The country of France is famed for its high-end fashion, fine wine, and gourmet cuisine. However, deep in the heart of the world’s most visited destination—where revolutionaries razed churches and Vichy raised flags—another France waits to be discovered. A country where Berber and verlan muddy a proud romance dialect, where Algerian sauce is the condiment of choice, and social apartheid reigns supreme. It’s in this France where hip-hop has taken root and is flourishing to unimaginable proportions.
Following in the country’s rich literary tradition, France’s rappers are now its most prominent wordsmiths. Today, homemade hip-hop monopolizes the French charts and accrues sales many American rappers could only dream of. From January to June, French rap acts released over 115 commercial rap albums, racking up billions of paid streams and delivering some of the best hip-hop anywhere on terra firma.
Picking up at the halfway point of the year, we bring to you the best the French had to offer in July.
Album of the Month
ΩMEGA by OBOY
Born in Madagascar and raised in the southern suburbs of Paris, Mihaja Ramiarinarivo’s rap alias, Oboy, is in homage to Larenz Tate’s infamous O-Dog in Menace II Society. Boasting a style that owes as much to Atlanta as his Val-de-Marne projects, like many of France’s younger generation of rappers, the 22-year old’s aesthetic is derived in large part from his admiration for Migos. With two EP’s under his belt since his 2016 debut, ΩMEGA is the full-length arrival of one of French rap’s standout prospects.
Coalescing languid trap beats with the trillwave sonics popularly employed by brother combination PNL, production team Le Side construct an ethereal backdrop for Oboy’s tales of project life. Reveling in a life of “drugs and passion” that he enjoys too much to want to escape—“I love the hood, so leaving isn’t simple”—ΩMEGA is a pussy, money, weed recital of coming up hard on the periphery of the world’s most romanticized city.
Drug binges and violence form the backbone of Oboy’s rhymes. He juggles his girl’s demands (“I burn the cannabis, I empty the Hennessy / You want me to give you more time”), his concerns for his family (“We wanna put Mom somewhere else, in the city, I’m making plans”), and his futile overindulgence (“Now I’m high, nothing to celebrate, but I’m celebrating”). Yet, despite the sombre subject matter, Oboy shoulders his reality with an airy nonchalance, turning melancholy into tuneful trap on “Alpha” and “Beta.”
Teeming with breezy refrains throughout, ΩMEGA’s adoration of the struggle embraces favela funk on “Rien a Feter” and “R10” and mellifluously transcends his gloom through the nebulous “Boy” and “Lewe.” The cloud rap peaks on “Olympe,” a brooding ode to reaching his objectives, despite the enemies or relationships he may have to destroy. Oboy delivers his doleful bars—“So pass the word to the others, I don’t give a fuck anymore / We’ll all end up under the ground”—so serenely, he’d forgive you for thinking it was a ballad. The single, “Je m’en tape,” a collaboration with R&B sensation Aya Nakamura, will bring new ears to Oboy’s music, but it’s the radio-friendly “Avec Toi” which has the potential to be his breakout crossover.
A night drive, electropop sing-along, Oboy’s invitation to a girl to join him on a romantic adventure is a fleeting moment of optimism. But, while its buoyancy runs contrary to the melancholia, “Avec Toi” ultimately typifies ΩMEGA’s matter—a project grounded in musicality, embodying the discordant harmony of idealism and futility that comes with being young and underprivileged. Not only the album of the month, but ΩMEGA is also the album of the summer.
“Kim Jong-il” by Ninho x Niro
Born in the Parisian suburbs to Congolese parents, 23-year-old Ninho is the undisputed star of French hip-hop in 2019. Since his debut album, Comme Prevu, in 2017—where he famously rapped “I’ve dreamt so much about a Gold record that I can’t sleep anymore”—Ninho has acquired a staggering 46 Gold singles, breaking all previous records for a rapper.
So far in 2019, Ninho has amassed over 430 million streams—more than any artist in France. His sophomore album, Destin, released in March, has sold over 250k copies—more than Megan Thee Stallion and Anderson .Paak’s latest efforts combined. This inimitable ascension has been facilitated by an artistic range that has shown him to be as proficient a feature for an intone hook work as he is a bar-for-bar rhymer. As a lead or featured artist, eight of the Top 50 French songs currently bear his name.
“Kim Jong-il,” a first-rate trap pairing with Orlean’s veteran Niro, is the best of Ninho’s summer efforts. Trading sulphuric sixteens over a Rims beat as uncompromising as its namesake’s regime, Ninho commits rhyme slaughter, before Niro bodies the beat with a verse already being labeled in French rap circles as the feature of the year. The collaboration between the two rap heavyweights sees the emcee of Moroccan descent unleash a litany of sinful couplets in his trademark gruff timbre—“the finger I use to testify my faith is the same one which I can use to shoot you”—immediately rendering “Kim Jong-il” the hardest song in the hexagon this year.
