Jumping onto the stage in a red hoodie amid crashing cymbals and red strobe lighting, Benjamin Coyle-Larner – who performs as Loyle Carner – began his set last night by telling the Eventim Apollo “Let me tell you what I hate…”
It was a dramatic entrance for a rapper known for his understated and sometimes conversational style on top of jazz and soul infused beats.
But the statement of intent was not a sign of a once wholesome and grounded rapper adopting the empty male bravado that is so often on display in hip hop. Instead, Hate – the first single from his third album Hugo – displays a righteous anger alongside an intelligence to identify and break down his own and society’s struggles with discrimination. And he is only getting started.
The 28-year-old south Londoner has long been growing up in public through his confessional rap, exploring being mixed race, his ADHD, dyslexia, the relationship with his father and love for his mother – who even featured on his first two LPs.
He has talked about ditching some of his older songs from future setlists in favour of the new - moving on also being a recurring theme. Hugo, the result, is his most ambitious work to date, adding his new experiences as a father to his subject list as well as his feelings on the government (he’s not happy) to beats that contain drums that are heavier and piano lines now increasingly morose.
It transfered perfectly to his live show, with upbeat new songs Hate, Nobody Knows (Ladas Road), Plastic and Georgetown mixing energy with the more reflective moments from the past such as Ice Water, Desoleil and Angel.
And he didn’t completely forget his back catalogue with breakout chant-a-long Ain’t Nothing Changed still making the cut, although his danceable former set closer No CD was sadly not included.
Part of the joy of a Loyle Carner show is his stage banter, poetry and ad-libs between the songs and he took time out to speak at length about mental health as well as dedicating a song to Gary Lineker. He handled a persistent crowd interruption in his careful and loving way. He expressed love for those on his side before turning on his apparent detractors – with Rishi Sunak getting a shout out for the wrong reasons.
The Apollo show was an extra date after tickets disappeared in seconds for the Hugo tour – the venue was sold-out and full, despite the tube strike. While Liverpool’s Champions League loss meant it wasn’t the perfect night for the football-mad performer, the show must have felt sweet as he prepared for his tour’s biggest stage the day after at Wembley Arena.
British rappers have often been tempted around this time in their careers to set their sights Stateside. But if there was just one takeaway, it’s that Loyle Carner’s heart is still in London and London has a heart for him.
At OVO Arena Wembley, March 16; ovoarena.co.uk