About The Archive
Rap rose to popularity in France in the 1980s. During the first decade of France's exposure to hiphop, the primary outlets of hiphop were radio, television, and newspaper. In the early years, hiphop culture was imported from the U.S.; New York rappers were the face of it. Documentaries, newspaper article series, and popular radio shows brought the new, exciting message of hiphop to the French public. Initially, hiphop's influence was limited to the suburban ghettoes of France, otherwise known as the "banlieues," where budding hiphop artists from the HLM's (Habitation à Loyer Modéré), or subsidized housing complexes, began to express their social unrest with beats and rhymes. On a trip to France, Afrikaa Bambataa established a French branch of the Zulu Nation in one of the banlieues.
French hip-hop in the late 1980s generally served to express the negative conditions in the banlieues, or, as it came to be called in the hip-hop world, "le ghetto."
Throughout the 1980s, French rap was largely using American themes and rhyming patterns as inspiration. In the late 1990s, French rap started carving out its own stylistic and thematic place in the hip-hop world. French rappers were using the slang-based verlan, (inverting syllables) and a unique, silky smooth flow to craft a reggae-influenced style. The most popular artists of this type were Daddy Yod, Sai Sai, and Tonton David. Despite the fact that gangster culture is much less prevalent in French ghettoes than in American ones, certain French groups like Supreme NTM adopted the hardcore style, and eventually injected their own personal style into it. Other groups, like IAM, hailing from Marseilles, gave rise to region-based representation and separatism, discussing their Mediterranean roots and pointing to their lack of identification with their French countrymen.
A number of prominent French hiphop artists started to appear in the 1990s. Some of the most well know artists are Assassin, A.L.A.R.M.E., New Generation M.C., Supreme NTM, MC Solaar, Pouppa Claudio, Ragga, Puppa Leslie, etc. From the beginning there has been a dichotomy in French hiphop between the hardcore style, espoused by groups like Assassin, IAM and Supreme NTM, and the mainstream, laidback style espoused by MC Solaar and Alliance Ethnik. It has often been stipulated by hiphop connaisseurs (French and American alike) that French hiphop draws strongly on American rhyme patterns and other stylistic elements. Throughout the ‘90s, French hiphop was in the business of finding a voice for itself in relation to the accepted standard of American hiphop.
As hiphop moved into a new millennium, French hiphop artists developed rapidly, seeing decent commercial success, and even some international appeal. One of the most influential French hiphop albums of all time, Cinquième As, was released by MC Solaar in 2001. At the same time, new artists like Sinik and Diam's began to see significant success, as well, bringing a new sound and genre of lyrical prowess to the game.
Hiphop in France owes its success to a strong social demand for it. Historically, France adopted a series of hostile policy against immigrant families. For example, a contentious debate is currently being fought out in the political realm as to whether or not Muslim women should be permitted to wear head scarves. Domestic policy in the period since decolonization has resulted in the development of stifling set of inequalities. Poor underrepresented French youth have found a reliable voice in hiphop.
1880-1910 : Beginning of secular education, freedom to assemble, separation of church and state
Late 18th/Early 19th Centuries : France expands its colonial possessions in Indochina (Tonkin, Annam, Laos, and Kwang-Chou-Wan) and Northern, Western, and Central Africa (modern-day countries Tunisia, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo)
1914-1918 : World War I (1,350,000 Frenchmen killed). The U.S enters the war in 1917.
1918-1925: France experiences its last colonial expansion into former Ottoman Empire and German Territories (Syria, Lebanon, Togo, Cameroon)
Early 20th Century: Colonization is increasingly seen through the lens of a "civilizing mission," much like Britain's.
1919: Alsace-Lorraine restored to France. Peace Treaty of Versailles
1914-1932: Number of foreign workers in France doubles from 1.4 to 2.7 million. Following the Armenian Genocide, France experienced an increase in immigration from Armenia. In the 1920s and 1930s, the lion's share of the immigration came from Southern European nations like Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Portugal, and Spain, as well as from Eastern European nations like Poland, Russia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, specifically. France lost a lot of troops in the Franco-Prussian and First World Wars, and thus needed scores of immigrants to compensate for the deficit felt in the post-war labor force. However, the peak of this mass influx of immigrants coincided with a Depression in France, and thus, 1931 marked the first anti-immigration legislation. Foreign workers were now limited by quotas in certain regions and professions, and needed a worker identification card which was valid only in certain regions and professions.
