Loyle Carner – ‘hugo’ album review: full of rage, vulnerability, and charm


Loyle Carner's new record sees him tackle his own history, UK politics and his fight to find forgiveness.

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Having taken some time to distance himself from music and adjust to life as a father, UK rapper Loyle Carner has returned with his third album ‘hugo’, a moving and political hip-hop record that sees Carner continue to mature as an artist and move into his own unique place within the UK hip-hop scene in a time when the genre can feel quite same-y as far as mainstream releases go.

Carner’s last single, Yesterday (produced by one of hip-hop’s most beloved producers of all time, Madlib), hinted that the rapper has plans to move in a more political direction than he had previously as he discussed his family’s history with the police and his own personal experiences with being mixed-race over Madlib’s jazz inspired beat – hugo sees Carner push further into that sound, particularly on Blood on my Nikes – my personal favourite track on the album – which is a deeply moving, extremely emotional song detailing current politics in the UK such as the knife crime ‘epidemic’ and its root causes of poverty and lack of opportunity for the working class, the way that hatred towards others and towards the self can isolate us and lead to violence (explored further on Plastic, another of the album’s standout tracks) and asking for the government to step up and pay attention to those who they’re so often ignoring.

But Carner maintains his vulnerability and charm that made his work so moving on his last record, Not Waving, but Drowning, too. Also present is his clear love for culture and art, manifesting themselves in this album in both the sounds of the selection of beats Carner raps on top of and their jazz-funk influence but also in his choice to sample UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah on track three, Georgetown. That aforementioned vulnerability primarily comes through on the final three tracks on this album as Carner addresses his past pains and his struggle living without a consistent father figure more deeply, being honest about his pain instead of using his anger to mask it.

The concept of the record, that movement from being full of rage to finding healing and forgiveness, is so beautifully done – the record opens ferociously with Hate, a track which sees Carner detail his anger towards others, himself, his past and his present, but gradually it leans towards forgiveness until the final song sees him repeat ‘I forgive you’ directly to the listener in a beautiful and tender moment.

Carner’s influences also make themselves clearer here than they have before. That isn’t to say that this sounds more generic than his previous records, as Carner maintains his distinctly mellow sound and his passionate flows very well moving throughout hugo, just that here he is wearing the influence of his favourite artists more apparently on his sleeves. Many elements of Kendrick Lamar’s work can be seen – Blood on my Nikes‘ name is taken from the lyric from Lamar’s Good Kid (‘Step on my neck and get blood on your Nike check’ Lamar says, addressing the police brutality experienced in America, a theme that Carner takes to investigate the same issue in the UK), Joey Badass’ Survivor’s Guilt seems to have been a reference point and, again, many of the themes of Kendrick Lamar’s Mr Morale and the Big Steppers released earlier this year are present here – the shift from pain and anger to a new forgiveness.

With gorgeous beats reminiscent of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert in their large scale and apparent jazz and gospel influences, excellent lyrics and flows tackling politics, philosophy and history all at once and a strong, emotional concept at its core, hugo is another strong record from Loyle Carner, a man quite clearly on a mission to prove himself as one of the most important rappers currently working.

hugo releases on the 21st of October. Listen to his previous single, Yesterday, below:



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