Loyle Carner – Live @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire
aaamusic | On 20, Feb 2017
Friday 17th February, London
Loyle Carner has only been on tour for two and a half weeks, and yet his sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire show feels like something of a homecoming. Just 22 years old, the South London rapper – real name Benjamin Coyle Larner – exudes the sort of easy-going charisma you might expect from a lifelong confidant down the pub. And yet, for all his salt-of-the-earth modesty, Carner is on the brink of breakout recognition not seen in UK hip hop since The Streets.
It’s a bold forecast for an artist with just one album to his name. Still, Yesterday’s Gone – which was released last month to critical acclaim – is undeniably a refreshing record. With its intelligent sampling, catchy hooks and sensitive lyrics, the album avoids the playful machismo of recent grime offerings in pursuit of something altogether more soulful. It’s this everyday social realism, the domestic heartache, humour and honesty, which has made listeners sit up and take note.
Carner’s fascination with these realist flourishes are out in force at tonight’s show. The rapper launches himself on to a stage that resembles the set of an Ibsen play; an armchair, Persian rug and even a bookcase to house the decks. The opening bars to ‘Isle of Arran’, an ominous, gospel-infused track with echoes of ‘Jesus Walks’, is drowned out by screaming that would not be out of place in the opening scene of A Hard Day’s Night.
Loyle’s music, which has leaked out in drips and drabs for the last couple of years, rewards loyalty. Things calm down in time for ‘Mean It In the Morning’, which sees Carner at perhaps his most vulnerable and confessional over a stoned, hazy beat. But remarkably when he transits into ‘+44’, half skit and half performance poetry, the crowd recites along, word for word.
Of course, Carner has had a little help from his friends. The arrival of Tom Misch on stage to play guitar and sing the chorus on the jazzy ‘Damselfly’ is a welcome cameo, as is an appearance from soul singer Kwes on the tender ‘Florence’. Elsewhere, Rebel Kleff, himself a formidable lyricist on the anthemic ‘NO CD’ and the brains behind the beats, is the unsung hero of the operation.
But perhaps the most intriguing guest tonight is Jehst, a hallowed talent on the early ’00s UK hip hop circuit and poster boy for the now legendary Low Life Records. The parallels between these two acts hit home on ‘No Worries’, an old school track which samples Zach Gill’s ‘Fine Wine’ and harks back to Carner’s ’90s East Coast influences. Watching the two bounce off each other, there is an undeniable sense of things coming full circle.
Blowing kisses to his Mum in the stalls and, perhaps unfairly, calling out the “newspapers here tonight”, Carner confidently segues into ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’. Razor-sharp and at times angry, this late night fusion of jazz and hip-hop is the rapper at his best and is a fitting end to a tight set. And while it’s true nothing has changed for Loyle Carner, the same can’t be said for the future of conscientious rap in Britain.