Following the injustice of being overlooked at the Victoires de la Musique, French rap continued its skyward trajectory in February with an abundance of high-caliber releases. New projects from Isha and Laylow were the highlights of a month that also saw ghostwriter extraordinaire, Meryl, release a stellar debut album, Jour avant caviar.
From a February rich in sonics and superlative lyricism, here are five choice additions to your French rap playlist.
Dinos — “N’tiekar”
Defying the adage that battle emcees can’t produce good rap, Dinos’ career reinvention as rap français’ hood documentarian likewise refutes the well-worn notion that contemporary rappers lack profundity. The 26-year-old’s kitchen-sink variety of rap vividly portrays the isolation and hopelessness within the Greater Parisian housing projects in which he was raised. Turning his despair into poignant depictions of collective desolation, Dinos tempers his lugubrious tales with wry punchlines that hark back to his days of competitive clashing. His second album, the excellent Taciturne, was released this past November.
“N’tiekar” is Dinos at his utmost wistful, expertly negotiating 808 kicks with typically somber musings (“I’m just one less case for the social worker / there’s more room in heaven, there’s more room in hell”). Vindicating his need to leave his area to save himself (“I’ve been in the hood forever, I know the walls have ears and the Kalash has one eye”), Dinos channels his burdensome thoughts through an enticing array of flows, skillfully turning his dismay into a thumping hood hymn.
ISHA — “Les magiciens”
Unlike most rappers, a long-lasting vocation as an emcee is not Isha’s career ambition. The former rapper-turned-social-worker, turned rapper once again, views hip-hop as merely a stage in a personal trajectory that revolves around something more humanitarian. Uniquely inspired by the East Coast underground, the Belgian emcee counts five boroughs stalwarts as diverse as the Boot Camp Clik and Ali Vegas among his rapping influences. The gem of the new scene of Belgian rap, the 33-year-old’s latest album, La vie augment Vol. 3, was the album of the month in French rap.
“Les magiciens” is the highlight of La vie augmente Vol. 3 and Isha’s first collaboration with producers Katrina Squad. Drawing melody from the potent echos of European imperialism, Isha induces the horrors of religious conversion and slavery, comparing the hexing of colonized peoples to sorcery. (“The fire came from their boats on the beach, blood was spilled / they took the gold and diamonds and they left their magic book.”) Assuming the perspective of an onlooking child, “Les magiciens” furiously evokes the legacy of the colonization of Africa in a career-defining performance. (“One day I’ll go get them, I’ll be stronger, taller and I’ll bring hell and darkness with me, even their statues will cry blood.”)
Laylow — “TrinityVille”
The self-proclaimed “Man of the Year,” Laylow’s tech-savvy rap cosmos is forged from a romantic melancholy and a fascination with the numeric. The self-possessed Toulousian’s reliance on Auto-Tune comes not from a desire to correct his pitch, but to intensify his angst. With four full-length solo projects to his name, the 26-year-old’s Matrix-inspired neon gloom has set him firmly apart from the homogenizing trends of commercial French rap. Laylow’s fifth album, Trinity—dedicated in name to the Matrix hacker—was released at the end of February.
Produced by Dioscures and Sofiane Pamar, “TrinityVille” is the third single from Trinity. A lambent, cyber trap ballad that finds Laylow doubling down on his belief that 2020 is his for the taking (“This year, I promised myself that I’d raise the level and the standard”). Bullishly dismissing the current wave of industrial action in France as a movement that conflicts with his own (“I’ve worked like never before, a son of an immigrant doesn’t strike”), “TrinityVille” furthers Laylow’s individualistic quest to revamp French rap in dynamic fashion.
SCH — “Interlude”
Emerging as an adolescent under the pseudonym, Schneider, before achieving nationwide success as the abbreviated SCH, the man known in France as simply “le S” is modern-day French rap royalty. In 2019, SCH added both Platinum and Gold album plaques to his furnished collection, for his acclaimed JVLIVS and latest album Rooftop, respectively. Countervailing guttural gangsta rap with tender, pitch-corrected ballads, his polished blend of theatrical and incisive wordplay transcend rap, positing the Marseille-born 26-year-old as the future of chanson française.
“Interlude” is the third single from Rooftop—a hookless, one-verse narrative dedicated to fraternal relationships built through hardship (“We’ve forged bonds so strong that death can’t untie.”) Produced by frequent collaborators Guilty and Geo On The Track, le S untethers a menacing series of litigious confessions over the duo’s forbidding bounce (“Acid bath in the projects, ammunition, weapons in a box, move out if we know your address.”) An album standout that surpasses its negligible title, “Interlude” is SCH at his nihilistic best (“Me and my brothers are not meant to die old and pious.”)
Slim C — “Serpents & Renards” feat. Freeze Corleone
A member of French rap’s League of Shadows, 667, Slim C shares in the secretive sect’s indifference to mainstream recognition. As part of the 17-strong ensemble, the Guinean rapper eschews publicity, instead, compelling a loyal fanbase to decrypt his allusive, complot layered couplets. Releasing his first mixtape, Le R.E.P., in 2016, the Saint-Denis based emcee followed with the second edition, Le R.E.P. Vol. II, in 2018. With a worldview rooted in dissidence, Slim C combines his narcotized cocktail of sex, money, and conspiracy with foreboding Memphis-engendered riddims. His latest project, Killu Kinf G, was released in February.
“Serpents & Renards” (Snakes and Foxes) is the second single from Killu Kinf G and features 667 chieftain Freeze Corleone. A bass dense trap seism produced by Flem, Slim leads the pessimistic charge (“I’ve got my salvation with Allah, I don’t give a fuck about anything else,”) before Freeze unhands a frigid 16 to complement the glacial grime synths (“I think my blood is turning to sap, I’ve smoked too many plants.”) A technical showcase from the reticent due, underscored by a crowd-friendly refrain (“Fuck the pigs, they’re snakes and foxes.”)