Who's feeling the Marseille rap scene?

I’m of several minds after reading the New York Timesexcellent 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?

Comments (19 total) Add your comment
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  • Vermillion

    French rap, German rap, all pretty exciting. Even more note worthy is Senegalese Hip Hop. Check out Korean rapper MC Sniper too.

  • paige

    why isnt this in english?

  • ep sato

    France? Feh. MC Solaar already proved the French can rap some ten years ago. Japan’s got a decent hip hop scene, so does the Philippines.
    But the places where Hip hop has shown some real talent are in places like Puerto Rico and Senegal. In Puerto Rico throughout the 1990’s, djs would take old dancehall and hip hop tunes and would then have young MCs rap over them. Unfortunately, the “Underground” scene in Puerto Rico devolved into “reggaeton”, but there’s still great hip hop to be found throughout the island. In particular, the bands from Carolina continue to demonstrate real flavor and creativity. Though it’s a little old, check out el Syndicato for a sample.
    Senegal’s infamous SICAPS (the public housing units) created some very unique sounding hip hop bands. CAPSI was my personal fave, though they’re tough to find. They’re a great blend of Senegalese, French and American influences.

  • daisyj

    Bearing in mind that I’m the whitest person in the history of melanin deficiency, but yeah, that is pretty weak. Kind of boring, actually, and I don’t think it was the language barrier. I do hope the real scene is better, and this wasn’t just a case of a newspaper trying to be all international and hip.
    paige: joking, yes?

  • Gabby

    As far as I’m know, this rapper is not from Marseille, but she is one of the most prominent females on the French hip-hop scene: Diam’s. Check out her “Confessions Nocturnes” featuring French chanteuse Vitaa on YouTube. It’s tres fab. <3.


    There is plenty of rap around the world that is great. La Mala Rodriguez put out a new lp couple months ago (it sounds great). Calle 13 from Puerto Rico shows what a great reaggeton album is with their new release and the Cuban rappers Orishas past albums are spectacular (especially their debut cd). If you look for greast music instead of listening to top 40, you won’t be disappointed.

  • Angie

    I’m only superficially familiar with French rap, so I can’t cite the best rappers on the scene, but Casey deserves a shout-out (granted, he’s from Il-de-France, not Marseille). For a sampling of his style, give “tragedie d’une trajectoire” and “suis ma plume” a listen on his myspace page and watch “dans no histoires” on YouTube. I usually enjoy a rap song, though, by virtue of its lyrics, so in general I don’t listen to much foreign rap, uncomfortable with being oblivious to the content. Casey could be spewing homophobic, misogynistic, racist rhymes for all I know.

  • Mardicus

    I think they’re from Paris, but the group Hocus Pocus is incredibly dope. Here’s a track featuring the equally dope American group The Procussions. BTW, my good friend from Denver makes a killing bringing his turntablism to France. They really dig the good ish over there.

  • B- Easy

    You’re not alone. After reading that article (and sampling the accompanying sound bites) I scanned the internets for anything I could find. Psy 4 is pretty dope, but to be honest, I find French a pretty hard language to rap in. The cadences are all off for me, whereas Spanish seems to keep the beat a bit easier. If you like French hip hop, MC Solar is the way to go. There’s also Omnikrom (an electro-crunkish take on hip hop from Montreal). Who are some other French artists to look out for?

  • Ep sato

    B-Easy, totally agreed on both fronts. Solaar’s got a great flow (he guested on guru’s Jazzmatazz album and tore it up!).
    Also agreed that Spanish has a flow to the language that seems naturally fitted to hip hop music. In particular us Caribeños (Boricuas, Dominicanos, Cubanos) are told we “sing” when we speak. This might explain why the music’s so big among Caribeños.
    However, I can’t imagine Spanish rappers (from Spain) would have that same flow as their accent and language flow are really different. But then again, given how supa dupa fly that “Soul Kitchen” joint was in Madrid, maybe there are some good hip hop acts in Spain.

  • cyberghandi

    Best rap from Marseille: IAM, they’re France’s Wu-Tang Clan (both collaborated on 1997’s “L’Ecole Du Micro D’Argent”, widely seen as the best French hip hop album of all time – although VERY clearly inspired by “36 Chambers”…).
    I met MC Solaar in Cuba where he was filming his latest video. He’s an extremely nice guy with an incredible flow. Then again, if I have to compare him to a US rapper, it would be Lupe Fiasco. Both a more true poets than rappers.
    And even if she’s frowned upon by so-called true “hip hop fans”, I actually agree Diam’s is a very talented female MC. Check out her hit singles on Youtube, but don’t stop there: her best stuff is underground, like the amazing “Saïd et Mohammed” (inspired by an old song from Francis Cabrel).
    But, dude, what is Manu Chao doing in a post about French hip hop?

  • Anonymous

    Best French Rap
    Yelle (“Je Veux Te Voir”)
    Fatal Bazooka (“Fous Ta Cagoule”)

  • RP

    Up until now the only French rapping I’d ever heard was the remix to the Final Fantasy 6 Terra theme, “Eres Des Points” (which I like). I am digging the second video.
    I was surprised to find that I could find her on iTunes. Maybe they’re getting better about including content from other countries; last time I tried it was impossible. (Switching the country for the store to Japan didn’t work either, I tried.)

  • Marque

    Best Rapper for me, is Sans Pression of Quebec. He was in this group called Treizieme Etage, and in my opinion, did his best work there. Check out some songs.
    My peronal favourites:
    1- Treizieme Etage “Notre Mouvement”
    2- Treizieme Etage “La Terre Tourne”
    3- Treizieme Etage “Quebec Gold”
    4- Treizieme Etage “Ma Marque”
    5- Treizieme Etage “Monte le Volume”
    Other songs:
    1- Sans Pression “Nos Jours sont Comptes”
    2- Sans Pression ft. Joe B.G (R.I.P) “Ma Musique”

  • Soso

    This is a bit old, but i still feel like i should comment.
    yes, psy4 de la rime is a bit weak. They did have a song with Anna Torroja that I liked. i think it’s titled “enfant de la lune”. Soprano had a song called “moi j’ai pas” that i thought was decent. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll see he’s shying himself away from the flashy lifestyle that usually comes with hip-hop, notably on the American scene.
    With that said, in my opinion, the best to have come out of Marseille are IAM and Fonky Family. I loved all 3 of FF’s album, and each one is distinctive from the other. These guys’ lyrics are usually full of rage, still impressionable, but a lot of people aren’t ready to hear what they have to say. the guys from IAM are the kings. Their lyrics are so eloquent, poetic and pacifist. I have all their albums too. They weren’t all good, but the “L’ecole du micro d’argent” has to be the best rap album IMO that I ever heard. Keep an open mind and check these guys out

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