The Bubble Playlist No. 22: French Rap

“C’est d’la bombe, bébé”: A Short Introduction to French Rap
Check out the entire playlist here.

The Hip-Hop movement was born in the United States in the 1970s. It consists of different features touching different forms of art such as graffiti, DJ-ing, break dance and, last but not least, rap music. The American soft power is such that this rather underground and, in essence, non-commercial movement conquered the old continent in the space of a few years. At the end of the 1980s it gained popularity in France, going seemingly against all French stereotypes. It is by capturing the dynamics of that movement and tainting it with the French musical tradition (essentially the classics of French chanson, which is, in the general consensus, taken as a legacy in many different genres in France) that French rap gained its unique identity. French rap is also the original nest of many talented beat-makers that later on, by taking their independence from rap, funded the now internationally acclaimed movement known as French Touch, and its famous names: the label Ed Banger, C2C, Birdy Nam Nam and Chinese Man. This playlist aims to give you a foretaste of French rap through an incomplete, heteroclite, though carefully realised selection of artists that we think of as important.

Chagrin d’amour – Chacun fait (c’qui lui plaît) (1981)
This track is often referred to as the first French rap song, and it is at least the first really successful one. One can easily hear the 80s feel to it.

IAM – Petit Frère (1997)
If only two names had to be given, IAM would have to be one of them. With Marseilles as a basement, it contributed to make the movement truly national. It is a complete hip-hop collective, as it consists of MCs, DJs and break dancers.

NTM – Seine-St-Denis Style (1998)
NTM would then have to come second. The cornerstone of the establishment of French rap is renowned for its political lyrics, notably against racism and about hardships in the banlieues (French suburbs). This song is a hymn to a district in the periphery of Paris that is now, in the subconscious of the French, associated with the genre.

Oxmo Puccino – L’Enfant seul (1998)
Considered a classic of the genre, Oxmo Puccino is often nicknamed the “Black Jacques Brel” as a reference to the great Belgian singer of French chanson for the richness of his lyrics, tending towards poetry, using evocative metaphors, thus communicating strong emotion. Lunatic – Le crime paie (2000)
Their rather “hard-core” lyrics relates them to the Americans of Mobb Deep. Their only album was the first independent record to reach the threshold of a hundred thousand sales.

MC Solaar – Solaar pleure (2001)
This rapper is one of the pioneers of the institution. He has the distinctive luck that his popularity extends well beyond the milieu of rap.

Hocus Pocus – Hip Hop (2005)
This band from Nantes has, in addition to the usual MCs and DJs, a guitar, a pianist, a bass and drums which gives it some alternative shade. The two DJs are also members of the world acclaimed DJs of C2C (to whom we owe the hit Down the Road).

Abd al Malik – Gibraltar (2006)
Abd al Malik is one of the main representatives of French slam (which is different from what is commonly understood by slam in England by the fact that it is well represented in the record industry and not only in occasional gigs). Abd al Malik’s lyrics are prominently narrative about realistic characters with an emphasis on the theme of the crossing of physical, social and moral barriers.

Kacem Wapalek – Des chiffres et des lettres (2009)
This man is at once MC and beat maker. He is remarkable for his sophisticated lyrics, mastering the use of alliterations, assonances and puns to perfection.

Stupeflip – Stupeflip vite !!! (2011)
The collective was funded in 2000 and mixes rap with synth-pop and punk for a very rhythmic result. This interesting mix accompanies often humorous lyrics about either the world domination of a fictitious and abstract organisation or the difficulty of quitting marijuana, all with a distinctive play on alliterations.

1995 – À chaque ligne (2011)
Seen as the forefront of the new generation, they show a certain nostalgia for 1990s rap. This song features Zoxea, another famous name in the institution.

Odezenne – Tu pu du cu (2012)
Also part of the new generation of French rap, their instrumentation makes them stand at the border between French rap and the French Touch movement.

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