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Remembering Your Roots In Loyle Carner’s "Not Waving, But Drowning"

Key lyrics 

Dear Jean

“I’m out the south, out the house, never out of touch

Trust, out of sight never out of mind.”

Desoleil (Brilliant Corners)

“Speaking of love well it must be

Cleaning the bed when it's dusty

Who else gonna moisture my face when it's crusty?”

Still

“Cus I got nothing to lose, if you hit me then I bruise, I could tell you that its just as real.” 

Dear Ben

“We clung to each other like sailors in a storm as our world pitched and bucked, our breath stolen by grief

But you stood strong, filled such big boots.”

Where’s the meaning?

The 1957 poem by Stevie Smith, from which Loyle Carner’s second studio album takes its name, gives the account of a drowning man, struggling in water, while on-lookers from the shoreline mistake the gestures as waving. This, Carner tells the Guardian, is how he felt when first drafting his newest mellow musings: “I’ve had some small success, moderate, tiny success on the grand scale of success, but enough that people think I’m going, ‘Look at me in my new house with my beautiful girlfriend’. And, sometimes, especially when the album process was beginning, I was drowning! And everyone thought I was hanging out.”

This idea seems to underpin much of ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’, an album that’s unapologetically honest and emotion-filled, as Carner opens to the listener and appears at his most vulnerable. Tracks like ‘Still’ (with lines such as ‘Saying I’m lost / still’), dive into the world of a man thrashing about, looking for the answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. Carner projects his biggest insecurities in lyrics for all us to listen to and read. He reflects, with extreme clarity, on modern-day anxiety which leaves us all ‘still looking for the answers’, but first we’re ‘Tryna find the right questions’. The search for meaning is endless as Carner learns to accept himself, and connect with his roots.

Loyle Carner, though the name a pseudonym and a play on his own surname: Coyle-Larner, has no ulterior motives. He does not pretend to be some elevated figure, which in the world of hip hop and its typical talk of girls and guns, is strikingly refreshing. He talks with willing openness about his own personal issues from ADHD, which he was diagnosed with at the age to six, to the loss of his stepfather in 2014. Carner raps, in ‘Still’, that ‘ADHD is the best and worst thing about me’, attempting to break the stigma around mental health issues that persist today. Lines like these hark back to his 2017 debut, and Mercury prize nominated album, ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, with lyrics in ‘Sun of Jean’ that read: ‘But she said that it ain’t me without ADHD’. Carner finds stability in accepting himself and sees his own mental health issues not as barriers, but as quirks that make him unique.

‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ also tackles the issue of race. ‘Looking Back’ encounters an artist in search of his heritage – something Benjamin Zephaniah referred to as Carner’s “own personal black consciousness movement.” Again, identity and one’s search for a sense of self lies at the heart of Carner’s work. Carner writes of growing up mixed race and feelings of alienation that come with a lack knowledge about one’s cultural history: ‘Face this / Like water, never taste this / Evil, white rose to a racist’. Again, Carner sings that he feels ‘lost / Wondering my cost’. Again, this south London hip-hop artist takes us back to his roots in search of meaning and reassurance.

Even after this constant search for self in a large world filled with insecurities about being lost, Carner always finds cohesion and balance in family life. Several tracks on this new album talk of his mother, and his new partner. He opens with a heart-felt love letter to his mum, ‘Dear Jean’, rapping poetically about how he’s ‘fallen for a woman from the skies’. Carner never forgets his roots. He is endlessly grateful to those who brought him and shaped his outlook on life. Carner tells his mother that he might be moving ‘Out the south, out the house never out of touch’. Retaining connections with those you love seems to provide Carner with strength.

The final track, ‘Dear Ben’, features a melody that is almost identical to the album’s opening. Here, Carner’s mother reads aloud a poem to her son, Ben, who she has watched grow ‘from first kick to first kiss’. Jean Coyle-Larner does not shy away from the truth. She writes of a lost ‘compass’, and how she and Carner ‘clung to each other like sailors in a storm’ after the death of her second husband, Carner’s stepfather. It’s really no surprise that Carner can never forget his roots when his mother is so open and honest. The poignancy of the final line is undeniable: Jean talks of how she has ‘gained a daughter, I’ve not lost a son’ in a reply to Carner’s opening revelation about moving out. The meaning of this album is tied to more than just lyrics and words. They come from an unbreakable bond between an artist and his roots.  

Muse points

  • Carner’s openness surrounding his mental health and ADHD is refreshing in the social media age and serves to destigmatize and help others struggling with similar issues. Should artists be more proactive and combat issues such as mental health problems?

  • While one might attribute the search for identity as an outstanding factor in much of modern day hip hop (look to Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’), few artists are as a personal as Loyle Carner. Do artists have a responsibility to be honest in their music?

