Image via Greg Stanley
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Greg Stanley‘s new personality type is bringing cards to the function.
looms. used to make music knowing that it could never be released under his own name.
“I knew I was carrying other people’s hearts with it,” he says. His voice cracks on this phone call much less than it does in his music, even though he’s speaking to me after a day spent traveling nearly the full length of the British Isles. The nomadic rapper hails from a nondescript town somewhere in the south of England, but just as his cadence stretches on beats from YUNGMORPHEUS (LA), dylantheinfamous (Birmingham, UK) and Argov (Tel Aviv), looms.’ faceless presence spans places far and wide.
looms. has kept more than an arm’s length away from the “UK Hip-Hop” tag. Rather than setting off on boom-bap, his hushed, oddly specific and sometimes uncomfortably graphic lyrics have been delivered over instrumentals more similar to those at the back end of the LA Beat scene era. See 2015-2017, a scrapbook/compilation tape where he largely writes in the third person. Often, he hides or at least obscures truths about his own life.
More recently his words have been refined with first-person accounts of a tumultuous relationship with an ex-girlfriend, informed by the dominant theme of growing up with an abusive father whose actions made police visits to his childhood home a regular occurrence (with stories about them appearing in local newspapers.) On March’s Saints Are Hard To Live With, the production picked is languorous and more minimal, similar to that of MIKE or Earl Sweatshirt before it fizzles out with one final outpour on the solitary acoustic guitar-led track, “The Hound.”
The project starts with a trigger warning that in itself might be triggering, as he addresses his experience of child abuse in the opening lyrics – “Mom-raised son, Dad used to beat us. Wouldn’t know the man’s face, his hands never leave us.” Faceless or not, this brave start sets the precedent that this is not just going to be another 25 minutes of crunchy lo-fi beats with a technically-skilled rapper cleverly telling you how good they are.
You’ll find that stuff in looms.’ discography too. He’ll find squelchy pockets between the stomp of drums and eerie vocal samples, and yet that above description would still undersell the Blah Records-released languid.oceans with Bahamian rapper Obijuan that he dropped in 2020.
After a three-year hiatus that saw him provide the occasional guest verse but largely just travel, write, record and hoard, looms. doesn’t just peel back the mask on the new EP, he knocks on your door, walks into your living room, asks for something stiff to drink and tells you his life story. He told me that it’s one that he’s “spent his whole life wanting to tell,” feeling as if he owed it to the many boys and girls who have had a similar experience to his.
“The more I cower away from it, the more I let it define me, the more my Dad has won,” he says, our call flowing well past 10:30pm on a midweek evening. The subject matter goes from the deep to the delirious, dabbling into the absurd reality of wanting to be an artist in a town where roundabouts outweigh rappers by a hundred to one. He speaks with as much sincerity about his childhood trauma as he does about the fond memories of hearing Grandmaster Flash in his Mom’s CD player.
Since emerging sonically in the UK’s London-centric Soundcloud heyday of the mid-2010s, looms. has only really existed as hand-drawn faces, sketches on walls, vocals on tracks, and more recently, signatures on letters. At the start of 2023, the artist began selling and sending handwritten messages to the many dedicated listeners he has accumulated via his mailing list and private social media accounts since first releasing music in 2015.
Each letter is different, but all of them include a handwritten URL link to a private page where this once-secret EP sat waiting to be downloaded. The letters showed up in The Gambia, Los Angeles, New York City, Berlin, London and on top of my own doormat in Brighton on England’s south coast.
This cryptic release method is in keeping with the nature of the man who put ink on them. Images of looms. are few and far between and the decision to hide his own identity has many layers to it – a desire to be judged on his art alone is only one of them.
“I don’t have people looking at me just because I can do a dance or look greazy,” he tells me before adding a first disclaimer. “Although obviously, I do look greazy, the real core of it is retaining my own sense of self and being able to go out and not worry about being identified, or my family being identified for that matter.”
Despite the fact that no one can see him, looms. seems to have a clear vision of why he makes music. He admits that it is solely catharsis that pushes him into writing and as a result, there are “literally thousands” of songs he’s made that will never leave his laptop. But Saints Are Hard To Live With is a collection of songs that did make it off of his hard drive, originally via the UK’s Royal Mail service and now via streaming ones.
Its stories which were once only available to those only with written permission are now out in the open where anyone can hear them, but no one will know who they are about.