Wednesday, April 29, 2009

French Hip Hop Part 1

So here it is, a post about french hip hop. I don't know why I took on the challenge, because it's not a subject I know that much about. Still, I thought I could put together a mixture of important tracks, as well as some favourites of mine. So, this is not a definitive account of French hip-hop until the mid-90s (Part II will come later), but I hope some of you will find something you like.

We start with the Suprême NTM (later just NTM, which stands for Nique Ta Mere, a grafitti tag they used to paint), and IAM. The former is from Paris, and the latter from Marseilles. These two were quite Public Enemy-like in my opinion, with energetic beats and lyrics reporting on what went on in the more disaffected areas of France's cities, as well as bringing to the listener's attention a bit of history, notably Ancient Egyptian civilisation and the writings of Cheikh Anta Diop in the case of IAM.



Can you get over that moustache though?

Then we have the darling of French rap, MC Solaar, whose jazzy beats and unprovocative lyrics reconciled those put off by NTM's angry lyrics. Solaar put himself in the tradition of the A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, but also French singer-songwriters such as Georges Brassens and Leo Ferré.

His crew, whose name I forgot, included Les Sages Poetes de La Rue, Democrates D and La Funk Mob (who later became house outfit Cassius), went on to be quite successful within French Hip-Hop, recording with American rappers, the ultimate cachet then.

Sages Poetes de la Rue

Then you have Ministere A.M.E.R., France's N.W.A, the most controversial group, their favourite target being the police (a very sensitive body in France), with sometimes sexist or  violent lyrics, reflecting some of the harsher realities of the French suburbs

I'll finish with this, a party record which I think is the first of its kind, at least it was the most successful. It reminisces about the popular funk scene in Marseilles, with pinpoint observations on the era. Then Parisians observed: "Look what those funny southerners are up to" and somoebody else than MC Solaar blew up.

You'll have noticed I made parallels with US hip hop acts, that's not to belittle my compatriots, but in the beginning, they were all mostly influenced by what was going on across the Atlantic, Later, the imitation peaked to the point of innutrition, and then French Hip Hop found its voice. More on that later, hopefully.
I realised the post is already too long, so here's a Spotify playlist.


ejaydee said...

Oh I know what happened, the two people who requested this post aren't here!

steenbeck said...

Epic post!! It's a lot to process.

The most immediately appealing is the MC Solaar, I think. But maybe that's because I recognized the name and we'd already talked about him. But it's also just really pleasing to listen to--his voice, the way he uses the sound of language, the general jazziness of it.

I liked the NTM a lot, as well. The energy and seriousness of it. ANd the silver lamé hammer pants, of course. And I started watching IAM thinking "I like this, I like his voice..." and then I saw the moustache. You're right, it's hard to get over. Which makes me feel very shallow.

I love the sound of the Minstere A.M.E.R. the slight cacophonousness of it and the slightly sinister feeling. Isaac said he doesn't want this one.

He does like Je Danse Le Mia, though. What a great video--it's irresistable. Reminds me a little of D.A.N.C.E.--musically and the video.

A lot of the videos--just groups of people hanging out and shooting hip hop videos--looks like a nice life. I think I'll move to france and be a rap star.

Thanks, Ejaydee. I'm off to check the spotify list.

The spill is so full of remarkable posts lately my head is going to explode.

As I'm listening to them all again, I'm starting to understand the meanings a bit more and listen for the sounds of the words a bit less.

steenbeck said...

Wow--listening to the NTM on Spotify--speedy rapping sounds even more impressive in French. I like Le Pouvoir a lot.

ejaydee said...

Phew, right on time.
You knew Akhenaton, to give him his full name, sported that moustache for a long long time. I'm not sure he's shaved it yet.
I heard that Minister AMER (bitter) song for the first time while putting this list together (while looking for another one) and was seduced too.
Unfortunately, I didn't find that much stuff on Spotify (which is not available in France I think). If I have time before tonight, I'll make a deezer playlist.

Gotta love the silver pants...

Abahachi said...

My problem is that my French simply isn't good enough to pick up enough of what's going on - another reason why MC Solaar is more accessible. That leaves me just with the sounds of the tracks, and on the whole my interest in hip hop has always been very logocentric, I wouldn't listen to it much if it wasn't for the words. However, this did make me wish that my French was better, or that they came with subtitles - and I did like IAM.

steenbeck said...

I'm loving the whole spotify list. Ministere Amer has that Beauty/violence thing which is so oddly intriguing. Je viens de Marseille is blistering.

I like Iam a lot--I can't understand most of what they're saying, but a definite personality shines through anyway.

Abahachi said...

That's the 'Je danse le Mia' IAM track, of course, not the other one, where I feel that I really need to have a better idea of what they're on about.

steenbeck said...

Now you've got me thinking about language. It's interesting that Abahachi described his interest in HIp HOp as logocentric, because I've been increasingly interested in instrumental hip hop lately--even downloading instrumental versions of regular albums. I find the lyrics disappointing sometimes. Unless they're brilliant, in which case, you're right--that is what you're listening for. Some woman on the radio was going on about bringing poetry into the every day, and--it's already there, isn't it?

I was also thinking about how sometimes even hip hop in English is bewildering to me because they're using so much slang--sometimes slang particular to the group in question--that it's often like they're speaking a different language.

nilpferd said...

Great post EJ, love the lalo schifrin feel of NTM, IAM uses the same rhythm backing which I think also appears on MC Solaar's Jazzmatazz cut, le bien/le mal. French rapping is so much better than German rapping, it just flows better.. I think the particular jazz backing of the french rappers taps into the way american jazz musicians like Miles or Bud Powell found a totally different attitude of respect and awe in Parisian clubs, while they were struggling with harrassment and indifference in the States.
MC Solaar has been a favourite of mine since the Rebirth of Cool series, really like his crew's work too, esp. the Democrates D, which is new to me.

Je Danse le Mia is cool, with the George Benson backing.. I have a sheepskin jacket like that..

Looking forward to the spotify list, after dinner..

Shoey said...

Like what I've heard from MC Solaar. & as my understanding of French is not much better than most US ebonics, the language is not too much of a barrier either. Can we call this stuff Frog Hop or is that too politically incorrect?

FP said...

Frenchyyyyyyyyy! Big love for IAM and Claude MC. Will enjoy listening to the others too. French hip hop rocks. I thought of you today. Beyoncé is touring in France and I think the tour title is I AM. The way they have formulated the poster is a bit confusing. Looks like she's being supported by our favourite Marseilles rappers.... Or is she...????

nilpferd said...

Enjoying the spotify list, EJ. Le Pouvoir and Plus rien ne va are awesome. Great Maceo Parker sample in the latter. La Fievre has a real De la Soul feel (as I can authoritatively say after receiving Steen's primer) , fantastic mix.
"Le Nouveau President" is also amazing.
As regards not understanding the lyrics, it often amazes me the sort of low quality english language hip-hop which gets airplay in German supermarkets or used to accompany kids doing hip-hop routines in school or church fetes- quite often even I find the lyrics appallingly offensive, which is saying something. Everyone else is blissfully unaware of what's being said.

steenbeck said...

Ejay, you might have to do your magic RR incantation. I can't find it!