“Is the world moving fast for you as well?” Loyle Carner asks the crowd on ‘Speed of Plight’, part way through his sold-out gig at the O2 Academy in Glasgow.
In the four years since his last gig in the city, a lot has changed for the South London rapper. Now a parent himself, Carner has reconnected with his biological father as well as his Guyanese roots – effectively giving him a new perspective on life and the creative fuel to write his recent album ‘Hugo’, released back in October.
Now three albums in, ‘Hugo’ is undoubtedly a career best which digs deep on identity, his mixed-race roots and complex paternal bonds. Darker and more introspective than ever before, Carner interrogates himself in a way that feels generous, vulnerable and unerringly candid; taking the dynamic storytelling and mellow, jazzy hip hop beats for which he has always been known, and adding even more power, honesty and depth. The results are personal, yet far-reaching, bringing a wider scope to his lyricism and allowing him to reconcile his own experiences against the backdrop of the wider world, and all the injustices happening within it.
This introspection is amped up by the darker, more intense production, which tonight is brought to life by the help of a five-piece band. From the first cymbals of set opener ‘Hate’, the band offer the perfect backing to Carner’s words; emphatic but never overpowering his presence. Bathed in red, ‘Hate’ encapsulates his sonic progression perfectly; the energy is palpable as he launches straight into the track, confronting feelings of confusion and anger as he stomps across the stage with real purpose and defiance.
It’s an energising opener that sees the crowd in the palm of his hands from the off. This continues with ‘Plastic’ and crowd favourite ‘You Don’t Know’, before ‘Georgetown’ offers a nod to his Guyanese roots while sampling a poem by playwright John Agard. Restless with energy, even the softer tracks are delivered with an added kind of urgency in the live setting, with every song a stunning example of a man at his artistic peak.
Of course, the personal nature of his material lends to a special relationship between artist and audience – something which is on full display tonight. So much so, that it almost feels like a hometown gig. It almost is in a way, with Carner quick to mention his family links to Scotland. A saltire is dutifully thrown on stage and stays wrapped round his shoulders for the duration of the show. “It means so much to me to be back in this city” he tells the crowd sincerely. “Thanks for looking after me.”
It’s one of the most impressive things about the South London rapper – his ability to stay humble throughout a life-changing few years that have seen him rise from hotly tipped UK hip hop prodigy to one of the most cherished artists in the country. It’s this, plus his ability to dissect subjects that other swerve in such an engaging manner, that have led to him amassing such a loyal following across the country.
Naturally, his lyrical candidness extends to his mid-set chat. Avoiding the standard pleasantries and any whiff of cliché, he opens up conversations about becoming a parent, mental health, toxic masculinity and reconnecting with his father. And the more he shares, the more the crowd is engaged.
One of the most powerful moments of the night is during ‘Blood On My Nikes’, a track which offers a haunting snapshot of a murder Carner witnessed when he was younger. Full of fiercely powerful bars and an ominous instrumental, he then welcomes activist Athian Akec onstage to replicate his powerful Youth Parliament speech on knife crime, silencing the sell-out crowd with his striking words.
There are many goosebump-inducing moments throughout the night. The Tom-Misch-assisted ‘Angel’ and ‘Damselfly’ are huge crowd favourites, while the jazz-infused ‘Homerton’ is dedicated to his young son. The Jorja Smith collaboration ‘Loose Ends’ is utterly majestic and met by a sea of phones in the air, while the words to old-time favourite ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ ring out around the entire venue.
Later on, ‘Hugo’ masterpiece ‘Nobody Knows (Ladas Road)’, which explores his mixed race heritage, is electrifying and powerful in every sense – absolutely brimming with urgency and vitality against its cinematic, gospel-backed backdrop. It’s then left to the deeply moving ‘HGU’ to see the main set out – a song dedicated to his biological father who taught him to drive. A powerful statement on love and forgiveness, you can feel the emotion in every word as he thanks the jubilant crowd.
Returning once more for the soporific ‘Ottolenghi’ and a previously unheard poem, Carner seems truly overwhelmed by the crowd’s reaction. “This is the best show yet” he tells them, in a moment of unabashed sincerity. With his hands on his head, his emotional response only rallies the crowd more, causing them to cheer louder and stamp their feet in unison. It’s a rare connection to have with an audience – especially on a cold, damp Monday night in Glasgow – but this is a rare kind of artist, operating at the peak of his powers.