Pin It
Loyle Carner
Loyle CarnerPhotography Amy Gwatkin

The UK rapper fighting the stigma around ADHD

Together with ASOS Supports Talent, rising hip hop star Loyle Carner is helping kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – here he discusses the project

As a teenager with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cooking was one of the few productive outlets into which rapper Loyle Carner could pour his excess energy. (When you live with ADHD, he says, “you kind of live like you’ve had five coffees.”) The other was writing lyrics, a talent that got him to where he is now, poised on the brink of stardom. The musician, whose moniker is a spoonerism of his actual surname (Coyle-Larner), makes stark, candid hip hop – dubbed “confessional” by some critics, though he’s not confessing his emotions so much as he is exorcising them. To Carner, laying bare his soul is the only way he can process what he’s feeling. “Everybody says I’m fucking sad,” he raps on “BFG”, “Of course I’m fucking sad, I miss my fucking dad.”

It’s raw, unfussy lyrics like this, combined with a deliberately restrained smattering of more metaphoric imagery, that makes Carner such an exciting young talent, and which has endeared him to a plethora of quietly disaffected youth. Over the past year, he’s supported hip hop giants such as Nas and MF Doom, and singles like “No CD” and “Florence” have each amassed hundreds of thousands of plays on YouTube. And he’s only just getting started. But as his music career takes off, Carner sees no reason why his passion for cooking, and his steadfast belief in the potential of those with ADHD, should fall by the wayside. After all, he’s got the energy for it.

Carner is teaching young people with ADHD how to cook, and trying to undo the message they’ve had drummed into their heads since the word go – that their ADHD means they’ll probably never amount to much. It’s the mantra he was met with all too often growing up, despite the energy, emotional depth and dedication to creativity that he believes his ADHD has given him.

Now, with help from ASOS Supports Talent, Carner is expanding the school, meaning that more young people will be able to benefit from this project. This ongoing global initiative set on nurturing brilliant creatives to achieve amazing things is helping turn the dreams of eight young creatives (of whom Carner is one) into a reality. The day after revealing his new single, “Isle Of Arran”, on BBC Radio 1, he chatted to Dazed about growing up with ADHD, his passion for cooking and the song he thinks best sums him up.

How did the partership with ASOS Supports Talent come about?

Loyle Carner: I already had the school set up, so it was a bit of a no brainer really. ASOS offered to fund an event to raise awareness and the money raised from the event would go towards keeping the school going… they’re also providing mentorship and help on how to set up the charity legally.

Part of the ethos behind the cooking school is that you want to get rid of the negative connotations that come with ADHD. What do you think are the most damaging of those negative connotations?

Loyle Carner: That because you can’t focus, you won’t amount to much. Or that you cannot focus at all, because it means that you’re always expected to fail, always expected to not be engaged enough to do anything. Because of that people, especially teachers, don’t figure out how to capture the imagination of a student with ADHD – they just assume they’re not gonna focus no matter what. I think a lot of teachers still believe that ADHD is a myth, or is just used to describe badly behaved children.

What would you say are the positives that can come from having ADHD?

Loyle Carner: Loads. You’re full of energy, almost at all times, so there’s no need for coffee or energy drinks, you just kind of live like you’ve had five coffees. You’re ready for things and it’s rare that you’re knackered and not up for stuff, which is brilliant if you have to keep going. I think an emotional depth, which is something I’ve been reading up about recently. You’re very much in touch with your emotions, which at times can be difficult but is a very important thing, a very healthy thing, if embraced. And I guess a knack for picking things up quickly.

You just mentioned feeling emotions quite readily, and I know you’ve said that you were quite hot-headed when you were younger. How did that hot-headedness manifest itself?

Loyle Carner: In many different ways. I never used to get in too many fights – I did get in a couple of fights but my granddad always told me I shouldn’t, it’s not an intelligent thing to do, so I kind of stayed away from it. I think just saying things you don’t mean. That’s why I write so much, because I always say the wrong thing. It makes you impulsive, so you say things without thinking and deal with the repercussions afterwards. But when I write I actually think about what I’m saying before I say it.

“I think a lot of teachers still believe that ADHD is a myth, or is just used to describe badly behaved children” – Loyle Carner

Why do you feel cooking is something that can particularly help people with ADHD?

Loyle Carner: For me I found this unparalleled peace when I was cooking. I figured if it worked for me it could work for kids in a similar situation. It’s something that everyone does, and something that is essential, coupled with the fact that it’s a kinetic, physical action – it’s got fire, it’s dangerous, it captures the attention of someone with ADHD because it’s everything that we as a people are into.

It must be really rewarding to watch kids create something and feel proud of their accomplishment.

Loyle Carner: Oh it is, because they’ve been basically told a lot, like I was, that you won’t really amount to much, or you’re stupid. You don’t get much praise, because you’re always getting told off and told you’re doing something wrong, so to be able to tell someone – ‘Do this,’ and they do it properly, and you can pat them on the back at the end of the day and say, ‘You did that,’ it’s instant gratification. They know it’s good because they can taste it themselves, and it tastes great. It’s really, really important. It’s moving.

You started off writing poetry – when you’re writing lyrics do you freestyle out loud or do you write them down first?

Loyle Carner: I try not to open a blank page because someone told me that a blank page has nothing to offer you. So I start by being out in my surroundings, not just looking at nothing – because a blank page is effectively nothing – and then once I’ve got enough to write down and fill the page, that’s when I begin to write. 

You recently dropped ‘Isle Of Arran’ – what can you tell us about that song and how it came about?

Loyle Carner: It came about at the start of the year. I’d gone through some stuff, some trivial things – relationship things – and also some bigger things, and it was the first time I’d been able to hone in on my frustration at my current position in terms of the hand I’d been dealt. It was the first time I’d been able to put that into writing. Usually when I’m frustrated I can’t write because I’m too frustrated to sit down and write, so I made the most of it.

“Another trait of ADHD is being open, and not worrying about things. All the hang ups and concerns I had about (personal lyrics) have come and gone. It’s the only way I know how to write” – Loyle Carner

There’s a line in ‘BFG’ where you say, ‘Of course I’m fucking sad, I miss my fucking dad’ – it’s so stark and raw. How comfortable are you with putting personal lyrics into the world?

Loyle Carner: I feel like another trait of ADHD is being open, and not worrying about things. All the hang ups and concerns I had about it have come and gone. It’s the only way I know how to write. I write quite straightforward things; I’ve never been good at masking things in metaphors because I don’t feel like they feel as good to be said. I used to write just to say them back to myself, almost to comfort myself. So yeah, I’m petrified every time I put a tune out like that but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Presumably you have a lot of people who connect on a really personal level with your songs because of that.

Loyle Carner: Yeah a lot more than I thought I was going to. A lot of people say thank you or express quite important, personal things, which is very, very moving and means a lot to me because they’re trusting me with things that are big to them.

ASOS Supports Talent is a global initiative from online fashion destination ASOS, providing up-and-coming creative talent with funding, mentoring and support to realise personal passion projects. Find out more here.