We have already dealt with the subject of masked rappers, from Assassin to Karlito via Kekra, Siboy or Gims (and yes). What was still a rather special distinctive sign a few years ago has become a real standard : the Mask On Gang has spread, more and more emerging artists choosing to hide their face. Obviously, the explosion of drill codes in France contributed to democratizing the wearing of masks, before the covid pandemic extended this practice to the entire population. If masks, balaclavas, and big dark glasses have such success, it is not just a fashion effect. The fact of not revealing one’s face offers many advantages, whether they have a directly artistic impact or not.
Get the audience to focus on the music
An argument as old as French rap, since it comes from one of the pioneers of the genre, namely Rockin Squat (Assassin). The rapper has repeatedly explained that hiding his face for the first part of his career was a way to get his listeners to focus on the speech and the music rather than the image. A noble quest, which made sense at the time, but which could seem paradoxical today, as masked rappers are now involved in the visual aspect. The spectacular clipography of Kekra or the colorful balaclavas of Kalash Criminel have thus demonstrated that hiding one’s face does not prevent them from insisting as much as possible on the imagery, or even transforming the mask into a visual asset.
At present, the mentality advocated by Assassin is difficult to apply, as the image has gained weight and importance in the development of a career as a rapper.. Rockin Squat himself eventually dropped the mask, though he was never fully covered up, content to not put his face forward on album covers or in music videos.
Develop a universe without worrying about credibility issues
While it was at the center of debates in the 2000s, the question of street credibility had gradually lost interest in recent years. However, the subject has come back to the table since the massive adoption of the UK Drill in France. Ziak’s success, in particular, has been a major trigger for debate: certain rappers doubting the veracity of his texts did not hesitate to attack him head-on, which necessarily pushed listeners to ask themselves questions.
Whether Ziak kills people every morning or not (we wish him not), his case illustrates the interest of wearing a mask to develop a musical universe, especially since his whole proposal is coherent. If he wishes to keep the secret about his face, he also refuses interviews, communicates very little on social networks, and rarely indulges in his texts.. Others go even further, hypothesizing that established rappers could hide to build a second artistic identity: this might be the case with Big Flo in the role of La Voix.
Telling things that we could not have told openly
This is the main reason for mask-wearing in the English drill scene, and ultimately the most logical and consistent argument for mask-wearing. The rappers concerned thus evoke real murders or claim attacks that are sometimes very detailed. They cannot afford to reveal their identity, and therefore to rap with their faces uncovered – especially since the local authorities have the drillers in their sights.
This is a little less the case in France, where masked rappers do not necessarily tell more than the others – for example, when a masked Kekra tells about his life as a drug dealer, he does not pour out more than ‘a Salif with his face uncovered. Some have probably learned the lesson of English rappers worried about justice after having boasted a little too much about their exploits in their texts.
Not be affected by the pangs of fame
We obviously remember Kekra and his famous “I wear a mask so that my mother does not find out that I am a rapper, she would be disappointed”. Not everyone necessarily has such a radical vision, but it is obvious that living with your face uncovered has many disadvantages, especially when you go beyond a certain stage of notoriety. Some also regret not having had the presence of mind to hide their faces by launching into rap. This is for example the case of Jul, who spoke about this during a Planet Rap freestyle: “I can’t go to town anymore, I’m disgusted tarpin / I should have done a Daft Punk / They wouldn’t have seen me, they would have just listened to me”.
Being recognized necessarily leads to changes in lifestyle and dating. Maintaining anonymity helps to mitigate this type of consequence. From an artistic point of view, the advantage is obvious: by staying connected to real life and the field, he will gain inspiration, and his universe will remain more authentic.
To be able to try more things
This is not an absolute truth, but various examples prove that masked rappers tend to venture into areas far from the norm in terms of sound: we can think of Kekra, Siboy, Empty7 or, a few years more early, Fuzati and even Sefyu. We imagine they would have had the same kind of influences and the same willingness to go their own way without masks, but rapping with their faces covered is one step closer to total artistic freedom.
If he is not a rapper (despite a few far from shameful tries), Maskey spoke about it a few years ago at Yard: “it was a security measure. If it doesn’t work, you discreetly delete your video and you resume the course of your life”. His vision is a bit radical, but it expresses well the idea that the mask makes it possible to ask less questions and to try things by relieving some of the pressure. Here again, the case of Big Flo / La Voix can be a good illustration: the Toulouse man is already much under fire from critics, so it is more difficult for him to try experiments without risking scratching his image. Rapping under another identity, with a hidden face, is the best way to open up artistically without risking losing your audience. Finally, we can also mention Bracash, a rapper invented from scratch by Niro in collaboration with his fans, and interpreted on screen by a helmeted character.