Cause warriors

Young Minds UK

Young Minds is a UK-based charity focused on empowering young individuals with mental health challenges such as ADHD. They have a parent’s helpline that can be reached at: 0808 802 5544.

Additionally, they have the YoungMinds Crisis Messenger that can be contacted for free 24/7 support if you text ‘YM’ to 85258.

Link: https://youngminds.org.uk/


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Black Panther Album: "Bloody Waters" by Ab Soul, Anderson .Paak, and James Blake

Given the recent success of the hit, blockbuster movie Black Panther, coupled with the prominent civil discourse and mainstream media coverage around issues of race in America, this week we are dedicating our posts to Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar and various artists. Each day this week we’ll be rolling out posts on various songs off the album. Stay tuned and, as always, let us know your thoughts!

No stranger to producing top  hip-hop albums, the indomitable Kendrick Lamar has once again honed his creative ingenuity and ability to blend musical styles with the perspectives of the black panther movement.  (Inspired by Marvel’s new blockbuster hit, Black Panther, Kendrick’s album is its musical counterpart, capturing the undertones of the Black Panther movement.)”

Kendrick Lamar makes a solid showing with his hip hop album created to incite action in its listeners while illustration problems within predominantly black communities all across the globe. Lamar Incorporates many influences from thematic elements form the textual references from the film to African rhythms and musicians.

Bloody Waters

Key Lyrics

“The big picture's in motion, are you playin' your part?
Before the lights get dark and the curtains get closed
Are you playin' your role?”

Where's The Meaning?

To build on the  themes of this week let’s look at the song “Bloody Waters” featuring Ab-Soul, Anderson .Paak & James Blake. In “Bloody Waters” these artists all take turns highlighting  the perils of growing up surrounded by gang activity. Accompanied by some grooving drums and distant percussion, Ab-soul speaks directly to listeners:

The meaning can be found in its very clear call-to-action to get involved in ensuring community trust and security. Change does not happen by itself, it requires the collective effort of every member in a community.

Cause Warriors

Groups like Run For Something are working hard to encourage people to reclaim their local politic and contribute to their communities. It is more relevant now than ever for the youth and those who are determined to see the change they want in their communities to get involved and be the catalyst for change.

Black Panther Album: "Seasons" by Mozzy, Sjava, and Reason

Given the recent success of the hit, blockbuster movie Black Panther, coupled with the prominent civil discourse and mainstream media coverage around issues of race in America, this week we are dedicating our posts to Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar and various artists. Each day this week we’ll be rolling out posts on various songs off the album. Stay tuned and, as always, let us know your thoughts!

No stranger to producing top  hip-hop albums, the indomitable Kendrick Lamar has once again honed his creative ingenuity and ability to blend musical styles with the perspectives of the black panther movement.  (Inspired by Marvel’s new blockbuster hit, Black Panther, Kendrick’s album is its musical counterpart, capturing the undertones of the Black Panther movement.)”

Kendrick Lamar makes a solid showing with his hip hop album created to incite action in its listeners while illustration problems within predominantly black communities all across the globe. Lamar Incorporates many influences from thematic elements form the textual references from the film to African rhythms and musicians.

"Seasons" by Mozzy, Sjava, and Reason

Key Lyrics

Reason shares his take on the corrupt system of incarceration that disproportionately affects communities of color in America he says:

"No way out, s**t we locked in the system
Catch a case and they not gon' forgive ya
White skin, you be out before Christmas"

Where’s the Meaning?

Reason’s lyrics shine light on the systemic injustices that riddle the USA’s incarceration system. It is a well known fact that the world has “5% of the world’s population and 21% of the world’s prisoners”. Perhaps less well known is that African Americans are incarcerated at 5 times the rate of whites.

Putting aside the mainstream argument of ‘personal autonomy’ i.e. poor choices, and just focusing on bias within the justice system itself, out of a group of murders who committed, and were sentenced for, the same type of capital offense, those that were African American were disproportionately given the death penalty, while those who were white were given life in prison.

This suggests that the decisions to sentence someone to death are arbitrary, based on factors such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status. These factors are calculated differently as judge’s have varying frameworks that they use to make their decision(s), and when leaving it to the discrepancy of a human, well, we’ll let you draw your own conclusion from here. Towards this end, and shockingly, there are no stringent agreed upon standards to base these decisions on (once a person is found guilty of a capital offense).

Cause Warriors

The  NAACP released a fact sheet that illustrates how bad the problem of racially motivated incarceration is in America. Additionally, organizations like the Prison Policy Initiative are working hard to be non-partisan and produce cutting edge research to expose the broader harm of mass incarceration. The PPI also sparks advocacy campaigns in order to help create a more just society.

