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Review : Loyle Carner Shines On New ‘hugo’ Album

Harvey Marwood

By Harvey Marwood

Harvey Marwood

21 Oct 2022

Loyle Carner is without a doubt one of the most influential British artists to arise at the forefront of the UK industry in recent time. Hailing from South London, the 28 year old rapper has had a meteoric rise to the top over the past five years, with Mercury and BRIT nominations to his name alongside NME awards, as well as appearances in global brand campaigns – not to mention his two incredible studio albums ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ which were released in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Now, after virtually a three year hiatus from solo music, Loyle Carner has unveiled his brand new album ‘hugo’ – taking the form of a ten track project which weighs in at just under 35 minutes of pure excellence. 

Before we dive into the new project, let’s head back in time a little bit. This rise is no coincidence, more a testament to the consistent dedication shown over a vast period of time. Having supported MF Doom in Dublin back in 2012, as well as Joey Bada$$ in 2015 – the traction created from his first official project on DSP’s – ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ – was nothing short of deserved. Soundcloud paved the way for the younger Carner to offload his raw, honest and relatable truth, and despite it being to a significantly smaller audience, the talent had always been there. ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ was the first real accolade that opened up the floodgates for the South Londoner, with it being nominated for a Mercury Prize award for ‘Best Album of the Year’ back in 2017 – only to lose to Sampha’s incredible project ‘Process’. 

‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ came in 2019, spiralling LC’s growth even further, with collaborations from Jorja Smith and Sampha creating even more exposure for him. A sold out tour after this including a major headline date at Alexandra Palace was enough to show how much bigger the once small boy from Croydon had become. O2 Academy Brixton to Alexandra Palace in the space of two years. Remarkable. Not only has he achieved that, but next Spring sees the South Londoner embark on another sold out tour, with major dates at the Apollo and Ovo Wembley Arena.

Not only has Loyle grown musically, but also in morality and communal interest. The rapper is a proud owner of cooking school, Chilli Con Carner, which aims to provide teenagers with ADHD a route into cooking and the experience needed to secure jobs within the hospitality sector. Not only in his music, but in public interviews the rapper has been open about embracing his ADHD and using it to his benefit, rather than being bogged down by any kind of negative stereotypes that have been created around it. Loyle Carner is a great role model for anyone with ADHD, or anyone who feels weighed down by the label society gives them for their hidden qualities and ‘different’ behaviours or outlook in life. 

‘hugo’

It was the start of July when we were given the leading single from the new project which came in the form of ‘Hate’, alongside cinematic and diversely unique visuals co-directed by Carner himself. However, it wasn’t until mid August that Loyle confirmed the album that we now know as ‘hugo’. ‘Hate’ broke down the typical modern day barriers in society for multiple reasons. Loyle Carner isn’t an artist who is afraid to back down on emotional turmoil and influencing factors that distorted the feeling of happiness throughout his life; a unique flow accompanied by raw and honest lyrics surrounding his life help derive and perfect what I can only interpret as a fight back against hierarchy and racial inequality. ‘Nobody Knows (Ladas Road)’  and ‘Georgetown’ were the other two offerings in the lead up to ‘hugo’ being released.

Touching on the themes of racism, Loyle Carner’s intricate and elaborated lyricism stands at the forefront of authentically original hip hop production – a continuation of the rapper showing us his ability to make music with substance that will without a doubt stand the test of time. These are three tracks of substantial value that possess the longevity factor which is becoming all the more scarce in today’s day and age. So far, so good. This string of releases has led us up to today. Today, we have been gifted the full length project ‘hugo’, which includes 7 more meticulously crafted tracks that have been placed together to create a perfect body of work. 

Cinematic in scale and scope, ‘hugo’ is both a rallying war cry for a generation forged in fire and a study of the personal internal conflict that drives the rest of the album – as a mixed-race Black man, as an artist, as a father and as a son. With main production on the rest of the album coming from that of high profile producer Kwes. as well as credits from long time friend and collaborator Rebel Kleff, Jordan Rakei and Alfa Mist – an instrumental masterclass alongside lyrical dexterity with the pen combine to create Loyle’s most cathartic and ambitious project yet – ‘a coruscating journey into the heart of what it means to be alive in these tumultuous times’.

Amongst multiple focal tracks on the ‘hugo’ project, ‘Blood On My Nikes’ (feat Wesley Joseph and Athian Akec) and ‘Homerton’ (feat. JNR William and Olivia Dean) are the only two new collaborations on the project. The small level of features allows us to dissect Carner’s solo music at face value – without the need for any distracting high profile features that may take away a marginal amount of authenticity from the project. ‘Plastic’ feels quite similar to ‘Still’ and ‘Sail Away Freestyle’ from his previous album – lyrically addressing issues close to heart yet still feeling like we are receiving sporadicity with the rawness of the content. It seems every track on the project has its purpose, and we are taken on a journey that not only explores the effect of racist outlook but also hierarchal differences and class stratification, amongst the battle of fighting against the issues that everyone has in life.

Where the first seven tracks explore heavier production and societal themes, the final three joints almost combine to act as an outro together – reminding me a lot more of his older music; stylistically delivered lyricism over more mellow and subtle instrumentals. ‘A Lasting Place’, ‘Polyfilla’ and ‘HGU’ feels like a more personal section of the album. Where the rest of the project embodies the beauty and struggle of black culture along with the importance of  standing up for yourself no matter the cards you have been dealt in life, which in summary is heavily relatable, these three tracks named above feel like an emotionally charged insight into his personal life and recent challenges that he has faced. 

‘Polyfilla’ focuses on the change in life Carner has foreseen since his last project, notably becoming a new father. Lyricism hones in on the lack of a father figure throughout his childhood, “exploring his desire to ‘break the chains in the cycle’ of dysfunctional Black fatherhood, commenting on the narrative of fatherhood in the genre, and saying a key part of the process was realising that his father ‘grew up in a world where nobody showed him how to love or nurture’.” ‘A Lasting Place’ and ‘HGU’ both explore the theme of forgiveness predominately aimed at his father – with ‘A Lasting Place’ being a sonic to symbolise Carner’s indefinite commitment to his child and promise to be ever present in his life, differentiating from the childhood he faced without a father figure in his life – although he closes the track by saying ‘yeah I’m lucky still that we talk’ to show his appreciation for his father despite the hardship he faced.

All in all, ‘hugo’ is exactly the project that we have been waiting for. Loyle Carner must be heavily praised for not conforming to the normality of the industry, and staying true to himself despite the increase of interest in him within the public domain. Music with substance always stands the test of time – and this album has it all. Loyle Carner is the voice of many; the voice of those who may struggle to have one otherwise.

Rating 9/10

Listen the project below here :

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