In the early days of Loyle Carner’s career, he built his audience on a persona which had a certain charm as a passionate, family focussed, well mannered young adult with a knack for rhyme and flow. While his early material still addressed serious matters, he would address them with something of an endearing innocence, almost as if he was pleading with his issues, trying to improve his situation that way.

Now in 2022; two albums and a pandemic later, album three ‘hugo’ is due for release, and Carner is done with pleading. Ever since he put out the first single from the album, titled ‘Hate’, it was clearly the most confrontational, searing piece of work that he had ever done. It was Carner at his rawest, angriest, arguably strongest(?). With lyrics such as “I hate those who think that they’re above” he shows that he has his targets in full view, which gives way to a completely new level of Carner’s honesty. It’s an honesty that is principled and demands justice.

The war-rallying theme continues throughout the album, as ‘Blood On My Nikes’ holds an aggressive undertone in the title alone, while ‘Plastic’ picks apart the superficiality of modern society. The main stylistic factors that made Loyle Carner such a renowned rapper and artist in the first place are all still there. It’s fair to call his lyrical flow typically trademark, as he doesn’t really sway far from the rap/delivery style that he is known for. But the lyricism, subject matter, and the tone is much more biting, and more political.

Loyle Carner has always been vocal on his experiences as a mixed race man, but none more so than throughout ‘hugo’. Notably on ‘Georgetown’ which is the third track on the album, featuring poet John Agard. One of the standout phrases is “White like the key on a piano, Black like a key on the piano.” The repetition of the phrase throughout the track doesn’t just reinforce the cleverness of the lyric, but also the poignancy of it. Together with Agard on this track, they have produced an incredibly powerful insight into their experiences. On a musical side note – ‘Georgetown’ uses the same sampled beat as the track ‘Close To Famous’ off of another standout album of the year ‘Cheat Codes’ by Danger Mouse & Black Thought. It’d be interesting to hear both artist’s take on where they did their sample digging for this track.

With access to such a platform that Loyle Carner does, it is clear that he is using it for a means of good. But while a lot of the messages throughout ‘hugo’ are largely universal, particularly within race and familyhood, Loyle Carner maintains a humility that he is loved for by dismissing his title of leader, and merely as just “holding up a mirror” to the societal matters addressed. This reinforces the view that artists can put issues into better context than most politicians or experts in the field through their power of turning experience into art, and their art into a platform for hopeful change.

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Written by Matty Dagger