1936-1938 : Rise of the Popular Front, a workers' movement. Social developments include agreements on work conditions and paid vacations.
1939-1945 : World War II (700,000 killed). Germany occupies France; the Vichy regime collaborates with German occupying forces. Vichy regime was reactionary and pro-German, and only held jurisdiction over areas the Germans hadn't claimed. Many of France's colonies are temporarily taken over by Germany, Britain, and the U.S.
1944-1945 : The U.S. lands in Normandy and Provence, dispelling German forces, and leading to the liberation of France. The Ordinance of November 2, 1945 provided for the recruitment and control of immigrants, and created the National Office of Immigration.
1946-1958 : The Fourth Republic is marked by economic reconstruction, the end of colonization, political instability, the beginning of the European reconstruction, and a sharp demographic increase in immigration. In this period, the government constructed enormous public housing developments (HLM, or Habitation à Loyer Modéré) in the suburbs of Paris and other major cities. Over the next several decades, these projects would become the scene of great social unrest, and eventually serve as the birthplace of French hiphop.
1958: De Gaulle returns to power and founds the Fifth Republic, adopted by referendum.
1960-1980: Over 1 million people immigrate to France from the Maghreb, also known as North Africa. Other regions of mass emigration included Vietnam (immigrants of both Vietnam and Chinese descent) and Sub-Saharan Africa.
1962: End of Algerian War, begun in 1954. Leads to mass influx of Algerian immigrants to France, and the beginning of post-decolonization immigration into France. This immigration provided the first generation of French immigrants who weren't European by descent; the introduction of this group into France would lead to significant social unrest felt in France's HLM's in the following decades.
1968: In May, 10 million workers go on strike in a revolt that started with French students protesting antiquated rules limiting male-female contact in university dormitories. Protesters range from college students to workers, and represent a cross-section of people disenchanted with France's labor laws and broader social conventions.
1969-1974: Georges Pompidou elected President of the Republic as a member of the Gaullist Party. He pursues an industrial strengthening program.
1972: Laws are established limiting immigration, specifically trafficking in clandestine workers. The Fontanet circular made the possibility of employment contingent upon current employment; recent immigrants were clearly singled out by these special restrictions.
1974-1981: Valéry Giscard d'Estaing becomes President of the Republic following the death of Pompidou. During his presidency, an oil crisis is followed by recession.
1974: France's recruitment of new workers halted with the first oil shock in 1973. There were attempts, during the conservative presidency of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, to reverse the flow of immigrants by refusing to renew their residency permits.
Early 1980s: Afrika Bambaataa visits France, and establishes a French branch of the Zulu Nation. This group of followers was critical, according to Prévos, in the importation of b-boying and hiphop culture into France.
1980-1985: Social unrest spills over into France's first urban riots. Youth in Parisian and Lyonnaise banlieues burn buildings, cars, and fight with the police in response to police brutality. As a result, anti-immigration policies of the National Front Party afford them a huge boost in public popularity with French citizens who were dismayed by the riots.
1981: Socialist candidate François Mitterrand is elected President of the Republic with a left-wing majority in the National Assembly. Several policy mandates come down, including the abolition of the death penalty, decentralization laws, and nationalization of large corporations.
1982: First French hip-hop recording appears on the B-side of an American Fab Freddy 12", titled "Change de Beat," by the artist B-Side. The same year, a French group Chagrin d'Amour releases the first long-playing French hip-hop album. Many early hip-hop artists cite Chagrin d'Amour as one of their primary influences. French newspaper Liberation runs a series of articles about the hip-hop lifestyle espoused by New York City rappers. Bernard Zekri and Jean Karakos organize the New York City Rap Tour, which tours for a week in late November.
1984: Sydney, a French b-boy and hip-hop personality, starts the TV show H.I.P.H.O.P. on French basic cable channel, TF1. He hosts American and French hip-hop personalities on the show. While this program was the first to bring hip-hop culture to the French masses, other media outlets would soon follow.
