You needn’t listen to a single word of Yesterday’s Gone to know that Loyle Carner’s life revolves around his family. The understated black and white image on the cover shows him surrounded by his nearest and dearest, all smiles. Family is the glue that holds Carner’s work together, and it’s all the better for it.
Hip-hop’s tedious remit of money, drugs and women are accounted for yet completely re-imagined; moaning about missing his student loan in the jazz-tinged ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ and the story of a wayward pal turned dealer in ‘Stars and Shards’ – the latter is a sobering glimpse into the darkness at the fringes for young men in the city. Carner’s reverence of women throughout the record is a 180 of rap tradition, doting on the imaginary sister he longed for in the delicately crafted ‘Florence’ and some cheeky-chatter about swearing with his mum.
He still lives with his mother, Jean, who brought him up with his late step-father Nik. Yesterday’s Gone was written in the wake of his death and deals with Carner becoming the man of the house whilst trying to pursue his dreams. ‘No Worries’ is the self-assurance to continue making music for the love of it rather than money, as supported by his producer, DJ and brotherly figure Rebel Kleff whose role becomes pivotal. His steady hand keeps the record together, just outside of scratchy demo-tape territory. It’s a little thin on the ground when it comes to bangers and landmarks, barring the rock’n’rolla ‘NO CD’ which frankly steals the show.
It’s clear that Carner doesn’t want to take himself too seriously, but sometimes the steel shows like on ‘Isle of Arran’, which opens the record with Carner spitting venom at anyone that’d dare step to him. Over an emphatic Dre sample, beefed up further with a roaring gospel choir, it’s a startling glimpse at the 22 year-old’s potential.
For the most part he modestly refuses to entertain stardom, until admitting his awe at having supported Brooklyn legend Nas in final track, ‘Sun of Jean’. Even then, family comes before fame as the album closes on an disarming poem written by Jean, and an old crackly guitar recording of her and Nik. Theirs are the last voices heard and are the stepping-stone for Carner to become the most exciting UK hip-hop artist we’ve had in years.