Not Waving, but Drowning

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Laid-back, sensitive and dreamy — nothing less could be expected from Croydon rapper Loyle Carner’s second album. Although perhaps not packing as much of a punch instrumentally as his debut released two years ago, the album has some impressive features. Jorja Smith, Sampha and Tom Misch all make appearances, as well as an excerpt from south London rap giant Giggs.

But by far the most impressive aspect of Carner’s art is his beautifully poetic lyricism, effortless flow and intimate, honest portrayals of his emotional world. In this, Carner has not yet failed to deliver.

Carner stands out because he never embodies the exaggerated masculinity that many male rappers feel the need to adopt. The first song of the album is titled “Dear Jean” and is written to Carner’s mum. He aims to reassure her that although he is moving out to live with his girlfriend, he will not let her be lonely.

An equally tender moment comes later on the album, in the song “Krispy”, dedicated to his friend and fellow musician Rebel Kleff. The two fell apart after Loyle Carner’s success, and in an interview Carner described how he felt a barrier when talking to his friend about emotions. “Krispy” is his warming attempt to remedy this.

Other lines explore this difficulty in conveying emotions. The album name itself comes from a poem by Stevie Smith about a man struggling with depression but unable to ask for help. “Loose ends” expands on this. Lusciously framed with the golden tones of Jorja Smith, this track is an ode to the people who have supported him and the pain he feels that he didn’t have that support as an adolescent or at the time of his father’s death.

In “Looking back” Loyle explores the racism he faced growing up. Born to a white Jewish mother and black Guyanese father, the artist has described how he felt excluded from identifying with either. Lines like “They used to hype ’cause my mother’s face was white and my father’s face blacker than the scene outside a spaceship” convey his sense of alienation, while “I’m thinking that my great grandfather could’ve owned my other one” cause shivers.

Thematically, Carner’s lyrics lie far from the street culture and poverty described by many of the pioneers of UK hip-hop. This is partly due to his social background. Private school educated Carner’s exposure to poverty and violence was likely far less than the average drill rapper, for instance, and his music lacks the anger of more working class based sub-genres.

Carner is more likely to reference a famous chef than a drug dealer, which he does twice in “Ottolenghi” and “Carluccio”. In interviews he has described how cooking was always a way for him to manage his ADHD.

But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t affected by the ills of society — aside from the racism mentioned, Loyle also describes struggling to pay off both his and his mum’s mortgage and in “Sail away Freestyle!” he raps about the stress of struggling with debt.

In an age where #metoo has exposed the drastic need for a rejection of misogyny and toxic masculinity and more and more rappers have begun to break the stigma on speaking out about their mental health, Loyle Carner’s compassion and honesty are a breath of fresh air.

Above all, the album charts an artist’s growth from a confused youth to an adult more in tune with his emotions and those of loved ones around him. In doing so, the album reaches out to a generation struggling to break down ingrained ideas about gender roles and masculinity.

Loyle Carner is a rapper attempting to break out of the strictly limiting ways that young, black men are “supposed” to act, and it is this aspect above all that allows him to connect so intimately with his audience.