, well, that’s because you kind of are. This is music as catharsis, with much of the sonically laid-back album dealing with family, loss and friendship, over lived-in J Dilla and Tribe Called Quest-worthy beats. But that’s not to say that there aren’t some significant bangers in the mix. As epic album openers go, ‘The Isle Of Arran’ is way up there. A glorious gospel choir sample and a warm old-school soul sound both play out behind Coyle-Larner’s effortless flow, as he serves up a heartrending study of grief and a family in turmoil, like Kanye West had he watched one too many episodes of EastEnders. Feelings are similarly fraught during the moody ‘The Seamstress’, which deals with alcohol abuse, or the sparse, stunning ‘Mrs C’, written for a friend whose mother was sick with cancer, and the powerful ‘Sun Of Jean’ which features piano from his late dad and spoken word from his mum.
By now your tear ducts have probably taken enough of a battering, but worry not, as there are tunes here that will leave you less of a quivering wreck. The bass-driven ‘NO CD’ is a fun, funny ode to buying and loving music in its physical form (“We got some old Jay Zs / Couple ODBs”). ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ is similarly addictive while ‘Damselfly’ boasts a dazzling jazzy backdrop and ‘No Worries’ sees a guest spot from UK rap icon Jehst. British hip-hop finally got serious – and Loyle Carner is leading the charge.