I’m of several minds after reading the New York Times‘ excellent story this week on Marseille, France’s flourishing rap scene. My first thoughts were entirely positive — it’s always cool to hear about how people elsewhere on the globe are adding their own local touch to a familiar artform. The story ties rap music to Marseille’s ability to keep the peace and minimize the ethnic and class strife which has consumed many other French cities in recent years. "[I]t is hip-hop, as much a source of local pride as the town’s soccerteam, that turns out to be a lens through which to examine why thiscity didn’t burn," writes reporter Michael Kimmelman. "Rappers in Marseille, some of the most original and distinctive onesanyway, compose sad odes to their local neighborhoods and hymns to thewhole melting-pot city…Marseille lyrics can be full of rage but they’re not violent, the way those of certain Parisian bands are." How refreshing is it to find a mainstream-media outlet hailing hip-hop as a positive, uniting force instead of leaning on narrow-minded stereotypes?
Then I listened to some of the artists mentioned by the Times, and…well…you tell me what you think of this representative clip:
Look, I support these guys in spirit 100%, but this song is prettyweak. Admittedly, I don’t really speak French past the eighth-gradelevel, so I have basically no idea what any of the Psy4 emcees aresaying. (Additional pop-culture tie-in: My eighth-grade French teacherclaimed to have taught Gwyneth Paltrow years earlier at another highschool. Young Gwyneth reportedly spoke French très mauvais.) I don’t think this is a language-barrier issue, though — I like MC Solaaras much as the next guy, I dig plenty of reggaeton and bachata despitespeaking even less Spanish, and Barcelona’s multilingual Manu Chao madeone of my favorite albums of ’07. No, the problem with this cut is the rappers’ awkward, samey flows and the half-finished beats favored by the producers.
Then again, this song by a young female artist from Marseille is a lot more listenable:
Check out that acoustic guitar groove! And that smoldering,politically-conscious voice! I’m still not quite ready to run out andbuy a Keny Arkana CD, but she’s got some definite mic presence, right?
So tell me: Am I the only American hip-hop fan crazy enough toactually spend an hour scanning YouTube for Marseillais rappers afterreading that article — or are there any really great artists out therewho I missed in the course of my extremely abbreviated research?