hugo

Loyle Carner

hugo

Loyle Carner has always made music out of the things he’s been through in life. Sometimes, the South London rapper and songwriter wishes he could weave some fictional tales so he could save something for himself, but that’s not how it works for him. “It’s the only thing that inspires me to write,” he tells Apple Music. He was feeling uninspired after the release of his second album, Not Waving, But Drowning, in 2019, but the news that his girlfriend was pregnant opened the creative floodgates. What has emerged is hugo, a remarkable record that not only sees Carner reflect on life as a new father but also prompted him to iron out the troubled relationship he has with his own dad. “It was really useful to have the space to be able to write about it and reflect on it in real time to help me make sense of my thoughts,” he says. “But other times it was quite exhausting. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was tough.” It makes for a cathartic listen. Let him guide you through it, track by track. “Hate” “We made it really quickly, a stream of consciousness. It’s not a big, smash-hit single, but it was the one that summed up where I was at the beginning of the process and it couldn’t go anywhere else. It had to be the first thing that people heard from the album. When you pick up the album, I want you to come on a journey with me, because I started in a bad place and I ended in a good place. I want people to go on that with me.” “Nobody Knows (Ladas Road)” “This was probably the first song I wrote for the album. It was before lockdown, even before I found out my girlfriend was pregnant. I had already been thinking about a lot of the subjects on the album, and this was one of the first times where I tapped into something and was like, ‘OK, this is the start of a new project. I can see that I have an idea here.’ I tried to put the songs that I made at the beginning of the process at the beginning of the album. It’s quite autobiographical and you need it to run in a linear fashion, it needs to be chapters of a story.” “Georgetown” (feat. John Agard) “This was produced by Madlib. I was saving it for a project with him. I’ve got loads of music that we’ve made together, and we wanted to do a MadLoyle tape, which is a dream come true for me. But I played this to my friend Mike, who was working as an A&R and a collaborator on this project, and he was like, ‘You have to put this on the album. It’s too good to be held back just in case you drop it later.’ I think it really tapped into the same story as the rest of the album. It was really close to ‘Nobody Knows’ but one of them is self-depreciative and the other one is self-fulfilling, really lifted and full of self-belief. They work nicely together.” “Speed of Plight” “I was in the studio with Rebel Kleff, who’s a longtime collaborator of mine, and Jordan Rakei and Nick Mills, who’s my engineer and good friend. It came together quite quickly, as did a lot of the stuff for this album. It was such a relief to be really letting fly, not being afraid to be a bit more aggressive, a bit more frustrated, to have a place to vent. That’s what this song really was.” “Homerton” “Homerton [in East London] was where my son was born. All these songs are little pieces of a journey between me and my father and where I was at. I used to see my father as flawed, and in the first few tracks on the album, he’s very flawed to me. ‘Homerton’ is really that middle point where I start to look at my son and then I’m able to finally, as a father, see myself as flawed as well. Then I’m able to begin the journey of understanding where my father was at and how difficult it is to be a parent and how nobody is a bad person. People make bad decisions and some people have no tools to deal with some of the things that get thrown at them.” “Blood on My Nikes” “After ‘Homerton,’ my mind then went to, ‘OK, but what happens when my son grows up in the area that we live in?’ A young boy’s life was taken over a pair of shoes near where my girlfriend teaches around the time that I was writing this song, and I was so moved by it. I was really quite surprised at how numb I had become to hearing these stories and seeing this loss in the communities that I had grown up in. It was important to reflect on this story that’s told by many artists, but through my lens and through my words. I enlisted [activist and writer] Athian Akec to help me be able to speak to a younger generation with his voice, to reflect on what it is to see how many young people’s lives we’re losing and how the music is not the problem.” “Plastic” “At the end of ‘Blood on My Nikes,’ Athian is eloquently disrespecting the government and saying that where we’re at politically, socially is not good enough, that we’re putting emphasis on the wrong things. ‘Plastic’ is my version of his speech where I also attack these big companies that are making mistakes and hold them accountable, but also hold society accountable, hold myself accountable for putting emphasis on the wrong thing, wanting nice flashy trainers and a new iPhone instead of other bits. But I love my iPhone, so I can’t say anything about it. It’s just trying to find the balance between soul and commerce. Yes, everyone has to make money and live, but we also need to just take a step back, walk into nature and relax, and not put so much pressure on material things.” “A Lasting Place” “I was reading a book by Philippa Perry recently called The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did). There’s a large part about rupture and repair and this idea that you’re having a bad day and you shout at your kid. That’s going to happen, because people get angry. But the repair is the important part, going to your son or daughter and being, ‘Hey, Dad’s having a rubbish day and I took it out on you and that’s not right. It must have made you feel like X, Y, and Z, and I apologize.’ That’s what this song is about, making mistakes and being like, ‘It’s OK.’” “Polyfilla” “Towards the end of ‘A Lasting Place,’ it starts to feel like, ‘OK, I’ve got it made, I’m a dad, I’m brilliant, I’m repairing my ruptures. Yeah, I’ve got this in the bag.’ And I think ‘Polyfilla’ is that crashing back down to earth with another mistake or losing my temper or getting frustrated or being late to pick up my son or whatever it is. Battling with that thing of, ‘Man, maybe I’m not cut out for this.’ That worry of impostor syndrome: ‘Maybe I’m not a good parent. Maybe I’m not a good person.’” “HGU” “This is about forgiving my dad, and forgiveness in general. It’s not even forgiving for him, it’s about forgiveness for myself: ‘If I hold on to this, carry around this albatross my whole life, it’s weighing me down.’ I’ve taken so much from hip-hop and I wanted to give something back. Within rap, everyone else is like, ‘If your dad left and he’s rubbish, you don’t need to forgive him, just let that anger be your motivation.’ I think that’s cool to an extent, but it can cripple you if you let it go further than an initial youthful rebellion. It’s a nice little reveal at the end that we’re in the car. The album is called hugo because my dad’s car was called Hugo and he taught me to drive over lockdown. It’s a small story, but with some big topics.”

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