‘He’s my hero’: Rapper Loyle Carner on how poet John Agard inspired him and his music

Rishi Davda went to meet Loyle Carner and John Agard as they spoke to schoolchildren

Very few of us ever get to meet our heroes, but rapper Loyle Carner did just that as he perched alongside poet John Agard.

Loyle’s excitement as he listened to John was emphatically matched by the class of secondary students sat opposite them.

Everyone, including myself, hanging on the poet’s every word delivered in his trademark Guyanese twang. John is a critically-acclaimed writer and probably best known for his poem ‘Half Caste’, which describes the issues affecting mixed race people in the UK.

Loyle Carner and John Agard spoke to schoolchildren.

The poem is taught in schools across the country, but 28-year-old Loyle only heard it recently on YouTube.

Both John and Loyle are mixed race with Guyanese heritage. The first time the rapper listened to ‘Half Caste’ he was ‘blown away’.

"He was talking about a lived experience. I’d never seen or identified with anyone like that. It was great to be able to stand on his shoulders, the poem I later found out was taught in schools."

Loyle took inspiration from the poem and included it in his new single ‘Georgetown’. John even features in the music video for the track.

John, 73,  feels a great sense of pride knowing that his poem still inspires people and continues to be taught in schools.

He smiles as he says "you feel touched, you feel happy as a poet because your poem is transcending cultures and generations."

Speaking about his inclusion on the song, John believes that "in the case of Loyle, something clicked, part of the lyrics, there is a resonance with the few lines that I read."

As John delivers his poem out loud to the schoolchildren who analyse it as part of their studies, Loyle thinks back to his days in education.

"I used to feel anxious," he said. "I’ve got ADHD and I’m dyslexic. I got a bit lost and didn’t feel like I would amount to much, but my love of music was birthed out a love for words.

"At school, literature was hard but language was great. I could bend words and that led me on a path of expression."

He’s glad that John’s poem and its meaning is on the school syllabus, and acknowledged that "if you can’t see it, you can’t be it."

"When I was at school I would have loved to have seen someone who looked like me expressing themselves."

Loyal has just released his third album - titled ‘Hugo’ - created at a time when he reconnected with his Guyanese father and tried to learn more about his mixed heritage.

The two-time Brit nominated performer said: "My dad was teaching me how to drive over lockdown.

"It was a beautiful space, you don’t look at each other so when you say heavy things, you don’t have to see them land."

"When you want to repair rupture, that is essential. The album is dedicated to my dad and my dad’s car…Hugo."

Loyal’s new album Hugo is available now