French rap is greatly underrated and an obscure subculture within the rap game. The emergence occurred shortly after our own hip-hop legends rose from a misconstrued edge of music, introducing us to the genre.
French hip-hop has a slightly shorter history than trendsetting American rap, and a smaller following. French rap started in the banlieues of Paris about 30 years ago, but was cast out as a fad that would eventually die down by a large portion of the population.
In the banlieues lay the same issues that plague our hoods and ghettos; Violence, murder, injustice, drugs, street crime, racial division. A movement had begun, and anger was the fuel of it.
Funny thing is, even though rap was pioneered here in the states, France has been a close, unheralded second since the early 80s.
Since the late 1980s, French rap has been in line with our American flow, watching the rise and fall of their own era legends. American influences such as NWA, who were releasing singles like “Fuck Tha Police” that spoke of the harsh realities minorities faced in inner cities and low income neighborhoods.
French rap quickly became a political outlet and developed its own following, where rappers talked about the racial differences that affected both France and Africa at the time.
The Noisey Guide to French Rap lays out the different branches of music, breaking it down into the main five groups: French Trap, Conscious Rap, Street Rap, Variety Rap, Nice Kids and Weirdos.
Each genre lives up to it’s name, French Trap’s normally heavier bars are quick in reliving the everyday life of a Frenchman over a trap beat, Nice Kids and Weirdos a newly developed multi-section free form.
In 2017, some idols have remained relevant and regarded highly as the OG rappers of their time, while others have surfaced with a new wave of art and expression.
PNL (Peace and Loves) consist of French-Arab brothers Tarik and Nabil Andrieu who have been around the music scene for a couple of years now. They have released three albums so far, their third being their biggest hit, Dans La Légende, selling over 600,000 copies worldwide.
In the midst of the 2016 Parisian protests regarding labor laws and the series of 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, the outcry of the French people rang clearly throughout the streets. Among the younger generation of millennials, PNL spoke to the entirety of France and the world.
“Le Monde ou Rien” – “The World Or Nothing” became something of a tribute. France stood in solidarity, moved by the tragedies and hardships that impacted the country within a matter of months, both economically and socially.
The song is one example of PNL’s influence on the generation that can appreciate and shadow the current wave of rap that the band depicts.
Though the origin of French rap focuses on politics, PNL’s casual vibes speak to what is an otherwise politically uninhibited youth.
Even if you don’t know what PNL is saying, it’s easy to follow and enjoy their music.
Booba, born Elie Yaffa, is considered the Kanye West of French rap. Bodying the “Gangsta Rap” of the hip-hop game, Booba’s music mostly focuses on darker themes that mirror influencers of the ’90s hip-hop game, such as Biggie and Tupac.
In the ’90s, Booba formed Lunatic, a rap duo with Ali, a French rapper from Morocco. However, Lunatic didn’t live up to the OG’s standards. Booba went on to make “six solo albums, four mixtapes, four platinum records, six gold records,” as well as became the most legally downloaded artist in France. Booba is one of the most revered rap legends in France today.
His most recent stuff has been a little bit more culturally mainstream, and still catchy, and retains his presence as the original rap God.
Oxmo is one of the pioneer “vet” rappers that’s worked alongside Booba in the ’90s era of hip-hop. Born in Mali, Oxmo is considered one of the original MC’s of French hip-hop before he moved to Paris as a child. Living in the city, he was exposed to a lot of violence. This carried over into his rap career and became a huge influence on his music.
Oxmo and Booba worked alongside one another, as they were both part of Time Bomb, the rap and hip-hop collective made up of the best French rappers of the 90s.
Pretty much any piece of French rap after 1995 or 1996 was upended: There is clearly a before and after Time Bomb. French rap was no longer just words put over music, where people were happy spitting rhymes as fast as possible.
“We wanted to wow our buddies,” Oxmo tells Noisey, “We were talking to each other [on the track].”
The formation of Time Bomb was monumental for the stream of hip-hop in the country. The group’s significance brought together the best rappers in the game, taking rap from newly discovered conscious poetry to a raging battle of who was the greatest and who had the most important thing to say.
From then on, it was a question of accentuation, pacing, intonation—in brief, rhythm and flow. There was no longer a goal of making so-called poetry or of summing up the political history of France in six bars: French rap had finally discovered technique. It was a like a bunch of house painters had suddenly found themselves looking at Michelangelo.
Suprême NTM, which stands for for nique ta mère (fuck your mother) have been rapping since 1989. They are comprised of Joey Starr and Kool Shen.
Since their very early rise, the two have released 6 successful albums and have signed with Sony entertainment.
They cover various topics of racism and racial inequality that affect France, and have played around with different kinds of types of rap, changing their music styles up often. From the Culture Trip:
‘J’appuie sur la Gâchette’ (‘I Pull the Trigger’), a song about suicide, was censored on French TV channels, leading French radio stations to boycott the group’s music. ‘Pose ton Gun’ (‘Put Down Your Gun’) on the other hand, an anti-violent song rather unusual for the group, sampled American singer Bobby Womack’s ‘And I Love Her.
Gradur, full name Wanani Gradi Mariadi, is of Congolese origin and is currently bodying the trap scene. From High Snobiety:
He entered the military at a young age, and starting writings lyrics only after he broke his leg in three places. He struggled for a break early in his career (no pun intended), before his videos were shared on Facebook by other high-profile artists in the scene.
He’s been described as France’s “Greatest Trap Ambassador.” Gradur’s topics are what you’d typically find in a trap song; “money, muscles, drugs, weapons, big cars, swimming pools, palaces and yachts,” but his own developed rap freestyle, Sheguey, is easy and fun to bump to.
“When Booba, Hifi, and Hill G found themselves behind the mic together, each wanted to surpass the other, and the result sent them into the stratosphere,” writes Noisey, referring to a few of Time Bomb legends.
While French rap has surpassed the conscious rap era, focusing less on the political issues of the country, the scene remains just as important to the geniuses of the current and upcoming generation.
French hip-hop is thriving and alive, ripe and ready to be discovered by the world; hopefully, we’ll watch the scene mature and get the global reputation it deserves soon.