On his third studio album, Loyle Carner invigorates his mental frets for a heavy self-examination of raw emotions.
Loyle Carner is at the helm of UK hip hop when it comes to introspection. His gentle raps have been a signature stamp since the 2017 debut, Yesterdayâ€™s Gone, and reached their potential on the 2019 sophomore, Not Waving, but Drowningâ€”both Gold-certified albums. Now a soon-to-be father, Loyle Carner has more uncharted territories to explore.
Hugo is another autobiographical offering, a consistent collection of tales thatâ€™s overtly transparent of its best moments.
Usually composed on the mic, Hugo finds Carner more frustrated than ever. He explores the effects of an absent father, which led to a lack of exposure to his black roots. Itâ€™s impacted how he will raise his own son, using Hugo as a teaching moment for himself as a parent. Frustrated Carner is when Hugo is at its best, exploring harsh dichotomies that are a welcomed departure from the rapperâ€™s usual lounging.
Hugo is relatively top-heavy. Its highlights come in quick succession from track one to five, kicking off with its three singles that was once upon a time a tradition in the music industry. You can tell Loyle knew these were the albumâ€™s strongest cuts, and remains the case when digesting the project in full. Lead single â€œHateâ€ is one of Loyleâ€™s best songs to date, standing out with its bombastic drums and focused subject matter as he grapples between keeping a negative outlook (â€œlet me tell you what I hateâ€) versus a positive outlook (â€œlet me tell you what I loveâ€). â€œNobody Knows (Ladas Road)â€ is a soaring sermon, charged through a standout sample across hip hop in 2022. The Madlib-produced â€œGeorgetownâ€ gives promise for British-American collaborations to spawn classic material.
Carnerâ€™s lyrical weight is what maintains your attention when the production takes a backseat. The second half opts for mellow keys, a sound that was the crux of his last two albums, yet dominates the trio of closing cuts. In the singles, the production is much more hip hop-inspired with its use of obscure samples, boom bap drums and heightened volume. This leads to a sharp contrast between two approaches that would benefit from different sequencing or an executive choice to vary the production.
Luckily, Carnerâ€™s words prevail during the sombre songs to target your ears as they target his sonâ€™s. His verses are relatable even without experiencing parenthood, grappling with concepts of existentialism and nihilism. The vivid storytelling of â€œBlood on My Nikesâ€ is tragic, detailing a young boyâ€™s life being taken over a pair of shoes. Itâ€™s a poignant story that you can imagine Loyle telling his son when heâ€™s old enough to start navigating the dangers of London. In the closer â€œHGUâ€, Carnerâ€™s voice is uniquely heightened, a rare change in delivery from the rapper whoâ€™s typically levelled. That minor change adds a new dynamic to a Loyle Carner song, allowing his words to hit in varied fashion.
Loyle Carner is angry, happy, upset, and confused, all in concurrence. Hugo is a tender self-examination in a year that finds therapy showing up in many popular rap releases, and how necessary it is to do so.
7.5 / 10
Best tracks: â€œHateâ€, â€œNobody Knows (Ladas Road)â€, â€œGeorgetownâ€, â€œSpeed of Plightâ€