Loyle Carner at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire

He’s sat on the floor of the stage, head bowed between his legs. We have no idea what he’s thinking, but we know how he’s feeling – overwhelmed. The Croydon youngster has just performed his hit ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ in front of one of the biggest crowd of his life. If that wasn’t enough, his best mates joined him on stage to sing the track’s final chorus. When he slowly stands up, his shaky voice admits one thing, “I think that was the best moment of my fucking life.”

Loyle Carner’s start to 2017 has been nothing short of astounding. Having previously made it onto the BBC sound of 2016, his debut album received a flurry of brilliant reviews and his live performances on radio and TV have continued to impress. Only a few weeks into his European tour, Loyle Carner is playing the first of two sold out nights at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

Ben Coyle-Larner (his real name) attended BRIT School on a scholarship before his rap career hit off. He’d become well known for his acting talent, but when it comes to his music all that’s left behind. In fact that’s always been the basis for his music. Whether he’s discussing his fatherless adolescence or suffering from ADHD, his lyrics never shy away from the reality of life.

In terms of his live show, it was clear he had every intention of maintaining the ‘realness’. The performance’s diversity reflected that of the album itself. Here are a few stand-out moments among many others:

  • When he dropped ‘NO CD’. As one of the early singles off his debut album, the crowd knew every word. The heavy bassline and punchy lyrics displayed the rapper’s ability to bring a crowd up as well as bring them down.
  • Tom Misch joining on stage for ‘Damselfly’. The blissful melody from Tom’s smooth guitar licks provided an opportunity for the venue to revel in these two rising stars jamming away.
  • His use of spoken word. One of the aspects that made this performance particularly special was the change in rhythm, most notably through his use of spoken word. His live performance of ‘+44’ as well as the video-accompanied ‘Sun of Jean’ left the crowd hanging off every word.
  • Kwes joining on stage for ‘Florence’. As a testament to the “sister my mum always wanted”, he dedicated this song to his mum and brother in the audience, supported by the warming, soulful voice of Kwes.
  • Rebel Kleff. Not only the producer behind some of Loyle Carner’s most notorious tracks but a rapper in his own right. Their performance of the Radio 1-debuted version of Tribe called Quest’s ‘Check the Rhime’ was an unexpected gem.
  • The stage set up. The stage was decked out like a living room, simultaneously reflecting the normality of Loyle Carner’s background but at the same time differing him from plenty of others in his field.
  • When he dropped ‘No Worries’ with Rebel Kleff and Jehst. Jehst ranks according to Loyle as his “favourite rapper in the world”. Their joint swagger and energy on stage was more than infectious infectious.

Clutching his dad’s old Eric Cantona shirt throughout, the show ranks among one of the most emotionally-charged performances we’ve witnessed. And to come from a man of such young age, it brims you with nothing but respect. The show closed with a listen through of the final track off the album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’.

After leaving the stage, the crowd started to applaud Jean, Loyle Carner’s mum. Standing on the edge of the circle she starts applauding too, until she realises the reason we’re clapping. This kind of impromptu ending to a performance is a testament to everything Loyle Carner stands for. The more you give, the more you get back – no rapper embodies that more than Loyle himself.

The future is bright for this rising star. Having self-confessed ambitions in the region of acting, directing and more, we can’t help but wonder if we’ve just stumbled across the UK’s very own Donald Glover. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds for this young man.

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