1986: Legislative elections; the Left loses out to conservative parties. Jacques Chirac, a conservative, is appointed Prime Minister. First cohabitative relationship between the left and right. Re-privatization of government businesses, etc. While this year generally saw increasing privatization, it also saw the liberalization of Media under the establishment of the National Commission on Communication and Liberties (CNCL). This opened up several radio stations to alternative, non-state-controlled programming, and paved the way for hip-hop, funk, and electronica programming to hit the airwaves. Radio 7 had a show featuring the legendary French hip-hop deejay Dee Nasty, and Radio Nova had regular hip-hop programming. Many of the first French rap freestyles by Assassin, Supreme NTM, and MC Solaar were recorded on these stations. The early representation of both French and American hip-hop through major media outlets gave the growth of hip-hop culture a huge boost in France.
1988: François Mitterrand is re-elected President of the Republic. The Left wins a majority in legislative elections.
1990s: The first consistently successful rap artists/groups start emerging. IAM, MC Solaar, Supreme NTM, Lunatic, and Alliance Ethnik are among these successful acts. French rap of this era generally adopts American rhyme and production styles.
1990: Riots break out in Vaulx-en-Velin, a depressed suburb of French city Lyon. Anger spills into the streets after police kill a young man in a car chase. First French hip-hop compilation, called Rapattitudes, is released through Virgin Records subsidiary, Labelle Noir. It included acts like A.L.A.R.M.E., Assassin, and New Generation MC. Solaar releases French hip-hop's first hit single, "Bouge de Là," which reaches #22 on the French single charts, and marks the start of a career which will produce 5 multiplatinum albums.
1991: Solaar releases his first album, Qui Sème le Vent Récolte le Tempo, which sells 400,000 copies and catapults Solaar onto the national stage.
1993: Victory of the Right in legislative elections: second cohabitation government. Privatization program resumes. The "Pasqua law" of 1993, named after French interior minister Charles Pasqua, sought to end immigration inflows into France. It limited legal immigration in several ways: it prohibited foreign graduates from working for French employers and keeping a permanent residence in France, increased the waiting period for family reunification from one to two years, and denied residency permits to illegal immigrant spouses whose spouses were in France prior to marriage. This gave rise to riots by illegal immigrants, otherwise known as "sans-papiers," or "those without papers" in France; the most striking of these displays occurred when a group of African and Chinese "sans papiers" took over a church, barricading themselves in for a lengthy standoff.
1995: May 7, Jacques Chirac of the neo-Gaullist RPR party is elected President of the Republic. Alain Juppé is appointed Prime Minister. He introduces the "Juppé Plan," an effort to roll back Social Security. This incites huge labor riots, pushing 5.9 million workers to go on strike nationwide. For the first two years of his presidency, Chirac and his party, the RPR (Rally for the Republic, a Gallic-based, conservative right-wing party) enjoys a huge majority in the National Assembly during Chirac's first two years in office.
1995: American rap sees its largest commercial success; the ascent of 2pac, Notorious B.I.G., and Coolio to enormous popularity reaches France through French radio and TV. The culture of hardcore rap, albeit an invention of American rappers, makes its first appearance in France with NTM and Assassin. Meanwhile, conscious jazz-rap remains predominant in France; it coalesces into the first major style of French rap, as most renowned rappers, like MC Solaar, IAM, and Ménélik tend to follow the style.
1997: Unpopularity drives the conservatives out; in 1997, Jospin and a plurality of left-leaning parties took the National Assembly, and on June 3, Lionel Jospin is named Prime Minister after Jacques Chirac has dissolved the National Assembly. Some of the anti-immigration measures are scaled back, and a special status is granted to immigrants who work in certain trades. Chirac rolls back defense spending significantly. Meanwhile, he faces criticism for increasing the number of service cars and employees at his disposal.
October 1997 : Signing of the Amsterdam Treaty, a treaty containing many democratic reforms in the operation of the European community. Rap group IAM sets record for record sales, selling over 1 million copies of their album, L'École du micro d'argent.
