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Why French rap no longer has anything to envy to US rap

“Late”, “Not very innovative” and sometimes even “copycat”: since its establishment in popular culture in the 90s, French rap has constantly suffered comparisons with its North American counterpart. Even today, certain critics of the French-speaking scene continue to draw a parallel between the two countries as if to underline the “shortcomings” of the French heir to the genre. However, at a time when the borders of rap are constantly redefining themselves and giving rise to artists with their own and original identity on both sides of the Atlantic, drawing a parallel between the two scenes no longer seems to matter so much. sense. Focus on an overheard comparison and its share of questionable arguments.

“US rap is ahead”

It’s true, US artists have long had a head start on the French scene. Between the birth of the Trap in Altlanta or the Drill in Chicago, the genres that also animate the French scene are very often from the American states. With innovative flows, original song constructions and impactful refrains, American rappers have long dictated the codes of the genre to their counterparts abroad, including the French. So much so that it was often said that French rap was 10 years behind US rap. So since one thing is certain: this gap seems to have narrowed considerably, as can be seen from the French movements DMV, appeared at the end of the 2010s in the United States and popularized in France in 2020 by artists like Serane, 8Ruki Jwles or Thahomey. With their unique identity, these artists have succeeded in appropriating the energy, the assurance and the North American sounds to adapt them to another language without distorting its essence. Better still: these heirs of the genre rely on the codes of the DMV to push the boundaries even further, and thus, offer a new musical genre. This is what Serane excels in, a Parisian rapper with multiple connections across the Atlantic, who does not hesitate to mix plugg and DMV, two yet distinct genres, in a completely innovative music.

So if thanks to social networks and streaming platforms the “lag” of the French on the American scene seems to be decreasing, another point remains: finally, being late has absolutely no impact on the quality of the music offered. It’s true that French rap is often inspired by North American trends, and therefore, offers inspired content a little after those that already seem to be established in the US. So what ? If this argument of the “delay” in the comparison of the two rap scenes is quite recurrent, it cannot be a means of discrediting the French scene: it seems difficult to categorize a music as “less good” only on the fact that it has a slight latency with the US scene.

“French rap is less creative”

If in the 90s/2000s, making music required access to a studio and a minimum of recording equipment, today the parameters have changed.

A simple computer and a microphone are enough to create and share your own music today. A true marker of this phenomenon, the first confinement of 2020 has pushed a whole new generation to turn to musical creation, regardless of their musical heritage and their influences. And among this new generation, an artist has established himself as one of the most creative on the French-speaking scene. First from rock and its sub-genres, Nyluu asserted itself last year with its project Nyluu In Paris as one of the most creative artists on the underground scene. Between distorted sounds, round basses and electrified guitars, the artist sings of his sorrows and his hopes with completely innovative melodies in a unique style that is difficult to find elsewhere, even among our American colleagues.

With his explosive songs, Nyluu asserts himself as an artist among the hundreds who testify to the creativity of the French scene. And these offbeat musical proposals are not limited to underground scenes: in the big names of French-speaking rap, many are those who strive to offer new music. This is particularly the case of Jul which by virtue of its charisma, its energy and its enormous musical diversity is displayed as a complete artist who knew how to forge his own unique style, only definable by the expression “à la Jul” and so particular that he does not seem to have a North American alter-ego.

Having become one of the most popular artists of French rap in 2021, Laylow has also risen to the top of the charts by bringing an exceptional musical proposal: with his last two albums Trinity and The Strange Story of Monsieur Anderson, the artist has succeeded in bringing into French rap music that is as sincere as it is scripted, carried by a certain originality that has no equal in French rap…but also in American rap.

And for those who assert themselves even more in a well-defined style like that of Lomepal, as much influenced by French variety as New York rap or Strokes rock, his hybrid music condensed in his latest album “Jeannine” also seems to have no counterpart in rap across the Atlantic. And finally, it all seems quite logical: each scene has its own artists, and therefore, its own particularities. American rap will continue to hatch talents that will not find a profile comparable to any other rap scene around the world, and the French scene, complete artists whose music is unlike any other.

Nothing to envy

So finally, comparing American rap and French rap no longer seems to make sense today. Firstly, the size of the two countries is absolutely not comparable: one is spread over more than 4500 km long and has nearly 330 million inhabitants, while the other sees its north and south separated by only 1000 km, and has a population of 67 million people. So on a territory 17 times smaller, it is obvious that the rap scene does not have as much musical diversity and proposals as the American scene.

Especially since on such a small territory, the French public seems to be particularly present during album releases: a true record holder of his generation, Orelsan confirms by the figures of Civilization, his latest project, which is approaching 500,000 sales in less than 6 months of operation, that French rap also includes real behemoths in the industry. With a polished artistic direction and a completely original promotional strategy, the figures for the biggest seller of 2021 also testify to the impact of French-speaking artists who exceed the scores of certain American headliners : Gunna, one of the most listened to rappers in the United States, sold 150,000 copies of his album DS4ever in 10 days while Orelsan climbed to more than 160,000 sales over the same period in France, a figure witness to the certain scale of French artists despite their numerically smaller audience.

So to the question: “Does French rap still have something to envy to US rap”, the answer is no. No, because first of all, the French scene also has its share of unique talents who do not seem to have an American counterpart due to their musical singularity.

And not also and especially because this comparison French Rap / US Rap ultimately makes little sense: comparing two national scenes that have very little in common with the aim of choosing a “better” one does not seem not be a really useful reflection for rap, whether American or French. So instead of asking us which scene is the best, let’s focus instead on the talents that make up these two scenes and bring them to life, and let’s continue to explore the music of those who are responsible for pushing the boundaries ever further.

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