French Hip Hop

In Immigration, Misc. on August 2, 2006 at 9:56 am

While I was in Paris and Brussels a couple weeks ago, I made it part of my mission to find out a little about the music and cultural scenes there.

On one of my first nights, I decided to turn on MTV Europe and see what type of videos they were playing.  One of the videos that stood out to me the most was for a song called “Brule” (video here)  by a group named Sniper.

Since I don’t understand French, one of the first things that stood out to me was the imagery of youth with torches marching through the streets, referencing the recent riots in the suburbs of Paris.  The video also displays racist situations such as a black woman being turned down at an interview and people being denied entry to a club due to their color.

My next encounter with Sniper was seeing them on the cover of the French rap magazine, Planete Rap, where they were featured as one of the top groups in French Hip hop music.  After that, i decided to buy their album.

When I heard “Brule” the second time, while listening to the entire album for the first time, I had my wife ( a native French speaker) translate some of it to me.  I found out that many of the songs talked about politics, immigration, racism, voting, and the experience of young people and families living in the suburbs of Paris (in Paris, the suburbs are mostly occupied by immigrant and low income families.  Many of the housing projects of the “Isle de France” aka greater Paris are in these areas and the recent riots took place in a couple of the suburban neighborhoods.)

Now the question I ask is, why can’t a group like this be popular and have an influence in America anymore?  We have politically and socially concious groups out there, but they usually struggle for sales and airplay.  Then we have the popular artists who occasionally do a song about politics (especially around the 2004 election, i.e. Eminem’s “Mosh”).  But those songs often seem gimmicky or end up losing meaning given the artists other messages. I feel that if an Amercan artist did a song and video like this, it would get very little video airplay and probably no radio play.  Meanwhile over there, I saw the video twice in about 4 or 5 sittings of MTV, and it was even played as the top hip hop video for one of those viewings.

Now I’m by no means an expert on French politics, music, or anything else.  But my basic observation of the music scene there even furthers my frustrations over what’s popular and being played  here.

I can’t say that i’m jealous of their laws and politics though, at least in the realm of immigration.  They are having large debates over immigration, just as we are here, and a lot of the tension around that topic is what sparked the riots a few months back. Below is a picture I took of posters for a rally around immigration laws and threats of deportation.  Some asshole crossed out “no” and wrote “oui” to the deportation and criminalization of illegal immigrants.

French Immigration Protest posters


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