Manchester-bound lyricist Loyle Carner: ‘We used to rap for Pokemon cards in school’

As a former card game fanatic, there’s nothing more supreme than to hear how an insipient south London-born rapper honed his linguistic talents in the context of a Pokemon battle.

“We used to rap for Pokemon cards in the playground,” admitted 20-year-old Ben Coyle-Larner. “And the winner would get whatever it is. We wouldn’t bet anything huge though, like a Charizard.

“But you’d risk it a little bit. I still have all of them, I don’t use them but I have them in my room. I was probably a bit of trouble [when I was younger] and that’s how I used to get by.”

A decade and copious numbers of Weedle wagers later, Ben now roves through the UK hip hop scene under the dyslexic alias Loyle Carner, recognised as one of ‘Britain’s most recent new hope in hip hop’.

And while we share a fondness for Japanese pocket monsters, Ben has gradually developed into one of the most profound and eloquent lyricists around, as proven with his EP, A Little Late

It’s easy to understand why Ben has been noted as a potent saviour of UK hip hop when he writes bars that are strikingly honest, thought-provoking and steers clear of appearing in any way superficial.

Not to mention his use of expertise developed while studying drama at university to direct and feature in his quirky music videos.

His step-father passed away last year and in the hauntingly brilliant BFG, fused with a Donnie and Joe Emerson sample, he wrote: ‘Everyone says I’m fucking sad / Course I’m fucking sad / I lost my fucking dad’.

“Honesty is what makes me proud of what I do,” he told MM. “There are a lot of people out there who aren’t honest that are successful.

“But if you want to connect to a listener, if you’re talking about things that aren’t true to you, the chances are that they aren’t going to be true for anyone else. People are a lot more similar than we think.

“If you’re talking about your insecurities or stresses chances are someone will hear it and think exactly the same, which is what I found.

“Before I thought it was just me, but I found out that people feel the same way and it’s only after writing music that I’ve found that.”

The lyricist grew up listening to grime artists like Ghetts, Skepta, Kano and Lethal Bizzle, and perhaps what adds to his authenticity is that he prefers his songs to include avant-garde, jazz-bristled instrumentals.

Something you wouldn’t expect from a modern rapper, even less so with one such as Ben who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child.

A genre of music that has been defined more recently by police sirens, frenetic basslines and ice cream van jingles, which some might stereotypically suggest as an ADHD sufferer’s wet dream.

“There’s still some fantastic, honest, thought-provoking, genuine hip hop in the mainstream, but it seems to get clouded out by some of the generic party stuff,” said Ben. “I try not to have an opinion on it, really.

“It’s purpose is for partying as most music has its place. People are doing their thing, I do not hate on them. Making the best of a bad situation in the most part, but it’s just not what I do.

“[I] figure things out in my head that I don’t get a chance to talk about every time, so it’s a release to sit down and unload. I never really write for other people, not in a selfish way.”

Ben revealed which artists he’s listening to right now.

“Anderson Paak, a lot,” he said. “It’s just something new, creative. I can’t put my finger on it! Sonically it’s just next level.

“He’s working with Knxwledge, so I’m really just listening to NxWorries, and as a duo they are a match made in heaven. 

“I’d love to work with Paak and Knxwledge. I reckon that’s where I’m at.”

Ben will be performing in Manchester tomorrow at Soup Kitchen as part of his sold-out November UK tour.

Ahead of the gig, the rapper revealed he has a soft spot for Manchester United and Reds legend Eric Cantona.

Even though he is an impassioned Liverpool fan. 

I follow United, I have to,” he said. “My dad was a United fan and really tried to get me to be a United fan but obviously I wasn’t having it.

“We’d swear at each other all the time when the football was on and I miss that, so I make sure to have that with my brother. So it’s not easy if you’re an Arsenal fan. I don’t follow Arsenal at all.

“But for my dad, I felt like all the animosity being a rival of Liverpool when my dad passed was just not worth it.

“Cantona has always been one of my favourite players though, regardless of teams.

“So I swept it all under the rug. When I see them doing well I’m like yeah, fair enough! Good on them.”

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