Loyle Carner possesses a charmingly languid rap delivery. While it works wonders reclined in the melancholic sweetness which crystallised behind the beat-backed lounge instrumentals on first two records ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’, as a listener you can’t help but wonder whether he’s got any more tricks up his sleeve. Fortunately, he finds his bite on the opening suite of third LP ‘hugo’.
‘Hate’, his most urgent track to date, finds its writer wrestling with himself as a scuttling bassline lurks beneath the surface: “I fear the colour of my skin / I fear the colour of my kin / I fear the colour that’s within.” It sets the scene for the LP’s exploration of the self - specifically his mixed-race identity - ignited after reconnecting with his biological father after entering parenthood himself. This introspection is investigated with some stunning lyrical turns. On the urgent ‘Ladis Road (Nobody Knows)’ underpinned by a glorious gospel sample he raps: “I reached the black man / He wouldn’t take my hand / I told the white man / He didn’t understand”. “I’m black like the key on the piano / White like the key on the piano,” he notes on ‘Georgetown’ before stacking it against the famous John Agard poem. ‘Plastic’ is all slinky-basslines and snapping drums before it becomes distorted and twisted into a sample snagged from a daytime TV broadcast which finds the presenter casually dropping a racial slur.
Of course, the downbeat mood Loyle’s made his name with is mined on tracks like ‘Homerton’ which churns brass, piano and subdued backing vocals together brilliantly - however these moments possess more dimension when stacked next to tracks which shake up the formula. On ‘hugo’, Loyle Carner proves his willingness to take risks and it pays off. While it feels like we’re still waiting on a total knockout from him, his lyrical progress and appetite for new sonic territories on ‘hugo’ suggests he’s verging ever closer.