Loyle Carner: ‘There’s a whole other side of me that’s darker’ | Loyle Carner
Ben Coyle-Larner struggles with himself. Literally, in the video for his new single, Hate, a song that sees him put aside his languorous, confessional flow and nice boy persona in order to deliver lines such as “I tell you what I hate though / The same guys get bogged down by the plainclothes’ with real venom. The video shows a camera trained on Coyle-Larner’s snarling face as he drives down a largely empty stretch of freeway, while being jostled and harangued by alternate versions of himself in the back seat. It might be a rather heavy metaphor, but it’s true to the tone of the song and its new direction, which he doesn’t seem entirely confident in yet.
“The song was written in such a hateful place,” says the 27-year-old rapper, better known as Loyle Carner. The video, which he co-directed, “had to reflect that feeling of getting in your own way when you’re full of rage. You have all these other people, all these other voices in your head, leading you astray or trying to get you to do bad things. It’s this internal battle.
Of hate, Coyle-Larner says he “finally felt empowered to discuss race.” It’s a theme that wasn’t entirely absent from his previous releases, but the consistency with which he tackles it here feels entirely new. “I hadn’t really been able to do it before – being mixed race,” he says. “It’s a weird thing because you’re between those two absolutes…until very recently it wasn’t really accepted to openly discuss feelings of oppression.”
It’s shocking to think that the Coyle-Larner opposite me in his east London studio is the same person I saw growling into the camera five minutes before. For 40 minutes, he is shyly talkative, keen to express his emotions but tempered by an obvious nervousness about being misinterpreted: “People are afraid to say what they really feel because at the time in which we live, they are being crucified. I try to unlearn little by little and be more myself.
Coyle-Larner has already postponed our conversation once, citing jet lag upon his return from Guyana, the country of his heritage, where he is shooting his new video for Georgetown. He says he was inspired to return to Guyana at the request of Akala, one of his rap heroes and the author of Natives. “The white side of my life is something I’ve known all my life, it’s something I’ve been deeply connected to – I’ve been to Scotland, I grew up with my mum. It doesn’t doesn’t really need any more development or understanding. The thing that I couldn’t figure out is where I fit in the world as a black man.
He’s understandably nervous – it’s his first interview since the pandemic and his latest record, the well-received if slightly anemic Not Waving, But Drowning. I know that his new album exists – because I listened to it – but its title and release date are to be determined; it depicts an elephant in the play throughout, with Coyle-Larner visibly uncomfortable at every mention. A few days before we met, he tweeted, “Hope I haven’t been gone too long” and seemed genuinely concerned that some fans might not like the new him.
This shift in tone is particularly heavy because the rapping he delivered on his first two albums has become synonymous with a certain kind of slick but unchallenging hip-hop guaranteed to win industry endorsements and popularity. inclusion on Spotify playlists but not polarizing enough to be anyone’s favorite thing. Indeed, the articles mention his involvement in a cooking school and his love of Liverpool FC as much as his music. He’s the nice guy in British hip-hop, but it’s a label he seems eager to shake off. “Everywhere I go, that’s what everyone always says. It’s not boring, but it’s not always facts.
He is frustrated with the way many have leaned on his liberal good faith, while acknowledging that he has done much to perpetuate this two-dimensional image; one of his biggest hits is called Ottolenghi after the chef and food writer Guardian. “There’s a whole other side of me that’s darker,” he says. “The last two times I released music, all I worried about was what other people would think.”
Coyle-Larner grew up in south London with his mother, a teacher working with children with learning difficulties, and stepfather Nik, who died in 2014. As well as having ADHD, he is dyslexic , i.e. school (he went to Whitgift, a private school for boys, then the Brit School for Performing Arts) was often a challenge and he is grateful to have found a career that allows him to support himself. needs of his mother and son, born in late 2020. “I like my plate full / I love the money in my bank is shameful,” he raps on Hate.
Although buying his mom a house and car is “like a neighborhood dream,” it’s fair to say he’s a little guilty about how he pays the bills. He tells the story of being at a job fair at school and a teacher approached him and a few other black kids to say, “It’s a shame there wasn’t football or rap here.” The experience clearly persists and he harbors resentment at not having been encouraged to direct his talent with words towards the craft of playwright or novelist. On his new single, he raps, “They said that’s all you could be if you was Black/Playing ball or maybe rapping.” “It’s saying that’s what I ended up falling into – beautiful but heartbreaking,” he says. “Don’t take anything away, rap is my first love and it’s saved my life countless times, but I wonder what choice I had as a rapper?”
I ask him if he’s starting to think more about his choices and his identity now that he’s immersed in the fact that music is what he does for a living: “It sounds stupid, but it’s the first times I try hard. Where I grew up, and the people around me, the whole focus was, “It’s not cool to try.” And that comes from insecurity and fear, obviously, because if you try and people don’t like it, it hurts a lot more. I had to risk being considered.
He also cites Kendrick Lamar as a huge influence in this regard, comparing the current phase of his career to where Kendrick was when he released his third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly (Kendrick was also 27 at the time of the release). exit). Not that his next release should be judged by Lamar’s masterpiece, but the record was clearly on his mind when conceiving and writing his new album: “When you’re young, there is a charm in the fact that you are a bit naive. You don’t know what you are looking for. It’s a balance because you don’t want to be too old to feel connected to the youth culture you’re trying to talk to. There’s a sweet spot in the middle, like Kendrick with To Pimp a Butterfly, where you’re naive enough to still speak freely, but considered enough to hone your shit.
Coyle-Larner’s personal growth over the past three years is perhaps most evident in the development of a relationship with her estranged father. He explains his decision to reconnect with his father in terms of “trying to be selfless for my son. I want him to understand that he is connected to his dark bloodline, because I was not and it affected me in my childhood.
Indeed, he concedes the impact of not having a relationship with his father still has; on Hate, he raps, “I fear it / I fear the color of my skin / I fear the color of my loved ones.” Insofar as her new music is a departure, she was therefore not informed by the need to address the political consequences of Black Lives Matter as much as by her parallel experience of exploring the mystery of its origin. “You fear what you don’t understand,” he says. “When I started making this music, I didn’t really understand the dark side of my life and that frustrated me. I was so angry with the world.
Hate is now available on EMI.