You may have seen or heard the slogan “Here is Paris” somewhere on TV. Well, the famous slogan simply means “C’est Paris”, which derives from the famous French football club Paris St. Germain. Today’s article, however, won’t be about French football but rather about French music, more specifically: hip hop.
In the American world, Paris is often considered a capital of fashion, the capital of love or a tourist paradise (Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, Champs Elysée, etc.). What Americans may not know, however, is that the music of suburb (French suburb) plays a crucial role in the culture of the city.
Parisian urban culture is mainly influenced by immigrants from North and West Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast). These migrants from the former French colonies constitute nearly 47.5% of immigrants living in France (2020). In the book Black, White, Arabauthor Alain-Phillipe Durand establishes the influences of North and West African culture in the rise of the hip hop scene in Paris in the early 90s.
Hip-hop was brought by DJ Dee Nasty in Paris in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, the French government enforced the law “The Toubon Lawwhich required radio stations to broadcast at least 40% French music out of all the music they broadcast. Consequently, this law launched the French branch of hip-hop into the mainstream. Hip-hop duo Suprême NTM popularized the art across the country and in the former French colonies.
However, MC-Solar was the first rapper to introduce the French landscape to the American public. In 1993, MC Solaar was featured on the Guruthe classic album of Jazz Matazz Vol. I on the song”The Good, The Evil“. Subsequently, he signed with the London acid jazz label Talkin’ Loud. MC Solaar is considered by far the greatest lyricist of the Francophonie.
With over 350 million Francophiles worldwide, it was inevitable that the French hip-hop scene would play no less than second fiddle to the American market. French academia mandates the use of their language with a strong emphasis on literature and philosophical texts. Therefore, French lyrics mainly emphasize metaphors, similes, analogies, and double meanings. Also, the use of verlan (tongue upside down) from the streets of Paris, adds to the musical style.
The messages often expressed in French hip-hop lyrics tend to highlight racism, social economy issues (living in the suburbs), and Afro-French politics. You’ll also often hear French rappers mention in their lyrics their home suburb or the area code of their neighborhood, the French equivalent of American rappers “calling out” their city. Suburbs such as Sevran, often referred to as 93 (city department number), are responsible for revealing the best talents of French artists such as Supreme NTM, Kaaris, Kalash Criminal, Sofianeand more.
Other suburbs like 92 (also known as Boulogne-Billancourt) revealed groups like Crazy, The Wise Poets of the Street, Booba, 113, Guizmoand PLK. The 95 (Val d’Oise) revealing Youssoupha, 404Billy, Seth Guekoetc One of the greatest groups in French hip-hop culture is I AM which hails from Marseille, a notable city in the south of France and perhaps Paris’s greatest rival.
The golden age of French hip hop was the period from 1994 to 2000. This era saw classic hip hop albums such as Supreme DTM (eponymous album), fight in prose (1994) by MC Solaar, Silver Micro School (1998) by IAM, Opera Puccino (1998) by Oxmo Puccino, and First consultation (1996) by Doc Gyneco. In my opinion, 1998 was the best year for French hip hop to date.
The last decade has seen the emergence of French-speaking cities and countries (namely Lyon, Lille, Belgium and Switzerland) in the French hip-hop scene. Ultimately, however, the new generation of rappers like Alpha Wann, NekfireCriminal Kalash, Ninhoand Master Gims perpetuate the Parisian musical tradition.
Below are two Apple Music playlist links to the genre, if you want to look into French music for yourself. Enjoy!