The past, present, and future of French rap all combined to make September the most eclectic month of the rap français calendar thus far. Homegrown legends Oxmo Puccino and Kery James both returned with new albums. Current heavyweight Niska dropped his highly anticipated third record and rising stars PLK and Zikxo burnished their reputations with new projects.
From conscious to caustic, we’ve selected six choice French cuts from Earth, Wind & Fire’s favorite month.
Album of the Month
Nemir by Nemir
A decade ago, Nemir was a hungry boom bap disciple eking out a reputation as one of the French underground scene’s most charismatic emcees. A 2012 EP followed a pair of mixtapes in 2009 (Next Level Vol. 1) and 2010 (Next Level Vol. 2). Then, it all went a bit Jay Electronica. The rumored follow-up album would never surface and neither would the promised third installment of Next Level. Reinventing himself in 2014 as a rapper-cum-singer, Nemir unveiled his mellifluous singing voice and set about moonlighting as a hook-for-hire. Making sporadic features over the next five years, Nemir set about refining his especial sound with longtime producer En’zoo, in his hometown of Perpignan.
Embracing the sundry influences of his upbringing as an Algerian-Moroccan, Nemir transformed his Soulquarians style into a broader musical patchwork and returned with the soulful EP Hors-série in 2018. After scoring a Gold single for his collaboration with Nekfeu this summer—and ten years after his first mixtape—Nemir finally released his long-awaited album in September.
On his self-titled debut, Nemir revels in diversity—evoking Raï on the amorous “Habibi,” post-disco on “DLPT,” and contemporary trap on “Favela.”
Sleekly fusing hip-hop sensibilities with his honed, raspy tone, Nemir’s credo is unwavering. The materialism of modern society is killing his vibe. (“Fuck the TV, fuck the news, fuck the bailiffs, fuck the bankers, fuck social media, I want to be free like air.”) Neither fame nor industry-defined success is Nemir’s motivation. The simple life and female company is all the fulfillment he needs. His talent is merely something he’s aware he mustn’t waste.
Nemir is superbly helmed in its entirety by En’zoo. It roots its fluent composite of genres in the synergy between the sure-handed producer and melody-driven rapper, who met on MySpace a decade ago. The melancholic trap soul of “Ça sert” is perhaps the apogee of the Perpignanais’ career so far. If not, “Sur ma vie” certainly is. The song, an infectious Afropop fusion, epitomizes Nemir’s debut album and perfectionist decision to bide his time to define his sound.
“Un peu de haine” by PLK
At only 22 years old, PLK is already a young veteran of the French scene. At the tender age of 14, the lyricist made his national debut on the eminent radio show Planète Rap. Raised in the Eure projects in southern Paris, the emcee of Corsican and Polish origin—PLK is an acronym of “Polak”—already has plaques to his name. Following up his two mixtapes and an EP with his debut album Polak last year, the album registered two Gold singles and was certified Platinum within nine months. He released his latest full-length project Mental on Panenka Music in September.
“Un peu de haine” (a little bit of hate) is the second single from Mental—an anti “I Can” nursery rhyme rap aimed at PLK’s antagonists. Accompanied by a sardonic video starring PLK as chief of the ‘anti-police brutality brigade’, “Un peu de haine” immediately shot to the top of the French singles chart upon its release in late September.
“Avec Toi” by OBOY
While PNL’s rap cloudscape looms large over the hexagon, Oboy’s hazy brand of trillwave rap offers the musicality the brothers have yet to muster. Having entered a recording studio for the first time three years ago, the 22-year-old Malagasy has fashioned his brand of melancholic rap. His debut album Ωmega, released this past July, was one of the standout French debuts of the year and will re-issue as a deluxe version in the coming months.
An electro pop-inspired tale of infatuation, “Avec Toi” (With You) is the showpiece of Ωmega’s many highlights. Floating over Machynist’s chord progression production, Oboy propels his dream-rap night call to his girl to join him on a nocturnal jaunt with an infectious refrain. (Let’s drive alone in the city/when I’m with you I forget everything.”) Hummable in any language, “Avec Toi” warrants a place on your next road trip playlist.
“Les yeux mouillés” by Kery James (feat. Youssoupha)
An institution in rap français, Kery James has been a staple of the French scene since featuring on MC Solaar’s debut album at 13 years old. A founding member of the iconic groups Ideal J and Mafia K’1 Fry, his long-standing criticism of France’s ghettoized suburbs have recently led him to new artistic pursuits. Following a national tour of his play À Vif—which he wrote and starred in—Kery will star in his first feature film, Banlieusards this October.
Born in Kinshasa to a Senegalese mother and legendary Congolese musician Tabu Ley Rochereau, Youssoupha moved to France at the age of 10. The self-proclaimed Bakary Potter would emerge in the arid landscape of 2000s French rap. He debuted with one of the decade’s classic albums A cheque frere in 2007 and demonstrated a cerebral social criticism that drew immediate comparisons to Kery James. Eventually joining forces, alongside Medine, the trio comprises the outspoken supergroup La Ligue.
The latest effort between the two, “Les yeux mouillés” (watery eyes) comes from James’ reissued album, Tu vois je rap encore (You See, I Still Rap). “Les yeux mouillés” serves as a poignant dedication to the struggles of motherhood. A haunting chorus from Youssoupha stresses Kery’s tortured rhymes. (I think of the tears I made him shed, the hardships I put her through/At the end of her life, I whisper my regrets.”)
“Durag” by Isha
Isha is one of a growing number of Belgian emcees, in company with Damso, Hamza and, Shay, making their mark in the French scene. Under his previous alias Psmaker, Isha broke into the then barren Brussels scene over a decade ago. Releasing his debut album in 2009, the Congolese-born emcee found an opportunity for a financial return from his investment and reluctantly hung up the mic soon after. It would take seven years and renewed interest in Belgian rap for Isha to abandon civilian life and return to the studio. In 2017, he dropped his first independent project, La Vie Augmente Vol. 1, under his real name. A second volume followed in 2018, this time with a Warner cosign.
“Durag” is the first single from the third and final installment of the La Vie Augmente series. Produced by Eazy Drew, the hookless collection of relentless punchlines wastes no time with a chorus. Rattling off jocular barbs at his pretenders, johnny-come-lately journalists, and even a subliminal at Dreamville’s stylists (“Now your pussy looks a mess, like J. Cole’s dreads”), “Durag” is a magnetic exhibition of a seasoned emcee. With it, Isha has asserted his position as one of French rap’s finest lyricists.
“Welcome” by Hatik
Only a year ago, 27-year-old Hatik was a part-time rapper with a full-time job. Recording his first verses at 16, Hatik spent the next decade as a waiter, receptionist, and salesman, amongst other odd jobs, to support his music habit. After introducing himself with an EP in 2017, the French-Guyanese emcee from Paris’ south-western suburbs leaped full-time into music in 2018. Following up with a series of “chaise pliante” freestyle videos—named after the hood famous folding chairs that facilitate both business and conversation—the charismatic rapper quickly earned the attention of the music and television industry. Upon releasing his first full-length project Chaise pliante in August, Hatik will also play a leading role in an upcoming series on the major French TV network Canal+.
Produced by Medeline and Ogee Handz, “Welcome” is a spine-rattling trap invitation into Hatik’s neighborhood. Breaking down community religious practices (“Friday noon we please God and the same evening we please Lucifer”) and firing warning shots at local gangs (“I’ve already thought about putting on a ski mask and shooting up the precinct, like they do in our homes”), “Welcome” is an in-your-face introduction to one of rap français’ most combative new voices.