With the easing of restraints that caused many to postpone their projects in the second quarter, French rappers entered July with renewed enthusiasm to deliver their delayed releases. The deluge of first-rate singles and albums that followed typified the diversity of the thriving French scene. From cyber trap to afro-zouk: here is the best rap français July had to offer.
Laylow’s quest to measure up to his self-appointed moniker of “Man of the Year” appeared to be all but a formality before the end of February with the release of his hip-hopera, Trinity. The album, an instant entry into the canon of French rap classics, was the realization of the neoteric 27-year-old’s digital melancholia. The architect of cyber trap put futurism to the side in July to embrace the evergreen past in an unlikely collaboration with French disco icon Jean-Marc Cerrone. The polyvalent composer, who achieved worldwide success in the late ’70s, concocted a disco-house beat capable of filling Milanese dancefloors in the ’80s for Laylow to grace with his pitch-altered melodies. The intergenerational alliance, aptly titled “Experience,” is the collaboration of the year so far and yet another far-sighted 2020 highlight for the Digitalova.
The much sought-after Toulousian rounded out a month of features with an exigent appearance on the new LP from longtime collaborator Wit. The 24-year-old Montpellierian, who emerged in partnership with Laylow in 2015, released the brooding NO FUTURE in mid-July. The project—purposefully not referred to as an album for a supposed lack of sequenced concept—packs more cohesion into its 33 anodized minutes than most designated albums.
Magnetized by tech-noir sonics, Wit’s somber social reflections are set off by metallic synths and paranoid glitches, creating an anxious soundscape for his 2020 provisional adulthood gloom. NO FUTURE’s disquiet escalates into sound design euphoria with the Laylow collaboration “Loco,” ominous cyber trap that takes a dystopian detour into robotized reggaeton, and the rousing “Fragment”—“I’m on the weed, fuck the penal code, men are crying before God.” Uncompromising, disruptive, and assuredly flying in the face of chart fodder, NO FUTURE is one of the year’s best hip-hop albums.
July played host to a month of notable LP releases that included independent label La Maison Blanche’s excellent compilation Emodrill: le nouveau Western, a loaded hybrid of Chicagoan drill and domestic cloud rap. Lefa added an additional 13 songs to his November release, Fame, to turn it to Famous. The UK drill imbued reedition featured the single “Smile” with SCH, which was unveiled with a characteristically cinematic music video.
Niro added to the deluge of seemingly belated releases with the unexpected midnight drop, Sale môme, a forceful follow-up to last year’s Stupifiént series. Mac Tyer followed his example by dropping his own stellar surprise project Noir in mid-July. The rap veteran from Aubervilliers, who built his hardcore reputation as one half of the duo Tandem, called upon the surefire talents of Ninho for the album’s lead single “Moto.”
Underscored by Prof366or’s mariachi plucked trap hostility, the foreboding production inspires an equally menacing narrative from the Le General and his decorated accomplice (“Your favorite girlfriend gave us your address, late night, on the bike, that’s us.”) The collaboration between the 41-year-old Tyer and 24-year-old Ninho is further proof that rap’s generational gap is impertinent to France, where artists like Booba and Rim’K have embraced genre changes following hip-hop’s streaming boom and scored their biggest hits to date, post-40.
Maes augmented his already double-Platinum album Les derniers salopards with three new songs, the pick of which, “Prioritaire,” is a tender dedication to his newborn daughter. The current star of the thriving Sevran scene in Parisian hinterland was joined on the charts in July by the area’s mayor emeritus, Kaaris, with his new single “Goulag.” The 40-year-old, a pioneer of the modern French rap scene, is also one of its most charismatic characters.
The Ivory Coast-born emcee, who launched his second attempt at rap at 27, gained notable mixtape notoriety before coming to public attention with a standout appearance on Booba’s single “Kalash” in 2012. Releasing his Chief Keef-inspired debut album Or noir a year later at 33, the eventual Platinum LP (which also featured Booba) is regarded as the classic of domestic rap, and the catalyst for French trap and drill.
Kaaris’ followed Or noir with a run of four straight Platinum albums, including features with Future and Gucci Mane, establishing himself as one of the most prolific rappers in French history in the space of a mere four years, an ascent that raised the ire of the malcontent Booba. The French rap monarch and serial beefer took Kaaris’ freestyle boasts of “waiting to kill the king” as an overt attack on his dominion and set about his own public assaults. While Kaaris maintained the feud began when he refused to insult Booba’s long-standing foes La Fouine and Rohff, the resulting cold war of words, trolling, and blatant threats erupted in a mass brawl at a Parisian airport in 2018, which saw both men arrested. To settle their differences legally, they scheduled a proposed MMA showdown in Switzerland last year, but it was eventually canceled by Swiss authorities.
With his attention turned to combat, Kaaris delivered an underwhelming third installment of his Or noir series in early 2019. However, the release of “Goulag” in July immediately arrested any talk of Kaaris’ prime years being behind him. Produced by anonymous beatmakers Boumidjal and HoloMobb, “Goulag” immediately rocketed to the Top 5 of the French charts, securing Kaaris’ highest placing single to date. An unsparing reminder to critics and foes alike that the Sevran star is far from fading (“Swift like my whip, salary Sergio Ramos / in the past, in the future, I’m venerated like Thanos.”)
Excellent new EPs from Oboy and TripleGo contributed to a stream of budding midsummer anthems in July, including the seasonable release of Meryl’s “Billets.” The apogee of the Martinican’s debut mixtape, “Billets” sunlit afro-zouk riddim, produced by afrotrap pioneer DSK, summons the topliner-cum-rapper to flex her vocal cords in a heartfelt declaration to her mother (“If I write down on blank pages everything we bled, I can give you a beautiful life.”) The 24-year-old’s melodies are a bankable commodity, furnishing Gold and Platinum certifications for French rap’s elite in the past year. No exception to the rule, “Billets” is the undeniable tube de l’été.
Leto’s prolific 2020 continued into July with the single “Paris c’est magique.” After delivering an album precursor EP Virus: Avant l’album in April and another full-length as part of the tandem PSO Thug in June, the Parisian’s steadfast output precedes his first bona fide album, 100 Visages, due next month. Coming to widespread prominence with his 2019 single “Tes parents,” which featured label mate Ninho, the young rapper from Paris’ 17th arrondissement raised the forecast for the album with “Paris c’est magique.” Helmed by Junior a la prod, Leto draws on the exuberant horn arrangement for a fervent recital of Parisian trap life that captures the stark polarity of the French capital’s infamous social segregation: “Paris is magic, but our hood is a horror.”