While British MC Loyle Carner’s first two albums were occasionally terrific his third, hugo, is a masterpiece supported by soulful beats and powerful vocal delivery. It’s a complex, layered set of tracks, which grow with each listen, a sweeping statement of intent from an artist who has gained the confidence and clout to tell it like he sees it. Carner and producer Kwes have created an album that speaks of pain and joy, peace and anger and, most importantly, real emotion that doesn’t feel like it’s been prepared or forced. Taken as a whole, it’s a rip-roaring, beautiful and brutally honest piece of art ripped straight from the songwriter’s heart.
Both ruminative and bold, hugo features Carner at the top of his game, cutting through themes of origins, identity, complex relationships and the difficult journey of trying to work out who you are in this world. His lyrics are brutally honest, touching on self doubt and the damage people do to each other, with beats from Kwes tucked in between his powerful presence.
Sonically, it’s an expansive, ambitious work that pushes into new territory – jazz-influenced and symphonic, but still bracingly raw, and often eerily empty. The production is always clear but equally capable of expanding into exciting, high-octane rhapsodies. Carner’s voice leaps into the storm or slinks against the beat, drawing deep from a range of influences.
Standout tracks include “Blood On My Nikes,” which operates as a musical punch to the gut where Carner opens up about the world he grew up in, and how this reality has shaped him into who he is today; and “Nobody Knows (Ladas Road),” which features Carner rapping over a soulful choral sample and is sure to please any fan of old school gems fused with modern day production value.
Hugo cements Carner’s place as one of the UK’s most exciting rappers, presenting an artist who’s completely unique in his sound, his perspective, and his ability to slice through the noise of today’s music with pinnacles of poetic genius. It feels like his previous work was all leading here, to this point of near-perfection and fearless exploration.