Black Panther Album: "All the Stars" by Kendrick Lamar, SZA

Given the recent success of the hit, blockbuster movie Black Panther, coupled with the prominent civil discourse and mainstream media coverage around issues of race in America, this week we are dedicating our posts to Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar and various artists. Each day this week we’ll be rolling out posts on various songs off the album. Stay tuned and, as always, let us know your thoughts!

No stranger to producing top  hip-hop albums, the indomitable Kendrick Lamar has once again honed his creative ingenuity and ability to blend musical styles with the perspectives of the black panther movement.  (Inspired by Marvel’s new blockbuster hit, Black Panther, Kendrick’s album is its musical counterpart, capturing the undertones of the Black Panther movement.)”

Kendrick Lamar makes a solid showing with his hip hop album created to incite action in its listeners while illustration problems within predominantly black communities all across the globe. Lamar Incorporates many influences from thematic elements form the textual references from the film to African rhythms and musicians.

All The Stars

Key Lyrics

“Tell me what you gon' do to me
Confrontation ain't nothin' new to me
You can bring a bullet, bring a sword, bring a morgue
But you can't bring the truth to me”

Where's the Meaning?

Highlighting the attitude of gang culture, Lamar touches on a ‘live by the code, die by the code’ mentality. With this attitude deeply ingrained in the culture of ethics that govern gang’s behavior, this begs the question of where to begin in trying to find solutions to quell violence in these communities and against other groups. This simple verse uncovers a deep truth that could help communities and law enforcement understand the value structure of gang mentality and perhaps provide a starting point for engagement. To build a more inclusive society, gangs and other notorious actors must, at times, be engaged with rather than isolated or characterized as a parasitic entity furthering the divided of ‘us vs. them’. Understanding how these groups operate provides the opening door for diplomacy or, in more confrontational terms re: Sun Tzu’s age old saying, the ability to “know thy enemy”.

Compton has had a violent reputation, a reputation that reached the national spotlight in the late-1980s with the prominent rise of local ‘Gangsta Rap’ groups. The city became notorious for gang violence, primarily caused by the Bloods and Crips. According to the LA Times, between 2000 and 2016, 91.5% deaths in Compton were due to gun and gang related violence. Compare this to the national average of 67.7% and a picture of a violent setting becomes crystal clear.

Muse Point

  • What role do movies like Black Panther and music videos like All the Stars play in discussions about societal organization and community violence? Are they effective in guiding community groups toward increased understanding and discourse?

Cause Warriors

While these statistics are troubling, there are great organizations such as the Compton YouthBuild and The Compton Initiative that are initiating grassroots movements to better their communities through charitable work, outreach, and engagement. In fact, social outreach is a huge theme that runs throughout these songs and the film.

Jorja Smith - Imperfect Circle

Key Lyrics

“Too much news about abusing color
We're all a canvas would you paint me red if I was darker?
Too much blood spilt, it's like you can't escape the history
What was once is now now, just more eyes can see
We're all becoming too acquainted to these tainted lies
Like it's normal to be stop searched and then end your life
If I saw Martin would he tell me that he's had a dream?
But if he's dreaming I would rather let him stay asleep”

Full Lyrics

Where’s the Meaning?

Jorja Smith’s thought provoking song “Imperfect Circle” highlights the age-old saying that history repeats itself. In light of current events regarding race relations (e.g. #BlackLivesMatter, Trayvon Martin, Charlottesville, etc.), “Imperfect Circle” grapples with the question of race relations, and in particular, can, or even more provocative, has anything changed since the days of Martin Luther King?

Focusing on the lines “too much blood spilt, it’s like you can’t escape the history, what was once is now now, just more eyes can see…” touches on the obvious yet cloaked point that these issues, that the African-American community is facing, are not new. These issues are only now getting attention because a greater degree of people are becoming aware via social media of the types of discrimination, subjugation, and systemic biases that have been plaguing the African-American community. As the song progresses into the chorus the listener is left with a feeling that even if a greater number people are aware of these injustices, will anything really ever change or will it just “go round, and round, and round again.”

Muse Points

  • What role does social media have to play in combating systemic injustices deeply rooted in our institutions? (See here for an article by Malcom Gladwell on the role that social media can play in social movements.)

  • Does simply having more awareness about an injustice help in solving the issue (e.g. The Kony 2012 Movement; Occupy Wall Street)?

  • Can (digital) social media really create change to the extent that (physical) sit-ins and marches did during the 60’s and 70’s?

  • How have inherent biases in institutional practices embraced and perpetuated discrimination over the years and how can we play a part in changing the system?

Let’s get the discussion going! Feel free to comment on Twitter, Facebook, or send your thoughts to us at thesocietyofsound@gmail.com.