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The Noisey Guide to French Rap

Even though rap was pioneered here in the states, France has been in a close, unheralded second place since the early 80s.

In America, we don’t really pay too much attention to French rap. The reasons for this are obvious; we’re here, rap originated here, and we already have millions of people putting out sucky music on Soundlcoud (in English!) every three minutes. So, naturally, focusing on non-American rappers (except Canadian and new Big Tymers member Drake) is kind of a task. Funny thing is, even though rap was pioneered here in the states, France has been a close, unheralded second since the early 80s. In 1984, a showed called H.I.P.H.O.Paired on TV every Sunday in France, beating out our first hip-hop TV show Yo! MTV Rapsby four years. It was mostly centered around breakdancing and popping (the videos are hilarious). When guys like Kurtis Blow and Afrika Bambaataa were touring, they’d stop by the show. Other than that, we’ve completely owned the French in rap but there is some extremely interesting stuff going on with their scene in Paris, and it has been for a while now.


The OG’s in the French rap game are NTM (Nique Ta Mere a.k.a. Fuck Your Mother) and IAM—groups that started in the mid-late 80’s. Essentially, they’re the NWA and Public Enemy of France. Where NTM was initially driven by violence and anger in reaction to the shitty conditions in Parisian suburbs, (the burbs are the ghetto in Paris and the inner city is where the upper class lives, opposite from America…kinda) IAM was big on politics, Islam and pan-Africanism. There’s MC Solaar too, an acid-jazz type,who was the first rap superstar in France and was featured on Guru’s first Jazzmatazz album as well as Missy’s

And if you’re gonna dive into the French rap world, you HAVE to watch La Haine first. It’s a black and white film written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz (the Gothikadude, don’t let that scare you away) and most view it as the French equivalent to Boyz in the Hood. It follows three young kids from Parisian projects who, in response to riots, are constantly fighting with cops. It’s also, surprisingly, like the first film in Paris to show stick-up-their-asses rich people what was going on in the projects and its soundtrack, which featured NTM, gave younger kids something to identify with.

At this point, French rap is just as vast as it is in America. There are super-mainstream guys like Booba—he’s the biggest star in the game right now and sounds like most American radio regulars, but in French. Turns out nothing sounds weirder than a French dude rap with AutoTune over faux-trap beats. Also, in stupid rapper tradition, he’s beefing with another mainstream guy, La Fouine (he AutoTunes too). Some “footage” of them fighting at a gym in Miami surfaced recently, presumably over who’s gonna sign with We The Best first, word to Mavado.

If you’re into “real hip-hop” check out vets like Oxmo and Zoxea. Oxmo is one of those older rappers who has transitioned well into geezer life. Back in the day he was like most 90’s guys, he could spit his ass off while still talking about how fucked up the streets were. He’s on more of a grown and sexy, acid jazz tip now. Zoxea is similar; he started out in a group called Les Sages Poetes de la Rue (Wise Poets of the Street). If you wanna keep it all-the-way-hood, Mac Tyer is your dude. His videos usually recreate big mobster stories of dealing coke and being hated on. Either that, or he’s in the hood with 1,000 people around or just chilling on police cars.

Some less trendy, more interesting rappers in the game right now is a self-sustaining scene of young guys that by our standards are underground Internet artists: L’Entourage is a huge collective of videographers, graffiti artists, and rappers. Their musical style and overall appearance is similar to that of Pro Era—they’re big on streetwear and their production is an evolution of boom-bap 90’s New York rap mixed with more progressive sounds. After forming in 2008 and doing the Paris open-mic scene and frequent freestyle YouTube videos, they got huge on the Internet in 2011. A big part of their success is due to 75e Session, a sick video collective in Paris that specializes in series; their best work is the “John Doe” series where they film anonymous French rappers freestyling over random beats. The collective is also affiliated with two of the more impressive upstart rappers from their scene. Georgio is a 20-year-old rapper who is part of 75e Session and his production, while using boom-bap elements, also samples classical French music, which is still pretty uncommon. The other guy is Guizmo; he’s one of the more versatile rappers in Paris right now because he’s rapping about street-level shit while still following the crisp route of the French backpack. 75e Session filmed some of his early work and he used to be part of L’Entourage but his hardcore raps were a bit much for their feel-good cyphers.

Lawrence Burney est le plus grand tigre connue de l'humanité. Il est sur Twitter - @TrueLaurels