The French Rap Scene Is Richer Than Ever. Check Out Our Selection Of The 9 Best Performers Today
French music is not only Edith Piaf or Serge Gainsbourg. After 40 years, French rap has definitively taken over the streets, schoolyards, stadiums and social networks.
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French culture has long been among the most influential in the world. Perhaps each of us knows representatives of French cinematography, architecture, literature or painting. Today, however, the artistic expression is dominated by rap, which took root here 40 years ago.
The rap map of France is full of original appearances. Perhaps the most life-sustaining undergrowth for the genre can be found in the suburbs of Paris. The second epicenter flourishes on the south coast in Marseille, whose rap subsoil is permeated by rhythms from nearby North Africa. Put on your headphones and listen to what's going on in France today, where for a long time the first ranks of the listening charts have been exclusively controlled by rappers.
Orelsan – from a provincial loser to the leader of the scene
In more than 15 years, the pioneer of "loser rap" with a specifically high-pitched voice rose from freestyles at bus stops in the provincial city of Caen to the position of an unrivaled performer and one of the most technical rappers in the country.
In addition to the performance, the strongest side of "Orela" is the straightforward and comprehensible lyrics. The positions in which he feels best are surgically precise social criticism and self-irony, with which listeners can easily relate. The release of his other two albums was accompanied by a spectacular tour and a number of original conceptually elaborated video clips. If you also want to improve your French, you won't find a better articulate rapper.
Orelsan gained the status of a cultural phenomenon mainly thanks to the song Basique, which literally became popular, but he was also helped by acting in the series Bloqués with his rap partner from the group Casseurs Flowters Gringe. His honest rise to the top of the scene was documented by his brother in a documentary film in 2021. Orelsan's work today is mature, flirting with pop more than ever.
Damso - velvet voice from Belgium
Like Jacques Brel or Stromae, who conquered the French audience, Damso also comes from neighboring Belgium and is thus the only "intruder" in our ranking. His family emigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to France's northern neighbor when little William Kalubi Mwamba was only 9 years old. The reason was the escalation of the bloody civil war.
The once frequent motif of trauma from armed conflict and consequent identity crisis in Damso's work was replaced over time by calmer positions and reputational and romantic themes. He also came to terms with the demons of the past by creating the Vie Sur Nous Fondation, a humanitarian foundation fighting against mineral extraction in his native country.
Damso achieved unusual success after 16 years on the scene in 2020 when his concept album QALF received over 14.3 million streams in a day, making him the most streamed artist ever. His work is characterised by a velvety voice with straightforward self-confidence and sex appeal.
Lomepal – from a skateboarder to a melancholic poet
Another unexpected success story started in Paris. Coming from an unstable artistic family, Antoine Valentinelli went through a rebirth from a fanatical skater who, according to his own words, stood on the board every day for 10 years and broke every bone about 5 times.
Lomepal only opened the door to A-list rotations after five EPs and one LP. With the themes of relationships, breakups and the fragility of identity, processed with catchy melodies, he played to a wide audience on the album Jeannine. However, the refreshing artistic vision of the rebel from his early days is never far away.
In 2018, he healed the trauma of growing up with problematic parents with a paradoxical near-death experience when, under the influence of alcohol and at a speed of 100 km/h, he and the rapper Caballero crashed in a car after a birthday party.
Lomepala's work has evolved into pure-blood songwriting, and today the rapper mostly sings. In addition to his chansonerie patterns, the transformation can also be attributed to his harmonious relationship with actress Souheila Yacoub, who also poses on the cover of the other Mauvais Ordre album and also starred in the clip of Lomepal's most successful song Trop Beau.
Jul – the good man and the undisputed ruler of Marseille
The undaunted king of listening for several years in a row, he is known for his creative cadence. After all, in just 10 years of his career, he released 25 albums. Dozens (!) of video clips, most of which are recorded on the street of his neighborhood, generate hundreds of millions of views. In addition to his hard work, he is a role model for other members of the scene in terms of non-conflict and technical sophistication. He refers to himself as an alien because of these characteristics.
On Jul, there is a particularly interesting contrast between the civil, friendly and modest demeanor and the incredible success based on sometimes banal, sometimes illegal topics. Music purists despise his work as too "peasant". But it doesn't matter, because Jul's music is played to death by bluetooth speakers, televisions in fast food and Peugeot convertibles all over the country.
Apart from PSG fans, almost everyone likes Jula from the human side. No wonder, when the world was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, he organised an auction of his gold and platinum records, which was joined by other rappers, who skilfully collected over 300,000 euros.
When Jul did not become a footballer after a two-year stint at the training center of Olympique de Marseille and his job as a maintenance worker traumatized him, he started rapping on a computer lent to him by the school. Jul's songs are mostly party songs and he is known for many collaborations. The video for the group's song, where he took the crème de la crème of the Marseille scene under his wing under the name Bande organise, has an incredible 434 million views on YouTube.
