Paris and Beyond: The Best French Hip Hop Artists

Paris and Beyond: The Best French Hip Hop Artists


This coming weekend sees the inaugural edition of Paris Summer Jam land in the French capital, hosting some of the most esteemed talents in global hip-hop. Widely regarded as the 'greatest rapper in the world right now', Grammy Award-magnet Kendrick Lamar will be headlining the one-day event.

Joined by fellow American artists N.E.R.D and Brockhampton on the bill, and with the exception of legendary Marseille rappers IAM, the organisers have plumped for assembling a lineup largely from across the Atlantic rather than accrue domestic artists to support the French leg of Lamar's DAMN. tour.

Although hip-hop and rap were pioneered Stateside, it has developed its own illustrious history and subculture within France which is a testament to its immense and lasting popularity over the past 30 years.

That said, what better opportunity than now to highlight some of French rap and hip-hop's most outstanding artists, from the elder-statesmen to the new trailblazers, looking to stamp their mark within this underrated subgenre that's criminally overlooked outside it's native France.


IAM

 

Starting with the aforementioned Marseille group, they've been releasing some of the most lauded music within French hip-hop since their inception in 1989 and are considered pioneers of the subgenre.

References to African and ancient Arabic themes are central to their lyrical content, and saw them push hip-hop into the French mainstream consciousness. 

Members from Wu-Tang Clan feature amongst their long list of collaborations with American artists, notably on tracks such as 'La saga', and 2004 single 'Noble Art'.


Orelsan

 

Arguably one of the most popular current artists is Orelsan, who has continually drawn comparisons with American rap colossus Eminem due to switching tonally between aggressive and comical rapping styles.

Despite inciting controversy, his third album La fête est finie was released to both critical and commercial success, winning 3 Victoires de la musique awards.


Keny Arkana

 

Another product of Marseille's rap scene is Keny Arkana, who started rapping at the age of 12 and later founded a number of her own music collectives and rap groups in her local neighbourhood of Noailles.

Arkana's lyrics are consciously socio-political, and she regularly uses her music as a vehicle for social commentary on incidents like the civil unrest in France during the 00's.


Chilla

 

Swiss-born Chilla is commonly considered the 'next big thing' in French rap due to her focus on feminist notions within her lyrical approach, which could be regarded as the antithesis to ongoing themes within the subgenre.

If Chilla is a precursor to the changing landscape of French rap and hip-hop, the future is bright.


MHD

 

Due to his hybrid brand of French hip-hop, Afrobeat, and trap music, MHD is on a rapid ascent to stardom.

Initially posting his music online and subsequently being invited to support stalwart of the genre in Booba, MHD's self-titled debut became one of the biggest albums of 2016.

Following the release of singles 'Bravo, 'Bodyguard', and 'Bella', there doesn't seem to be much standing in the way of MHD and global success.


Suprême NTM

 

Steeped in heritage considering they've been the face of French hip-hop since 1989, Suprême NTM are renowned for focusing on themes of social injustice and hostility towards institutions in their lyrics.

Fervently critical of class and race inequality in their home country, they've never been far from controversy. This could explain why they have remained one of the most outspoken yet beloved artists to this day.


PNL

 

French-Arab brothers Tarik and Nabil Andrieu have been prominent within the scene for several years now, and have been closely associated with millennial outcry throughout numerous hardships in France, notably the unspeakable Paris attacks in 2015.

As PNL don't necessarily abide with traditional political notions within their music, it's likely why they are widely admired, and not just exclusively amongst fans of French hip-hop.


Gaël Faye

 

Lastly, one of the more unique artists on the list is Gaël Faye due to the idiosyncratic nature of his lyrical content, choosing to push his internal monologue to the fore.

Fleeing his native Burundi at the age of 13 during the civil war, Faye and his family eventually relocated to Versailles where he discovered hip-hop and rap could act as a form of therapy.

Much of his writing is focused on the narrative of coming to terms with being torn away from his birth-place, and his award-winning novel Petit Pays which condensed similar themes became a literary sensation after it was published in 2016.


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