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Why Loyle Carner's 'Hugo' is My Album of 2022...

Earlier this year an old friend of mine sent me an article from The Guardian written after the release of Loyle Carner’s Hate. The premise of it was that Carner had grown to now start taking on bigger issues, such as race, in his music. Other than the article’s obvious lack of knowledge on his previous material (look at Tierney Terrace as an example of his work on race previously), the idea of growth in LC’s music seemed very interesting to me. Listening to Hugo, there were three words that encapsulated the mood of the album for me: acceptance, responsibility, and growth.


Acceptance

Hugo focuses on Carner’s relationship with his father and his relationship with himself. Within this, there are multiple moments on the record where you can find moments of acceptance. The opening track, Hate, is a blistering record where LC lays out everything he hates and fears. This song feels like a rant, as if he’s just letting go of trying to contain all the hate and fear that had been trapped inside him, and being able to finally accept those emotions. Focusing mainly on race, LC encapsulates his anger in the last verse with, “Yeah, I fear the colour of my skin, I fear the colour of my kin, I still feel the colour that’s within”. This fear is what fuels his anger and, in releasing these fears and angers, he’s able to come to an acceptance of it. The theme of acceptance continues in Nobody Knows (Ladas Road), however in this song it’s more centred around accepting things that had happened in the past with his dad. Understanding those emotions and accepting the negative parts of the relationship in order to move forward, we would not have the closing moment of the album (a conversation between LC and his father) if it wasn’t for the acceptance of past misbehaviours. Acceptance is so key here because trying to fight past traumas and self-hatred can feel like fighting a ghost; but being able to accept the causes of these traumas and self-hatred gives an identifiable enemy to fight against in order to grow and ultimately forgive.


Responsibility

Throughout the album LC admits to many of his personal ‘failings’. Beginning the middle portion of the album with the song Speed of Plight, the first verse opens with the line “Missed another birthday, was shellin’ overseas”. It’s here where LC starts to tackle not only taking responsibility for your own actions, but also living up to the responsibility of having a voice with impact. This feels especially important given his mixed heritage. The album takes a turn here, pointing the focus to racial issues. It takes aim at news outlets for their racism - both conscious and unconscious - referencing a Guardian article in which they mistook Kano for Wiley (“With the plastic guy at the paper that thinks that Kano looks like Wiley” in the song Plastic). Not only does he highlight racism within media but he also delves into the lives of young black people in the inner city. In Blood on my Nikes, LC discusses issues around the effects of witnessing violence and death. Relating the normalisation of violence in video games (“To shoot a man on a fucking split-screen, take a life that was kinda pristine”) to the normalisation of violence in the city through the mundane act of washing your shoes, only with dirt is replaced with blood (ending each verse with “ah, washing off the blood from my Nikes”). It’s important to realise here that artists of colour sometimes feel as if they have a responsibility to touch on race issues. Despite this not being the case, I do feel that in the context of this album LC raises these issues and talks about them because he feels that there is a responsibility to highlight the pain and suffering caused by various forms of racism that have affected him. This is highlighted further on Nobody Knows (Ladas Road) where he says “Because my kid will have them blue eyes, And he won’t understand the pain that’s in mine”, LC is not only taking on the responsibility of highlighting these issues to provide understanding for his listeners but also so his own son can understand what he’s been subjected to.


Growth

The last two songs show how much Loyle Carner’s been able to repair his relationship with his Dad and also grow personally. Polyfilla highlights the impacts of his Dad’s behaviour on him when he was young but ends with acceptance and also the will to move on and find peace. The final song, HGU follows this and opens with “Yeah, I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you” which is repeated at the beginning of each verse. This line, consisting of only four different words, is the most powerful part of the whole album. Going through so much pain caused by someone who is meant to protect you, guide you and love you and being able to say “I forgive you” is the epitome of growth. If it wasn’t for LC’s ability to accept his anger, hate and fear, and also take responsibility for his own actions, he would not be able to reach this point. It is important to note that the race element is not just an add-on here. Being able to grow and understand how race impacts every aspect of a person of colour’s life would have helped to contextualise his Dad’s behaviour (Understand the reasons that you're sinful, 'cause Earth's evil, Yeah, 'cause hurt people, hurt people, Especially the ones who weren't equal, the burnt treacle, Wonder what would be expected in the sequel” – HGU). Not only does LC use this to contextualise his Dad’s behaviour but he also recognises the patterns that play out from generation to generation and vows to break it (“So I can rewrite the ending and the prequel”). Carner’s growth is honestly impressive in this album, going from Hate to HGU is amazing. From a song which is combative, angry and raw to one which is gentle, soul searching and sincere really highlights this.


The main reason why this is my album of the year is that LC has been able to touch on so many issues that I myself have struggled with. Having conversations with others about this album I quickly realised just how powerful it was, that it had been relatable to a whole host of people for various reasons. I’ve never listened to an album that has encapsulated feeling and emotion so well and in such a well-rounded way - especially coming from a male rapper. As someone who has had a tough relationship with my father, struggled with processing my own emotions and also dealing with the fact that, although both my parents are Black, I am often misidentified racially, this album managed to express my fears and my anxieties, and also showed me a vision of what I’m aiming for in my relationships. Going back to The Guardian article about LC’s musical growth, Hugo, as an album, does demonstrate his musical growth without a doubt; however, the project really shines when you take into consideration his personal growth and how he is able to make it relatable to a mass audience.


Find Cullen's writer profile on our 'Our Contributors' page.

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