PNL – the mystical magic of Auto-Tune
The dealer rap of the brother duo PNL hides surprisingly sensitive and most often straightforward lyrics in strong slang behind a dense dose of Auto-Tune. In a raw and hypnotic expression, Ademo and N.O.S pour out their frozen hearts, numbed by the corrupt hectic city life. Their songs are dominated by the themes of drugs, money, fakeness and anti-systemism. They serve them through breathtaking cinematographic clips shot in Japan, USA, Italy, South Africa, Namibia, Iceland or Jamaica. The name PNL is an abbreviation of Peace N' Loves, translated as peace and money.
The couple already confidently announced their now mythical status on their second studio album called Dans la légende. Despite the fact that we date their other act to 2019, the tour for the album did not start until 3 years later due to the pandemic. Today, PNL is undoubtedly one of the most popular bands in France, even if they are not to everyone's taste due to the glorification of drug use, slower tempos, sometimes debatable technique and overuse of voice modification.
On the one hand, the brothers are characterized by a complete absence of interviews in the media, but on the other hand, they are known for surprises. They performed unannounced from the bus on the Champs-Élysées or at the Off-White brand show during Paris Fashion Week, where they primarily smoked fat joints. PNL play by their own rules, and thanks to them, the song Au DD is still the most streamed act of a French artist on Spotify.
SCH – dark German formula
After Jul, Julien Schwarzer alias SCH is the second representative of the Marseille school on the list. The 30-year-old rapper suffers from his meticulous appearance, and designer glasses hardly ever leave his face lately. Like other rappers on the list, SCH had a rough childhood being raised by a single mother. However, his arm today is decorated with a tattoo of "Otto", referring to the first name of his father of German origin, who died in 2016.
As an aspiring rapper about to graduate, he survived an attack with a broken bottle and it's been clear since then that he doesn't feel like playing. SCH has a strict and dark style in music as well. In elaborate texts and specific demonic diction, he often evokes themes of death, in addition to love, money and violence. In the clips, there are policemen, weapons and packages with drugs.
SCH started rapping after watching Eminem's movie 8 Mile when he was just 12 years old. Today he is the holder of the award for the best male artist for 2021. In the same year, the precisely luxuriously dressed artist also dominated the ranking of the most streamed artists in France.
Ninho – golden touch
Still only 26-year-old William Nzobazola aka Ninho is the artist with the largest number of certified singles in France. He holds 100 gold, 39 platinum and 19 diamond plates. As the son of Congolese singer Serge Kiambukuta, music has always been in his blood and he started freestyling in high school.
After perfecting himself in trap, in 2017 he switched to romantic themes, with which he definitely secured mainstream fame. Today, he raps more calmly and is not afraid to make more notes. Thanks to his hard work, he was noticed by the elite of the Parisian scene, who have been continuously inviting him for collaborations for years. Already in 2018, when he was only 22 years old, almost the entire top of the French scene had already managed to work with him.
There is even talk of the "Ninho theory" in the scene, according to which any song to which he adds at least a style will become a guaranteed success. There will be something to it, because to become the second most listened to Frenchman on Spotify, he only needed to release three studio albums.
Niska – on the line Paris – Atlanta – Brazzaville
28-year-old Stanislas Dinga-Pinto grew up in the suburbs of Paris, where his father settled after emigrating from the Congo. Even the fact that he became a father at the age of 16 in 2010 didn't stop Nisko from taking off his career to admirable proportions. He already had 2 years of rap "career" behind him.
Niska's main musical contribution is his natural talent to organically connect the rhythm of Congolese roots with Atlantic trap. Energetic and often aggressive expression most often describes the life of young people in the suburbs and increasingly also their own newly acquired star status. Niska had the greatest success in 2017 with the party song Réseaux, which has been viewed by more than 350 million people on YouTube to date.
Niska did not avoid an unpleasant affair in 2020, when a photo of the successful singer and his partner at the time, Aya Nakamura, appeared on the Internet with a swollen eye. The rapper, who was immediately suspected of domestic violence, eventually managed to get rid of the suspicions.
Gazo – a synonym for the French drill
The rising star of French drill presents himself with violent and often dark lyrics, evoking the sale and use of drugs. We cannot suspect him of pretense. He was only 12 years old when he first found himself on the street. He decided on a rap career in Saint-Denis at the age of 15, when he joined a street gang. Today, Gazo admits that he lived for years outside the system and even without identity documents.
After uploading a few songs on Youtube, luck smiled on him. He was noticed by the legendary performer Maître (Gims), who offered him a featuring. Since then he has remained in the limelight. Gazo released his first own mixtape only in 2021, but it immediately reached the first place in the French album chart.
Gazo also impresses with his appearance, which is dominated by perfect dreadlocks and diamond teeth. They do not hide their inspiration from American stars like Lil Wayne or XXXTentacion. An eccentric artist with a refined sense of phrasing, he is known today as the "Prince of the French Drill". He successfully presented to the French audience a variation of the British genre, which retains a specifically Parisian, but still rough and dirty face.
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