Loyle Carner’s music connects with people. His fine debut album Yesterday’s Gone moulds influences of classic East Coast hip-hop with undeniable Britishness. While his flow recalls Mos Def or a young Nas, Carner’s sensitive lyrics touch on student loans, whiskey-soaked evenings and the importance of family. As a writer, he is passionate and brutally honest; and his performances, bristling with energy and natural charisma, bring his words to life. Carner’s set on Radio 6 Live series, following Alt-J and Morrissey, is a kind of victory lap in a year that has seen him nominated for the Mercury Prize and, after years of stagnation, put U.K hip-hop on the map once again.
Carner opens with the album’s lead single ‘The Isle of Arran’, backed by a ten-strong choir. It is a rousing and inspiring anthem, with Carner seeming equally frustrated and hopeful over a sample of S.C.I. Youth Choir's "The Lord Will Make a Way". On ‘Mean It In The Morning’, he is nostalgic for past love, while ‘(The Seamstress) Tooting Masala’ is a hazy journey through early summer afternoons in South London, ‘reminiscing on the time where I was single and haps’. The album’s intimacy, the feeling you are having a conversation with Carner, is transmitted in his live shows. He is an effortless performer, joking charmingly between songs, and delivering each bar with palpable intensity.
The sun-drenched, Tom Misch-produced ‘Damselfly’ has the whole crowd dancing along, while the pure hip-hop of ‘Stars and Shards’ and ‘No CD’ (featuring legendary UK rapper Jehst) stand as the best showcases of Carner’s considerable technical ability on the mic. Collaborator Kwes takes the stage for the beautiful ‘Florence’, a touching song about the joys of having an imagined sister. DJ, producer and supporting MC Rebel Kleff, a veteran of the scene, is an understated but solid presence on stage, giving Carner a base upon which to thrive. ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Changed’, perhaps his best song, is explosive in a live setting, railing against “brothers burning paper on that sticky greed” in contrast to his own financial desperation.
However, it is ‘Sun of Jean’ that proves to be the most moving moment of the set. A tribute to his late father, also a musician, he introduces the song as a means of ‘immortalising my mother and father together’. The last two minutes of the song, a poem written by Carner’s mother where she dwells on raising him, is sincere and genuinely moving. As they embrace on stage, there is that rare moment experienced during concerts of complete human connection: a dissipation of the barrier between performer and crowd. At only 1.30pm, the crowd scatter out of Maida Vale somewhat breathless, knowing they have witnessed something special.