Author: Aaron Grych
In the past few years, the mainstream rap game has come a long way from its roots: the rise of Atlanta and trap music is a wide departure from when New York and ‘conscious’ rap used to define the genre. On South London rapper Loyle Carner’s debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, the perfect simplicity of old school hip hop is pulled out of the attic, dusted off, and refurbished in a modern style all its own. After slowly leaking singles for most of 2016, Carner finally condensed all of his songs into this album in January of 2017, making what has become my favorite album of the year so far. The album is made to be a reflection of Carner: his innermost thoughts and personal struggles that shine through in his lyrics, and his close relationships with his family and friends who exclusively collaborated on the project. Carner’s beats are crafted by producers and close friends Rebel Kleff and Tom Misch whose distinct styles make for a jazzy homage to a style long past. Blended with a 21st century edge that is as smooth and mellow as can be, Carner’s substantive lyrics and exceptional flow really help him to stand out in a crowded field.
The album kicks off with the powerful “Isle of Arran,” an immediate punch entwined with the feeling of redemption created by the inclusion of a sample from a 1960s gospel children’s choir. The song sets the solemn tone for the rest of the album on a theme of adjusting to a struggle with the lyrics “there’s nothing to believe in, believe me.” However, the relatively high energy song is a bit of a deviation from the rest of the project, as the songs that immediately follow, “Mean it in the Morning,” “Damselfly,” and “Ain’t Nothing Changed” all deliver a subdued, lulling vibe so smooth that you could spread it on toast. Carner pairs these silky beats with his characteristic bouncing, heavily accented flow to create a unique sound that simultaneously has a place in modern and classic hip hop. “No Worries” ties a jazzy backing track with the chorus from Geto Boys 2005 hit “Yes Yes Y’all” that clearly shows the influence of Nas and Mos Def on Carner’s music. The old school aura seeps in again with the inclusion of three skits, which paint a clearer picture of the artist than any of his songs do. Addressing such important topics as texting an ex, calling his mom out on cursing, and trying to get his friend to take it easy on the drugs, Carner’s unassuming personality clearly shines through. He’s not trying to flex, only trying to make sense of a life that he can’t always keep up with. “Yesterday’s Gone” allows for a vulnerable look into the artist’s raw psyche and a window into a young life already marred by tragedy. Carner has had to deal with the desertion of his biological father and the death of his beloved stepfather, all while battling ADHD, dyslexia, and a new glut of forced responsibility. The utter raw emotionality that stems from an old piano recording of his deceased step father on the song “Sun of Jean” mixed with an ethereal chorus from producer Rebel Kleff and Carner’s insight into the unwanted pressures of being the man of the house is enough to send chills down anyone’s spine. As a whole, the album reflects his family life more than anything else. The song “Florence” is about an imaginary little sister and a life he never was able to live out. “Mrs. C” reveals the story of a friend’s mother who passed through Carner’s reflection on his memories of her, which can be interpreted as his version of a delivered eulogy. Both are heartfelt, somber tunes that despite the subject matter, still leaves the listener swaying with the beat.