The UK hip hop scene has seen a rise of talented new artists lately: There’s the melodic Anglo-French MC Octavian, Dave who made a spectacular debut with the chilling Psychodrama, and the wacky grime-meets-punk act slowthai. And among the bevy of fresh-faced spitters, there’s the shy, affable Loyle Carner.
Hailing from Croydon in South London, the rapper—real name Benjamin Coyle-Larner—burst onto the scene with his soulful blend of ’90s boom bap, jazz and funk. With co-signs from the likes of Joey Bada$$, Skepta and MF Doom earlier on in his career, Carner quickly gained popularity online. And in 2017, he finally dropped his well-received debut studio album, Yesterday’s Gone, which got nominated for a Mercury Music Prize.
With the arrival of Carner’s highly anticipated sophomore record, Not Waving, But Drowning, we get you up to speed on everything you need to know about the British MC.
It’s always a family affair
A quick glance through Carner’s discography (and Instagram) will make it obvious that the South London rapper’s world often revolves around his loved ones. His debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, is a deeply personal and honest record about love and loss. Its cover art is fronted by a vintage-looking portrait of Carner surrounded by family, friends and those who’ve “built me as the man I am now,” he told Interview. Beneath the black-and-white photo are 15 tracks that dig deep into his personal relationships, including one with his mother, Jean.
But Carner’s mom isn’t just a lyrical subject. She’s also turned into a familiar face in his music videos and live shows, and even a regular feature on his tracks. On Yesterday’s Gone, his mother appears on the unscripted “Swear” recording and “Sun of Jean,” a song where she delivers a heartfelt spoken-word verse dedicated to her “band-aid boy.”
He’s diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia
Carner has always been candid about his long-term battle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. In 2016, the rapper sat down with Noisey to discuss mental health and his rocky road to self-acceptance, from being the school’s “disruptive idiot” to an extraordinary man with “superpowers.” “I just thought I was this wrong and crazy kid, and no one else understood,” he said.
Carner’s mom, a poet and special needs teacher, encouraged him to put his bubbling thoughts and energy into words, sparking the rapper’s interest in storytelling and poetry. He later earned a spot at The Brit School, a performing arts institution attended by the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse, where he studied theatre.
Music was his escape from personal tragedy
When Carner’s beloved step-father suddenly died in 2014 from an epilepsy-related seizure, the rapper, who was fresh out of his teens at that time, felt pressured to be the breadwinner in his family. Although he admits his mom never forced him to drop out of school, Carner thought it was only right to “step into [his] dad’s massive shoes” and support his mother and younger brother. “I was like, ‘Let me try this music thing for a bit and if it doesn’t work I’ll get a job,’” the 24-year-old explained to Go London.
It was a bold decision that proved to be rewarding. Carner channeled his grief into music and went on to release his breakthrough 2014 EP, A Little Late. The six-song project, which pays tribute to his step-father, opens with the heart-wrenching “BFG.” Over Rebel Kleff’s minimal beat, Carner mourns the loss of the main male figure in his life. “Everybody says I’m fucking sad / Of course I’m fucking sad, I miss my fucking dad,” the rapper chokes on his words, his trembling voice a twist in the gut.
In another life, he’d be a chef
Just like Snoop Dog and 2Chainz, Carner is a pro in the booth and the kitchen. Growing up with ADHD, the rapper discovered that, aside from music, cooking was another form of meditation. “I found this unparalleled peace with cooking. It was the one thing where I could just be myself and not be distracted,” he told Interview.
The rapper’s passion for the culinary arts eventually resulted in the Chilli Con Carner, a cookery school done in partnership with Goma Collective, a social enterprise that supports creative initiatives, and London-based catering group Get Stuffed. Led by Carner, the program teaches youths with ADHD basic cooking skills and encourages healthy eating.
He’s best bros with Tom Misch
Carner met Tom Misch, a fellow up-and-coming musician from South London, in 2014 when the latter discovered the former on SoundCloud and invited him to collab.
“I could tell [Carner] was from South London and his stuff blew my mind,” Misch told NME last year of their camaraderie. The duo hit it off quickly, Carner’s easygoing flow a perfect match for Misch’s dreamy, lo-fi production. Together, they produce lush coffeehouse jazz that’s soundtracked a dozen wanderlust fantasies. Their first joint effort, “Nightgowns,” arrived in 2015.
In the five years since their fateful encounter, they’ve linked up for a handful of songs and performed various shows together. As an ode to their bromance, the pair even guest-appeared on the other’s debut LP. Misch helped produce “Damselfly,” from Carner’s Yesterday’s Gone album, while the rapper hopped on “Water Baby,” a cut off the beatmaker’s 2018 project, Geography.
Stream Not Waving, But Drowning here.