Album Review: Loyle Carner – Hugo

South London rapper Loyle Carner is known for his raw and emotional storytelling in his music, remarkably showing the beauty of introspection and vulnerability. After a long-awaited three-year hiatus, Carner releases his third studio album ’Hugo‘, a ten-track project of pure honesty and gut-wrenching messages that pour from his soul. He reflects on issues of race, masculinity, identity and fatherhood, showing us the complexities of coming from a mixed heritage. He shares parts of his childhood trauma and shows his authentic realisations of fatherhood through reconnecting with his dad and the birth of his son. His previous studio albums ‘Yesterdays Gone‘ and ‘Not Waving But Drowning‘ are heartfelt projects, beaming with endearing dialogues and sentimental messages of identity and belonging. Carner furthers his ambition to create personal yet microcosmic messages for the community on his quest to understand his selfhood. 

The first three tracks of ‘Hugo‘ were already released as singles, preparing listeners for the powerful purpose behind this project. Produced by hip-hop royalty MadLib and the musically abstract Kwes, this musical composition blends hip-hop and neo-soul. By pairing beautifully produced music with lyrical poetry, he ultimately propels the deeper meaning behind the songs. The album opens with ‘Hate‘, a ferocious song that is powered by high-tempo drums and a thumping bassline, giving us a taste of the raw emotion and rage that follows in the rest of the project.

Carner is an incredibly influential young artist, urging listeners to reflect on themselves and to be more inquisitive of the problems he and many others have experienced being part of the Black community. ‘Hugo‘ was written during lockdown, a time of deep self-reflection where many were pushed to address deep-rooted issues of structural racism. The tracks ‘Nobody Knows‘ and ‘Georgetown‘ echoes Carner’s experiences of being a mixed-race black man as he profoundly compares himself to the black and white keys of a piano. Carner delivers intricate and cathartic lyrics that amplify the beauty and struggles of life within each song. 

Midway through the album, the production strips back and morphs from heavier instrumentals to sweet, jazzy neo-soul, driving Carner’s lyrics to be that much more vulnerable. The tone of the album then softens, developing from a place of anger and hurt to a deeper sense of melancholy, thus creating a space for the audience to mirror his reflections. Featuring poetry by Benjamin Zephaniah in ‘Georgetown‘ and an incredibly moving speech by teenage activist Athian Akec, Carner emphasises the dire need for compassion within issues of racial equality in the UK. He also presents the effects of dysfunctional black fatherhood and his ambition to break the chains of generational trauma through being true to himself, learning from his father’s mistakes and through forgiveness. The album tenderly concludes with a recording of Carner arranging to meet with his father, achieving a heartfelt denouement to this soul-stirring project.

After working with mainstream artists such as Tom Misch, Sampha and Jorja Smith, Loyle Carner has evolved as a young, talented hip-hop artist in the UK. Over the past three years, he has grown as a musician and as a person, and ‘Hugo‘ is a poetic testament to this. With a sold-out tour approaching, he has truly become an inspiration to the youth and to those who struggle with the labels of society and their identity. We journey with him as he pours his soul into his music and continues to experience the ferocity of life.

Written by Raabia Haq

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