- 12 Dec 22
UK hip-hop star Loyle Carner on his electrifying latest album Hugo, superheroes, fatherhood, and his love of playing Dublin.
Loyle Carner has gradually climbed the ranks of the hip-hop scene since the release of his 2017 debut album, Yesterday’s Gone. Indeed, during that time, he has graduated from Mercury Prize nominee to panel judge this year. Meanwhile, he’s delighted with the reaction to his latest LP, Hugo.
“I’m actually over the moon,” he enthuses. “We’ve worked really hard for the past few years and people are understanding it. It seems like the album is already doing the job I wanted it to.
“People say the album has helped them; it’s having a positive impact on people’s lives. That’s what I was hoping for – that’s what this process did for me, so I really hoped it could do that for other people. I feel very lucky, honestly.”
The rapper has always been honest about his struggles with his own father, who left their family when Loyle was quite young. The passing of his stepfather, who the rapper considered to be his dad, also had a major impact. Meanwhile, the rapper is also now a dad himself.
“My son’s just been vibing to it a lot,” chuckles Loyle. “When he hears the intro for any of the songs now he’ll be like, ‘Daddy, Daddy,’ before I even start speaking. He understands that the music is mine, which is a nice feeling. Everyone used to ask if becoming a father would mean censoring myself, but it’s actually made me more explicit. My son needs to know the truth, he can’t have it sugarcoated. That really helped me cut through the bullshit and only release the stuff that’s really important.”
Naturally, becoming a dad has also prompted a period of introspection.
“Before you’re a parent, you think you’re gonna be the perfect one,” says Carner. “Then you become a parent and you’re imperfect and make mistakes. It kind of allows you to see your parents in a new light. You’re finally able to understand just how fucking hard it is to be a parent. I think it really forces you to be more open minded with your parents’ behaviour.”
Throughout lockdown, Carner reconnected with his previously estranged father. While claiming it was for his son to “see his black history”, the mending of their relationship seems to have done a lot for the artist as well.
“My dad taught me to drive and it was a beautiful process,” says Carner. “It was a very heavy process, but a very beautiful one, to reconnect with someone in such a confined space, at a time when there were no social interactions going on. So, of the few conversations I was having over lockdown, a lot were with my father. Which is weird, you know, but very beautiful.”
As a tribute to this time, Ben titled his album after his father’s car, which is affectionately named Hugo.
“I wouldn’t have made that album if it wasn’t for that car,” says Loyle. “I learned to drive late because I live in London, and it was like a newfound freedom for me. I felt like a kid again. It changed the way I was thinking about music, because I’d always listened to music on headphones pretty much exclusively growing up. It was like a personal thing for only me, and then the car expanded that world – I really felt grateful for that car.”
Not one for shying away from difficult themes in his music, the artist uses voice clips to discuss the knife crime epidemic in the UK, and other socio-economic issues, on ‘Blood On My Nikes’. As for the current political situation in the UK, Carner is typically forthright.
“Fuck Rishi Sunak man, he has no idea what it’s like to be stuck for cash ever, you know?” he reflects. “It’s frustrating, but I think we’re in a positive place still. I would hate for it to ever come across like I think we’re in a bad place, because we have the next generation. I spend a lot of time with people younger than me because of the cooking school, and for the first time in a long time, I’m seeing children who feel like they’re capable of change. Athian Akec, who’s on ‘Blood On My Nikes’, is a good example.”
The rapper is also very passionate about advocacy. That’s clear by his work running the aforementioned cookery school for kids with ADHD – which he has himself – and through normalising dyslexia, which is where his artist name comes from.
“When I was a kid, I would have loved to hear my heroes talking about ADHD,” reflects Carner. “I have a platform, I get a chance to speak on some things and help kids feel happier in themselves. So, it’s definitely a responsibility of mine to do that. I feel like the next generation, especially with people who are neurodiverse, are really bright.”
Notably, throughout Hugo, there are incredibly obscure and random references to superheroes and chess. Why?
“It’s funny, because these things are actually really hip-hop, but I guess it’s just not what you think,” says Loyle. “The RZA from Wu Tang, he’s like a grandmaster at chess! I think with superheroes. It’s a big thing in the community I grew up in, because superheroes, anime, all that shit, is where you’ll see people with similar stories. It’s this person who’s forgotten, left behind, has no parents, no father figure, but has this ability to do something great.
“I used to love the Wolverine and then when he died in the Wolverine film, I remember just thinking, ‘Holy shit, I don’t think they understand what they’re doing.’ These characters became father figures to people, because a lot of kids don’t have them. I was so bummed when they killed him.”
The artist comes to Ireland in 2023 for three sold-out dates in Vicar Street – and he’s certainly excited at the prospect.
“It’s the greatest crowd on the planet, I think,” says Carner of Dublin. “We always start the tour there, and then no show can come close for the rest of the tour. I don’t really drink anymore, but I will be having a Guinness, of course.”
• Hugo is out now. Loyle Carner plays Vicar Street, Dublin (February 19-21), and All Together Now, Co. Waterford (August 4-6).