Tim Hughes chats about music, poetry and shaggy dogs with rising hip-hop star Loyle Carner
LOYLE Carner is not your usual rapper. Softly-spoken, intelligent and modest, he is about as far from the brash stereotype of the blinged-up hip-hop star as it's possible to get.
That's not to say he isn't 'real' though. His hard-hitting lyrics chart the dramas he sees on the streets of south London but are loose and fluid – sharp rhymes delivered with vocal dexterity to a dreamy backdrop influenced by his love of jazz and soul.
Poetic and profane, heart-rending and beautiful; it's an intoxicating brew.
"I suppose I would describe it as poetry," he says, when we catch up. "I did write a lot of poetry when I was younger and it started from there."
He is in London's Kings Cross, preparing for a tour which brings him to Oxford on Tuesday.
The 14-date tour sees him showcasing debut album Yesterday's Gone, featuring the Rebel Kleff-produced single Ain’t Nothing Changed – a sublime yet punchy repost to critics who think his music is all the same.
"I'm staying busy before the tour," he says. "It'll be good to go back to Oxford. Hopefully we'll have some fun."
"I've been there before," he goes on. "I played at a university ball and thought 'I could have been here too if I'd channelled my English prowess into something useful'."
So does he fancy life as a student? "No chance," he says. "Deadlines are not my friend."
He's done alright, regardless.
Honest and heartfelt, his music is shaped by the streets of his home patch of Croyden. "I've been in the south all my life," he says. "There's a lot of it in my music and a lot of the people I know here have definitely influenced my music.
"It's difficult to say where it comes from, but it's every day stuff – day to day big dramas. It's a good day when I've got nothing to write about!"
Family and friends also figure. Florence is an emotional letter to his imagined adopted sister, Swear is a conversation he has with his mum about swearing (from whom he picked it up, he says), while Mrs C was written for his friend Eliza, when her mum was diagnosed with cancer.
Title track, Yesterday’s Gone, is even more heartfelt – a rap over a tune written by his late dad. His death hit Loyle hard and he dropped out of university and became withdrawn. He also came across an album his dad had made that no one knew about. The track is the ultimate tribute.
Born Benjamin Coyle-Larner, Loyle has ADHD and dyslexia. He adopted his nickname as a result of a spoonerism. "I said it by accident because I'm dyslexic," he says. "And it stuck.
"Old friends call me Ben, and others called me Grandpa – which is my other nickname."
Why? "Because I'm an old man!" he laughs.
While raised on grime and hip hop, Loyle's musical influences range wide as evidenced by his love of sax and piano backing tracks. "I listened to a lot of jazz, soul and folk too," he says. "Stuff like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie."
And his erudite wordplay is going down well. He has supported MF Doom, Kate Tempest, Joey Bada$$, and graced stages at Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds, Green Man and Outlook.
His single The Isle Of Arran was premiered on Annie Mac's BBC Radio 1 show and hailed her Hottest Record In The World.
And he's still only 22.
"I didn't think it would happen," he says with genuine modesty. "I had no idea I'd be doing what I am doing. It just came out of the blue, but I am enjoying mucking around – and I am just trying to be my best."
He laughs: "I have just heard the album is really big in South Korea. I'd love to play there – I'd love to make it happen."
He admits to keeping himself to himself, avoiding stepping on toes in the competitive hip hop and grime scenes. "Others give me the space to do what I want, which is cool," he says. "I stay away from the whole competitive thing. When you start worrying about other people, that's when problems occur."
And does he have any ambitions – aside from playing Seoul? "I want another poodle," he says.
A poodle? I ask him to repeat, sure I misheard.
"A poodle," he repeats. "I've got one already and I want another. It's a family tradition, and mine needs a mate."
What's his poodle called? "Ringo," he says. "He's a big hairy dog and very bright."
But surely not very 'street'? "You know how many times I have heard that?" he laughs. "People say I should have a rottweiler, but I like poodles; they are big and shaggy!"
Loyle Carner plays the O2 Academy Oxford on Tuesday. Tickets from ticketweb.co.uk