Album Review: Loyle Carner – Not Waving, but Drowning

In Hip Hop by Josh Hood

‘Not Waving, but Drowning’ – the second studio album released by British rapper Loyle Carner, charts the artists continual rise through the musical echelons, and marks a new zenith in his story-telling prowess. In the album, Carner refuses to adhere to any moulds, instead, carving out a genre entirely for himself with his self-reflective content, and low-fi cadence – this is a sound to bump throughout summer 2019 and beyond.

As well as his incredibly accomplished lyricism and melody-making feats, the quality of collabs on the project speaks to Carner’s evolution. And apart from the (much welcomed) presence of Jordan Rakei on single hit Ottolenghi, it is a very British affair, as he showcases collaborations with Tom Misch and Rebel Kleff – tried and tested partnerships, alongside fresh alliances with Jorja Smith, Sampha and Kiko Bun. Listen to this album as a fellow Brit, and feel proud of the wealth of musical talent on display, or as a newcomer to British hip-hop and r&b, and discover a Pandora’s box of rising stars.

The album itself documents Carner’s effort to find a kind of personal equilibrium, by taking inspiration from the natural world. He steers us through his mind in the most relatable of soul-searches. During periods where he admittedly struggles, we see the value he places on familial and romantic love – these are the aids that keep him buoyant, that prevent him from drowning. The currents and tides of isolation and self-doubt will sweep you away should you neglect the help of others, and hinder your own ability to develop – to learn how to swim. In this way, ‘Not Waving, but Drowning’, isn’t a statement, but a metaphor for the choice of false pretence and pride over humble natures; an acceptance of ones own shortcomings alongside a determination to improve. For Loyle Carner, we are (or should be at least) in a perpetual state of treading water – of forcing ourselves to develop, while constantly on the precipice of catastrophe. We must take the rough with the smooth, always remembering that ‘without the rain, there’s no sunny grove’; without the pain, there’s no way to grow.