“Du lundi au lundi” by Niska
Stanislas Dinga Pinto probably did himself a disservice by choosing Niska as his rap nom de plume. Fortunately, every other choice the French-Congolese rapper has made since debuting four years ago has turned to Gold, Platinum and even Diamond. Niska’s last album, 2017’s Commando, exploded on the back of two monster singles “Salé” and “Reseaux,” the latter earning more than 275 million views on YouTube.
The 25-year-old began 2019 with a feature on Diplo’s album, before scoring the first No. 1 single of his career, “Médicament,” in partnership with French rap icon Booba. With an anticipated collaboration with Skepta expected on his upcoming album, the rapper from the Parisian suburb of Evry, whose trademark Charo dance inspires football celebrations in Paris, is poised for a huge second half of 2019.
“Du lundi au lundi” (From Monday to Monday) is Niska’s third single of the year, a certified trap tremblor produced by Pyroman. The spine-rattling composition, custom-made for Niska’s distinctive blend of silver-toned vocals and guttural rhymes, is a triumphant celebration of his achievements (“Everyone said I wouldn’t be here for long / Four years later, I’m still on schedule”). The overwhelming response to the song’s video, helmed by Daps, suggests “Du lundi au lundi” might break further ground. Viewed over one million times in its first seven hours online, this Paris car banger could well be Stani’s new calling card.
“Haut Standing” by SCH
The son of a German father and French mother, SCH is Julien Schwarzer with the volume turned up to 11. Raised in a notoriously criminal suburb of Marseille, the baron of French hip-hop returned in style in July with his new single, “Haut Standing.” The first release since his third album JVLIVS earned a Platinum certification this past March, the 26-year-old’s Auto-Tuned twang is one of the French game’s most unmistakable lilts.
Marrying hardcore rhymes with a haute culture aesthetic, SCH first caught mainstream attention with his 2015 mixtape A7 and single “Champs Elysée.” Following up with three consecutive Platinum albums—and even registering a collaboration with still “Treyway” bawling 6ix9ine—the former air conditioning repairman is currently one of France’s most popular emcees.
“Haut Standing” finds SCH at his self-possessed best, in a sing-a-long, gun-toting ode to the fast life (“44 in my jeans, 44k like my bling”). With a sugary hook that belies its criminal intent, he raises his coke raps to Pusha-T levels—“One kilo makes two, two kilos make three, it’s always the team that benefits”—before closing out with a dulcet toned verse paying homage to his city’s long-standing history in the drug game. “Haut Standing” is a new summertime playlist staple.
“À qui la faute?” by Kery James feat. Orelsan
Kery James has been putting France on blast since he was a teen. Debuting on wax at the tender age of 15, the Guadeloupean born Haitian was breaking down the real-world ruthlessness of life as a migrant in France back when Rakim was teaching the ‘ledge. Emerging as one of the most prominent voices of his generation, James’ militant stance on his adopted homeland’s racism has kept him at the forefront of French rap for over 25 years. Today, he is considered by many to be the greatest French emcee of all time.
No stranger to controversy himself, Orelsan has fanned the flames of French conservatism for over a decade with errant punchlines. Likened to Eminem for his staunch commitment to jocularity in his rhymes, his career-defining third album, La fête est finie, was one of the most successful French rap records in recent history. In selling more than 600k units, the album refurbished a maligned reputation and established Orelsan as one of the paramount rappers in France.
“À qui la faute?” (Whose fault is it?) unites the two emcees in a rap debate, considering who is to blame for the continued marginalization of its citizens of color. A hard-hitting, hook-free polemic against the enduring legacy of colonialism, the unlikely pairing take turns decrying ignorance (“I was raised, like: Don’t hang out with those people, you’ll get beat up” –Orelsan) and institutional racism (“I always had to do twice as much than those with half the talent, it’s normal in France for an African” –Kery). The duo’s poignant bars and stirring delivery make this one of the most important records this year.
“Sur ma vie” by Nemir feat. Alpha Wann
Raised in a pluralist section of Perpignan, comprised of Catalan, Maghreban, and Romani communities, Nemir imports the musical influences of his birthplace into his unique genus of hip-hop. Following an extended period away from music, the former boom bap disciple of Algerian-Morrocan origin re-emerged in 2017 as a soul-infected rapper cum singer. Possessing a distinct melange of honeyed vocals and freestyle-honed bars, Nemir is one of French rap’s most exhilarating voices.
”Sur ma vie” (On My Life) is the fourth single from his major label debut, to be released in September. An afropop-inspired floor-filler—with a tip of the hat to the effervescent Catalan rumba—the track is an irresistible summertime vibe that language can’t deny.
Sarcastically inspired by his apparent ambivalence to success (“I have a Bee Gees haircut and terrible breath / My home smells like old people, haven’t opened the windows in at least ten years”), Nemir cheerfully reinforces “Sur ma vie” with a debonair 16 from the prodigious Alpha Wann. The Parisian emcee, recognized as one of the French game’s foremost dealers of multis, once again demonstrates his ability to bring his heatwave to any riddim put in front of him