“I spend my whole life apologising for things I’ve said, but when I write I’ll never apologise for that.”
It’s been nearly four years since Loyle Carner played his first ever gig, supporting the reclusive, legendary MF DOOM at The Button Factory in Dublin on a chill October evening in 2012. “This is my first gig, so…” the eighteen-year-old rapper trailed off as he opened to the crowd. He ran through what tracks he had and, by all accounts, shut it down, killing his set. Yeah it was raw but all the elements that would make him one of the most talked about British rappers in a generation were in place - the poise, the humanity, the cracks in his voice, the easy charm, the openness and unashamed emotion plus a sonic personality that belied his nerves and inexperience. The crowd went nuts and the main act of the night was still at least an hour away…
Largely banned in his mother’s house, in his childhood Loyle considered rap a rebellious thing and his friend Benny Mails, who Loyle has known since he was seven, became one of the biggest reasons he raps, back when Loyle put him onto Ludacris and then Benny put him on to Nas. “We met at Southbank Skatepark when we were both rollerblading and it turned out he lived two roads away from me,” he says. “From then on we spent every day for the next three or four years together, writing rhymes, doing graffiti, and breakdancing.”
Eventually his friend chose dancing and Loyle chose acting, earning himself a scholarship at the prestigious BRIT School in Selhurst, just a few miles from his house, when he was fourteen. Loyle did well there. So well that he got onto a prestigious university drama school course where he was one of just ten eighteen-year-olds chosen from about twenty thousand applicants. It was brilliant at first but it became gruelling and started sucking the love out of it for Loyle and then, at the end of his first year, his stepfather passed away. He’d suffered from epilepsy for a few years but what nobody knew is that he also had something called sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).
The death hit Loyle hard, but it was unheard of to drop out of such a hard-won degree. He never went back. A year on he had an EP out, a record deal, and was earning enough to make music full-time. “My mum always said she knew I was gonna make something of myself,” he says. “She didn’t know how I was gonna do it - but she was always like ‘You’re gonna be a star’.”
But with this faith came its own pressures. When his dad passed, he says it was the first time in his life that he couldn’t cry in the house. He knew that if he started crying, it would trigger tears from the rest of his family… So he had to be strong. “It was baffling,” he says. “I was eighteen and couldn’t open up. I had just started my second term at university and it’d be my last. A lot changed for me after that. It put heartbreak and stuff into context. What’s a girl when I lost my dad? It just meant that when I finally opened up it was on the page…”
“When I speak to people, I say things I don’t mean,” he adds, “but when I’m on stage doing tunes or reciting poetry, those are the two purest forms of me speaking.”
Having released one of 2017's finest albums, the Mercury Prize nominated 'Yesterday's Gone', Loyle joins us in Dingle at Other Voices, to close out an extraordinary year for a thoughtful and evolving new voice in hip hop.