French Rap Artists You Need To Listen To
French Rap has been around a surprisingly long time. Realistically, American hip hop only beat it to the punch by a couple of years. While a few artists like Kaaris have been breaking into the international market, most of the country’s scene flies under the radar. If you can get past the language barrier, there’s a lot of talent there. Here’s our list of the best french rap artists you should stop sleeping on.
We covered IAM on our list of the best foreign language rap acts. IAM are the granddaddies of French rap. They formed in 1989 but it was their 1997 album L’Ecole Du Micro Argent that brought them the most attention. The album is commonly regarded as defining the sound of french rap.
Their sound has been pretty consistent throughout the years. Recent releases like 2013’s Arts Martiens bring modern production but the sound remains how it’s always been. That’s not a bad thing by any means, they’ve brought something interesting to their audience with every release while ignoring trends.
With the NTM in Suprême NTM standing for ‘Nique ta mère’ or ‘go fuck your mother’, it’s clear what the group were about. NTM have long been the face of French gangsta rap and for good reason. They went after police, racism and anything else they wanted to speak out about.
They were the closest thing in French rap to N.W.A and they knew it. Like N.W.A they split in the 90s and set up their own labels with significant feuding between former members Joeystarr and Kool Shen.
The pair have continued to be a big part of French rap outside of the Suprême NTM legacy.
La Fouine’s 2004 mixtape Planète Trappes and follow up album Bourré au Son established him as great rapper and propelled him to the top of the rap game. Today he toes the line between rap and pop stardom. Even so his contributions to putting French rap on the map shouldn’t be ignored.
French rap doesn’t get more real than La Rumeur. The group have maintained underground popularity having put their message above mainstream popularity. Probably France’s closest thing to New York hip hop, La Rumeur have been hugely outspoken since their first release Le Poison d’Avril, way back in 1997. 20 years, five albums and seven maxis later, La Rumeur are as important as ever and one of the few groups whose music consistently holds up.
Of the entire french rap scene, MC Solaar stands out as one of its most lyrical rappers. He’s as comfortable spitting bars as he is getting introspective. His sound does take influence from French hip hop but with the growth of French Trap, he’s audibly different.
He’s one of the most internationally acclaimed French rappers with features for the likes of Missy Elliot. He’s slowed down recently with no new albums since a compilation in 2010 but at 47 you can’t really blame him. He’s also donated a huge chunk of time to Les Enfoirés, a homeless charity which he has been working and touring for since 2001.
While he first popped up as a breakdancer, Booba quickly became one of France’s biggest hip hop artists. His sound was initially very influenced by american hip hip of the 90s and early 2000s. After his duo Lunatic broke up, he moved into more trap influenced music. He was instrumental in refining the sound of French Trap music and helped make it something different from the american sound it grew from.
Lunatic were a duo made up of Booba and Ali. They broke up in 2003 but in their nine year run gained real underground attention. They didn’t have many releases early on with their first album Mauvais œil coming out in 2000. A couple of singles earlier than that and a consistent presence on the scene from both Ali and Booba made sure they stayed in the public eye.
While Booba’s music has developed since the break up, Lunatic had a notable sound. They were one of the earliest french groups to take cues from American hip hop but make it their own. Boom bap drums combined with emotional piano loops were a big indicator of Lunatic’s tracks.
American Trap has had a surprisingly big influence in France. While many looked at it as a trend, artists like Kaaris have been making the sound all their own. There’s a huge emerging sound of French Trap and with gravelly vocals against heavy, syrupy beats, Kaaris is leading the charge.
Not exactly a hip hop hardman, Orelsan has gained a following with some mainstream style hip hop. He’s not outright hip hop by any means. Even with the heavy pop leanings he’s bridging a gap between hip hop and pop in France.
What sets Stromae apart, aside from being Belgian rather than French, is the content of his music. He might touch on some of the same topics as other artists but nobody does it like him. Whether it’s family or drug use or anything else, Stromae is able to build stories while also creating songs that stand up as both hip hop and pop. His biggest hit internationally was the more pop heavy ‘Alors On Danse’ but he’s able to weave electronic, classical and hip hop sounds.