Loyle Carner must have one of the most intelligent flows in the UK, if not the world, at present. That said, given the current state of hip-hop one could argue that such praise may not be quite as large a compliment as it would have been in, say, the early ‘90s. Still, he certainly has skills. While there are quite a few rappers that can bury a beat in an unrelenting torrent of words, few can do so with Carner’s rich, bright and emotive realism that comments on struggles and joys internal and social. At times the collection is difficult to appreciate due to the use of colloquialisms, metaphors and references one might not comprehend as well as a complex flow. Elsewhere, though, the lyricist is easy to understand and enjoy thanks to Carner’s ability to make personal experiences, from a brother’s love for their younger sister to the cautionary tales of poor young people in cities, relatable and vivid.
Carner’s drawing upon everyday experiences travels at times into the mundane. (For example, he speaks at one point of “tidying the flat”, which is quite possibly the first time anyone mentioned the subject in the hip-hop genre.) However, there is a transcendence to the lyrics which deal with death, anxiety, affection and the quest for meaning. These moments of greatness act as a counterweight to the more impenetrable complicated passages from which some listeners will probably struggle to interpret. They also compensate for the uninteresting imagery which sometimes crops up.
Despite the emcee’s often-evident greatness, it could be argued that the instrumentals displayed here, influenced by an eclectic mix of rock, jazz and gospel, are about as good as the words. Well-utilized voices such as saxophone and guitar add sleekness and a degree of brightness to Carner’s somewhat pessimistic outlook and dark subject matter that colour certain songs — but not all — found within the album. Happier lyrics are also effectively wed to similar musical elements. Some compositions here generate a ‘digging in the crates’ vibe so celebrated among the listeners and beatmakers of the alternative hip-hop crowd.
In summary, this album is admirably ambitious but ultimately features hit-and-miss songs. Carner’s gift as a wordsmith sadly does not shine through all the time but is complimented by beats of a more consistent quality. There are certainly shining gems amongst the less brilliant material, though. Even though ‘Yesterday’s Gone‘ is a flawed album, it is a good, sometimes excellent one. Loyle Carner is a beacon of hope for hip-hop in these hard times.