With the country in the midst of a sizzling heatwave, France’s rappers unleashed a searing selection of tracks in August 2020, once again underlining their position as the world’s hottest hip-hop scene.
Kaaris — “NRV”
Kaaris continued his resurgence in August with his latest single “NRV.” The protagonist of Chicagoan drill in France, “NRV” is Kaaris’ first showing on London’s drill genus. Produced by Boumidjal and HoloMobb, the 40-year-old gestures to his past, referencing his classic “Dès le Départ” while issuing a subtle warning to the pretenders who believe he’s taken a backstep—“I can’t take my foot off the pedal or these kids will invent their own history.” Taken from his upcoming LP, 2.7.0, due next month, the album’s title seemingly hints at a back-to-the-futurist attempt at righting the wrongs of the disappointing third installment of his Or Noir album series. With two consecutive Top 10 singles in two months, Kaaris’ preoccupation with being written off has resulted in the most successful singles run of his career to date.
Leto — “Nouveaux riches”
Leto released his new album 100 Visages at the end of August, featuring a trinity of French rap’s elite: Booba, Ninho, and Niska on the single “Nouveaux riches.” A turbulent follow-up to the album’s lead-in “Paris c’est magique,” Leto picks up where he left off on April’s Virus: avant l’album, accosting a UK drill riddim with the bluster of an economically mobile Black man raised on the periphery of Parisian life. Produced by 19-year-old beatmaker SHK, the South London sonics—which have taken the French scene by storm in 2020—have revitalized Niska over the summer, following last year’s Mr. Sal, a mostly pedestrian follow-up to his breakout album, Commando. The parvenu pairing revel in their affluence on “Nouveaux riches,” trading threats and new money boasts on how they can escape their reality whenever they wish—” On the run, no one’s gonna find me, nouveau riche.”
13 Block — “Tieks”
Niska’s purple patch continued in August with another concrete Île-de-France alliance with 13 Block. The architects of the best anti-police rap anthem since the Blastmaster evoked a police siren, the Sevranese quartet recouped a Gold plaque earlier this year for their 2019 debut album, BLO. After a year spent exploring individual collaborations, Zed and OldPee reassembled without Stavo for a trademark trap exhibition, “Tieks.” A fulgurating backdrop from Ace Loocky—the man behind the boards for Gambi’s chart-topping “He Oh”—underprops the seamless abutment with Niska, whose guttural cadence effortlessly replaces Stavo’s gruff in the makeshift lineup. Accompanied by one of the most dynamic hip-hop videos in 2020, hood pride takes center stage, with a couple of courtesy shots at the enemy—“AMG Mercedes, I pass by the neighborhood to taunt the cops.”
Zesau —“Anarchie” ft. Freeze Corleone & Stavo
Notable by his absence, 13 Block’s Stavo surfaced in another all Parisian collaboration alongside Freeze Corleone and Zesau on the single “Anarchie.” A veteran of French rap, who endured the paucity of resources in the mid-2000s before the streaming salvation, Zesau came to prominence in the late ’90s as part of the trio Decidens, alongside Nessbeal and Koryaz. The rapper of Martinican origin etched his name into the canon of French rap with the group’s Mobb Deep inspired HLM Residentz released in 2004, one of the last great albums of French rap’s first golden age.
As one of a cluster of independent street emcees irking out a living against the backdrop of major label ambivalence and the ills of piracy, Zesau released his long-awaited solo album, Frères d’Armes, in 2011. A further two albums followed in 2012 and 2015, before a prolonged absence during the height of the French rap boom. While many of his former independent contemporaries sought employment in more stable professions, the seasoned 39-year-old signed with Niro’s Ambition Music in 2019 and will release his first album with major distribution in 2020.
“Anarchie” unites the respected trio on a reverberant production, courtesy of PLMP and Gee Saauce. Built around Zesau and Stavo’s parlous hook, Zesau sets the baleful tone before underground liege Corleone unhands a typically white-glove couplet. The Saint-Denis emcee, who crept into the French charts with his Colors show in August, nods to his own considered come-up as he prepares for his own major distributed debut in September—“Rap’s not for sprinters, we inspire Marlos and Stringers.” In closing, Stavo sets the seal on the frigid soundscape with a baleful verse that guarantees an instant wheel up—“I represent those rundown buildings and the hard-to-dismantle crews, backstabbers get dealt with, a closed case can’t be reopened.”
A month of Parisian competition was superseded (in number, at least) by the announcement of a Marseille supergroup project, 13 Organisée, to be headed by France’s most bankable rapper, Jul. A Côte d’Azur collective, consisting of SCH, Soso maness, Naps, Kofs, Elams, Solda, Houari, and Jul himself, unveiled the project’s surprise first single “Bande Organisée,” in the middle of August. Fueled by Jul’s signature Italodance production, “Band Organisée” predictably swept straight to the top of the charts to give Jul a No. 1 single to match his album La Machine, which has been on top of the charts since its release in June.
F430 — “Guap Summer”
The pick of August’s summer cheer was left to F430. The duo, who are on an unblemished run of blissful cloud rap singles in 2020, have found heightened melody in their collaborations with German producer Ouhboy. The sought-after producer, who has spread his ambient 808 bounce throughout the UK, South Africa, Argentina, and Brazilian trap scenes, spatters his booming kicks with xylophone for levity on “Guap Summer,” evoking a buoyant chorus from Jet. The Tarterêts twosome revel in a summer of post-confinement Mediterranean excess (“Wads of cash, vodka, kush, Gucci’d out, all summer long”), offering up yet another beatific addition to an expected second album later this year.