How North African rappers shine a light in France’s dark corners

A banner depicting brothers Ademos and N.O.S (Tarik and Nabil Andrieu) of the rap group PNL, set up on a building where they spent part of their adolescence, in Ivry-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris (AFP/Lionel Bonaventure)

Popularity

Banlieue rap and its parent genre, hip hop, dominate France’s music charts, with 40 percent of the country’s top 200 albums in 2019 classified as “French urban music” by the National Syndicate of Phonographic Publishing (SNEP). Of the top 10 albums, seven were hip hop. That same year, sales of rap albums by Parisian artists stood at more than 2.6m.

Representation

Before the growth of digital platforms, the French-Maghrebi rap scene, which was made up of groups such as 113 and Sniper, enjoyed significant commercial success at a time when the mainstream French press largely overlooked the phenomenon. However, there was a feeling among many that these stories were an exception to the rule and in spite of the establishment rather than because of it.

Shining a light in dark corners

If it is not the actual people producing street rap, then it is the content of what they produce that could be cause for concern for members of the French establishment.

Identity

The concerns of French rap are not limited to the economic realm. Some rappers also link their ongoing tribulations with those of their ancestors, who suffered during slavery or under colonialism — a sentiment encapsulated by Soolking in his song Guerilla.

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Yasmina Allouche

Yasmina Allouche

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Researcher/Journalist specialising in North Africa | Focus on Algeria |