We caught up with south London hip-hop artist Loyle Carner while he stopped off in Bristol during his UK tour earlier this month.
gal-dem: I’ve been following you for a while. I came to your EP launch for A Little Late at Birthdays back in 2014. Saw you twice supporting Joey Bada$$ in Bristol and Brighton. Tell me about the journey so far.
Loyle Carner: Mad. It’s been long, it’s been a lot of fun – stressful at times, brilliant at times. I’m doing massive things so I’m a lot further than where I thought I’d be but not close to where I hope to be when I continue to grow. So yeah, it’s been beautiful. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s nice that it’s growing organically, because it feels like nothing’s changing drastically.
I’m sure by now everyone has picked up on the fact that you always speak about your mum in your music and at live shows. Tell me about the role that she plays in your career.
Massive. She plays a massive role in my career and in my life in general. Growing up for a little bit it was just me and my mum before my step dad moved in, so we have an unspoken bond. She’s just my rock and I’m very lucky to have her.
Music-wise, I bounce everything off of her. I play her everything before anyone else hears it. She’s the one that gives me my self-belief. If I ever start doubting myself or worried about something, she keeps me rooted. She’s my everything really.
I think that’s part of the excitement of it. It’s nerve-wracking, it’s petrifying at times but also it’s brilliant because for me – that’s what it’s about. I write for myself, I always have done. But knowing that I’m putting it out there, every time there’s more people hearing it, every time I put out a song and it reaches more people, just because of the growth of the music. But it is scary and it is exposing but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I couldn’t imagine putting stuff out that I wasn’t truly behind, so it’s just something that goes with it.
Your music started taking off at a difficult time in your life, is it cathartic for you?
Yeah. It’s always been for me. The first song I had written about my dad after he passed – I wrote it literally to just get it off my chest and try to make sense of it. I grew up with ADHD and I’m very impulsive and I’m dyslexic. So when I talk to people, I don’t really get a chance to think things through. Writing has always been something that I can sit down, go over it, write it and re-write it and re-read it and make sense of what’s in my head. I put out what I wish I could say when people ask me. So it’s such a beautiful thing. People over time, have come to my shows and said to me that I’ve put how they feel into words – which is massive for me – to be able to do that. I know a lot of my favourite artists have done it for me. So be able to do it for someone else, is beyond amazing.
Who are some of your favourite artists?
The artists that inspired me to start rapping in general from these sides [UK]: Jehst, Ghetts, Skinnyman but also listen to American rap, old skool I love Mos Def. He’s my all time favourite – and Talib Kweli. Those are my real stand out guys. Any storytellers really, like I love Bob Dylan. So I’m kind of all over.
What would you be doing if it wasn’t music?
Cooking. I was at drama school before, so acting was something I wanted to pursue. But if I had a career path that I reckon I’d actually make it that was still more 9-to-5-ish that was still creative then I’d love to. I always wanted to go to culinary school. It was between that and drama school when I was leaving college but I still want to open a restaurant. That’s my plan.
What kind of food would you serve?
Growing up mixed-race is quite a confusing place to be. You’ve got a lot of different cultures merged together. I’m from Guyana and Scotland and England. So to make sense of it I’d love to go and learn more about South America and South American food. ‘Cos I guess Guyana classed as Caribbean but it’s in South America. My hope would be to go out to Guyana and see what’s out there, learn it and reproduce it.
How did your collaboration with Rebel Kleff come about?
He’s really good friends with my best friend from secondary school – Will. Chris [Rebel Kleff] is four or five years older than me and he was cool with Will’s older brother. A little while later, Will knew I was writing rhymes but I had no beats. And he knew that Rebel was making beats but had no rhymes. So he put us together. We met at this local hip-hop night that was happening just off Green Park station and we got talking and then just fell in love with each other man, it was ridiculous. Got on like a house on fire, went to the studio and just have not stopped. It’s brilliant.
What was the first thing you ever wrote?
One anti-racism rap I wrote when I was like 5, 6? It goes:
“I’m not racist – I love all colours,
Mixed-race, black and white should all be brothers”
But I wrote this other poem when I was in year one. My best friend in primary school died actually from leukemia when I was in year one. So I wrote this poem about him. Not to show anyone – I wrote it for myself. But we were in class a few months later and they were doing an assembly for him and the teacher asked “Has anyone got anything they want to share?” Bare girls were like “I’ve got this, I’ve got that.” So I was like I reckon I’ll do mine as well. That was the first time I’d ever shared anything because I was writing stuff when I was young, but nobody heard it because it was for me. To sit home, figure things out.
You’ve got a jazzy, nostalgic, poetic kind of vibe in your music. Give me five tracks that summarise your musical upbringing.
Everybody Loves The Sunshine – Roy Ayers
Closest Thing To Heaven – Ghetts
Mathematics – Mos Def
Sound Of Vision – David Bowie
Stand Up – Ludacris
Way back when I used to listen to honest, emotive, bruised rap but the one guy I used to love who didn’t do much of that was Ludacris ‘cos he was just the most gassed guy. I used to love him off and my mum banned me from MTV Base when I was younger because there was loads of naked women on TV and she was like ‘I don’t want you to grow with those kind of norms’ – which is beautiful ‘cos I didn’t. It wasn’t normal for me to see naked women on TV. But the one thing I was p*ssed was because I never got to see the Ludacris videos, his videos of hotel room, loads of drinks and Jacuzzis. He was talented – he wasn’t just gassed.
I think you’ve nailed the UK hip-hop authentic sound without looking too much to the US. Are there any overseas collaborations that you want to make happen to get a different sound?
I love Anderson .Paak. I’d love to link up with him, just because I think what he’s doing is different as well. And in the same breath I think Knxwledge is cool and I think they work well together so I’d love to be in the same room as those two to see how they work. I think they could spark something new in me – writing-wise.
Yourself and Little Simz are definitely holding the fort for hip-hop in the UK at the moment –
It’s so ridiculous that people have started putting me in the same sentence as Little Simz and I think it is insane. She’s on the Forbes list! She’s absolutely killing it. I’m just trying to keep up. I feel like those kinds of people have set the pace and I’m looking in – outside the house like ‘ah is it cool if I come in?’ But thank you.
– at the same time, the world is clocking onto grime on a huge scale, people are starting to pay attention even though we’ve been here for a while. What is it that you think UK hip-hop and grime contributes to British culture?
The rawness. The raw energy and it gives a real voice of what’s happening. The grime and the UK hip-hop that I love that’s the most poignant is the stuff that captures what is actually happening. If you hear someone that’s your age that talking about the stuff that you do and you’ve been in that scenario. If it sums it up for you, you latch onto it. That’s what I think it offers, something that our generation can go ‘yeah f*ck it – that’s true. I can stand behind that. ‘Cos I know it. I’ll back that.’ It’s nice to see South [London] on the rise, I’ll see a video and I’ve grown up in all of those places, been to parties, been kicked out of parties. You see all of that. And that’s what’s doing bits – it’s real.
What’s in store for you this year?
Music and shows and loads more photos of my mum on Instagram.
A Little Late is available to download here.