1997-1998: The first major French rap labels are established. This development gives rise to French rap crews: Secteur Ä, le Côté Obscur ou Time Bomb : Arsenik, Fonky Family, 3ème œil, KDD, Oxmo Puccino, Lunatic, Expression Direkt, and La Brigade. The radio station "Skyrock" becomes the principal engine for promotion of this new influx of commercialized French rap. Supreme NTM's self-titled album, Suprême NTM, becomes the second French rap album to surpass 1 million record sales.
2000s: Popular French rap begins to take hold of the commercial market. A gap grows between rappers who abandon the essence of hip-hop for a poppy sound, and those who act as the vanguard of the hardcore or old-school hip-hop which France fell in love with in the late ‘90s. Hardcore and old-school hip-hop continues to be defined by artists like older artists like NTM, IAM, AMER, and Lunatic, along with newcomers like Sinik and Diam's. In the modern day, artists like La Fouine and Nessbeal pioneer the popularized form of hip-hop which younger French pop music listeners tend to enjoy. Newer age music production has become Solaar continues to bridge the gap between old-school hip-hop and popular music, selling a melodic, yet lyrically complex, product. French rap culture really becomes solidified; certain
2001: Allegations surface against President Jacques Chirac that he had been accepting campaign funding from municipal organizations, funded by tax dollars, for the past three decades. He refuses to testify in court. Juppé is convicted, and receives a suspended 14 month jail sentence. Chirac was able to protect his immunity to testifying until 2007. Ultimately, he was declared immune to testifying while still serving in public office.
2002: President Jacques Chirac is re-elected despite allegations of corruption. He beats National Front (mainstream conservative party) candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen by a landslide, winning 82% of the vote.
2003: In May, female rapper Diam's releases her sophomore effort, Brut de Femme, ("Hardcore Lady") a breakthrough album for her and French rap. It went gold, and spawned a #1 hit single, "DJ."
October/November 2005: Riots break out in France. Then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is pelted with stones and bottles, when he visits the French lower-class suburb, Argenteuil. Over the next few months, largely uncontrollable riots break out in suburbs Seine-Saint-Denis and Clichy-Sous-Bois, spread throughout Parisian suburbs, and even start breaking out in suburbs of Dijon and involve looting, burning hundreds of cars, and fighting with the police. At the end of the riots in November, PM Jacques Chirac promises to prioritize creating new opportunities for young people, in efforts to avoid a recurrence of the riots.
2006: In April, French rapper Sinik releases his landmark platinum album, Sang Froid (Cold Blood). He recorded the album with the guidance of mentor Kool Shen of Supreme NTM, who is featured on one track. The album thus represented a passing of the torch from a master of lyrical hardcore hip-hop to a lyricist who combines elements of conscious and hardcore styles into a unique sound of his own. The album went platinum, which, in 2006, represents remarkable commercial success. In the same year, Sinik's closest friend Diam's (they call each other brother and sister) released Dans Ma Bulle, which also went platinum. It was a great year for the duo.
2007: Nicolas Sarkozy, a Frenchman of Hungarian origin and member of the Union for the conservative Popular Movement Party (UMP) is elected president of the France in May. As Interior Minister, Sarkozy faced criticism for his tough policies on immigration and the display of religious symbols in public (Catholic cross, Muslim head-scarf). Surprisingly, his Pierre son is a well-respected hiphop producer who has collaborated with well-known French rapper Poison.
2008: Sarkozy announces a new political approach to the economically challenged "banlieues" of France. He announces that 500 million euros will be spent on the improvement of French public transportation (an effort to make the ghetto less isolated), an increase in police forces in the "banlieues," a prioritization of creating new jobs for these underprivileged youth, a systematic crackdown on drug trafficking in the "banlieues", and the establishment of new schools in disadvantaged areas for students who show particular promise.
Arsenik - Je Boxe Avec Le Mots
Assassin - Underground Connexion Ft. Supernatural
MC Solaar - Inch'Allah
Diam's - Ma France a Moi
Lunatic - Pas L'Temps Pour Les Regrets
Joey Starr - Ghetto People (Compilation)