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Underground Rap in France

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Underground Rap in France From 1985 to 1990

Rap is a manifesto spreading messages about the everyday life of urban ghettos such as unemployment, violence, school failure, family breakdown. By formulating suffering and misery, it gives a voice to the minorities, allows them to communicate in the most minimal form: a microphone, a turntable and some vinyls. In France, since the advent of rap, young people in the suburbs recognise themselves in this form of expression.

1984- TV show

Sydney introduced the first worldwide TV show dedicated to the hip-hop culture. The show was called H.I.P.H.O.P and was broadcasted on French national TV channel TF1. Each week, Sydney invited different international artists such as Africa Bambaataa and French breakers Paris city breakers amongst others. H.I.P H.O.P opened the doors of television to artistic and ethnic diversity, proof of the social and political dimension of a movement long considered underground. The show also depicted a positive image of the hip-hop culture on how tolerant, enthusiastic and creative it can be.

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Nova- by Dee Nasty and Lionel D the Deenastyle 1988

First imitated, Rap builds his own identity before reaching maturity. Today, there is a real French rap that is characterised by the richness and variety of these lyricists in majority from the immigrant population. But it is also well-known by its originality, its language and sense of belonging of a movement. “Rap is the favourite music of Frenchs” it is the title of a book written by Laurent Bouneau and Fif of Booska P in 2014. This is confirmed by the success of French rappers in terms of sales, the streaming figures in 2016 show an impressive dominance of French rap on all other musical styles.

The introduction of streaming within the French market

This is the first time that streaming results are officially published in France whereas this is not the first year that rap has occupied the top positions, but back in the days there were no official figures published. Since September 2016, streaming is taken into account. A calculation rule has been put in place to determine the value of a downloaded album. If the share of rap is only 15% on the physical, it is more than 60% on streaming In fact, if we take into account the figures of the music consumed in the country, the French-speaking urban scene is dominating. (Skyrock)

What are the reasons for this domination?

What role did Skyrock play, “first on rap”, in this explosion of hip-hop artists? The explosion of French rap has appeared in the late 90s with its industrialisation and the arrival of Skyrock, a mass media. Indeed, Skyrock gathers every day 4 millions of listeners while it has been argued by the artists that 4 millions of followers is more useful. In fact with the arrival of the digital there is a continuous battle of numbers between the rappers. Communicating through social networks is today primordial for the success of a rapper. Meanwhile, for the most played songs Skyrock delivers between 14 and 16 million contacts per week. Through the years Skyrock has become the pillar of French rap and its slogan “Premier sur le Rap” first on rap confirms that. Its urban playlists and its emission “Planète Rap” which introduces the musical production of French rappers for a full week is well have built its notoriety with the music industry professionals. The same method has been initiated in the late 80s at Radio Nova. Indeed, the Dee Nasty produced the Deenastyle, inviting upcoming rappers and introducing them to the French public. It is certain that today Skyrock contributed heavily to the success of an upcoming rapper whom want to break into the music industry.

From conscious Rap to Pop Rap

What characterised French rap in the 80s and 90s was first of all the richness of the lyrics, a conscious rap that addressed directly a generation, the 15-20. Artists like NTM, IAM, MC Solaar, Les sages poètes de la rue, Minister Amer, La Cliqua were the precursors of French rap. Artists were rapping not for the fame or the money, but because they wanted to express themselves in a way that people will listen to what they have to say. The success of rap is indisputably growing, the new school of rappers has evolved to a contemporary rap, the lyrics are not that important now in the eyes of rappers and its public. While the old school rappers and fans argue that“ Le rap c’était mieux avant” which means that Rap was better before; Rap is today the expression of the transformation of the country.

Fifteen years later, after the triumph of African artists such as Bisso na Bisso, Nuttea and Passi for instance we could observe the success of -Maitre Gims and Soprano who are originally from Congo and Senegal. They have brought Rap to another dimension where African expressions are used succeeded to be used into the French fashion.

Nekfeu, third big rap star after Joey Starr and Booba?

According to Laurent Bouneau the first star of French rap is Joey Starr from the Parisian group NTM, the second one is Booba who is more commercial, less “The first big star of French rap is Joey Starr, the second one is Booba, who is much less conscious in term of his lyrics. Nekfeu, today can be the third one according to his technicity, lyrics and the sales figures of its albums. The phenomenon Jul a rapper-song-writer can also be brought to the light, with his huge success amongst the new generation of listeners. Whereas, the group PNL with its use of auto-tune has brought a new style of rap to the game “the Cloudy Rap”.

The 2.0 rapper masters the whole chain?

Jul is one of the most streamed artists in 2017, according to the data Jul has gathered 45 million views for his single “Mon bijou”. With the arrival of streaming, Artists like Jul and PNL have revolutionised the music industry as the artist produces his own records and music videos. Where initially the recoupment was 70% for the majors and independant labels and 30 % for the artist today is the other way around.

The digital era with the importance of social media networks has permitted them to evolve without being signed to any record label. Jul and PNL have been approached by the majors but they chose to stay independent and sign a distribution deal with MusiKast that now belongs to Believe. Nowadays, rappers are using the DIY method while producing their own music and music videos.

It can be argued that by becoming mainstream, rap has moved away from any form of engagement. As rap has shifted from its first purpose, which was to tell the story of what was happening in the rough neighbourhoods, the political issues that was facing the country and the violence of the police against the minorities, Today, Rap is placed into a different context, today rappers are a reflection of their time and they make music in the desire to reach the greatest sales at the exception of conscious rappers such as Kery James and Medine who are still politically involved and are still rapping about the social issues within the country.


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