When I opined on the ten best French rappers, most readers were quick to disparaged my picks and the ranking. Although it was far from perfect, that article has a special place in my heart because it is the one that has generated the most discussions.
Since I like hip-hop and its debates, I decided to risk drawing more ire and offer another ranking. So without further ado, I present you the ten best French rap groups of all time.
Their debut album Les princes de la ville is loaded with numerous classics, including the timeless “Tonton du bled”. Their place here was cemented when, back in the spring of 2000, the group won at Victoires de la Musique in the category “Rap, Reggae or Groove Album of the Year”.
Back then, I spent my days in Villejuif and it really warmed my heart to witness guys from around the way in Val-de-Marne get such recognition.
This group could have had a ranked higher. Unfortunately, Blacko’s exit in 2007 robbed them of that chance. Simply put, the group never recovered from the departure of its star singer. Rumor has it that Sniper have reunited and a new album is in the works 2019. Let’s cross our fingers!
- Mafia K’1 Fry
Undoubtedly, Mafia K’1 Fry fans will be flummoxed to see the group in 8th position, but I believe this is a fair rating. While they can boast about many talented artists within, the problem is actually the disparity in talent. Some artists — let’s not name names — pull the group down.
- Bisso Na Bisso
Today, it’s common for French rappers to incorporate African sounds in their music. And I think it is important to pay tribute to the pioneers : the group Bisso Na Bisso. Racines, the group’s first album, holds a very dear place in my heart.
In 1999, I was a young African kid living in France. When the album Racines came out, I remember rushing to the nearest FNAC store and standing at their listening station for hours on end. Not only was the music dope, but I was also drawn to the album because I could relate with the rappers. Living in an environment that forced me to hide my accent to avoid being taunted, it made me happy to see artists showcasing African culture. I was feeling peer pressure to shed my Africanity, and the Franco-Congolese group Bisso Na Bisso showed me that we can integrate in the French society without acculturating. I will always be grateful to them.
They only made one album, but it was largely enough for a significant place in the annals of French Rap. The independent label 45 Scientific released Lunatic’s album, Mauvais Œil in 2000 and it was certified gold after two years of hard work. Despite being shunned by Skyrock Radio, Lunatic achieved commercial success with an unconventional album.
Legend has it that the Skyrock’s managing director (Laurent Bouneau) told Jean-Pierre Seck (one of the founders of the 45 Scientific label) that Lunatic amounted to village rap. Today, hundreds of thousands villagers have purchased Mauvais Œil.
Who is Lunatic? Lunatic is made of two antithetical but still complementary rappers. On the one hand, you have Ali, who punctuates his verses with Koranic references. On the other, there is Booba whose raw lyrics are in stark contrast with the verbiage of his friend Ali. It was this dichotomy that made the group so compelling. Unfortunately, their adventure was short-lived. Pity!
- Fonky Family
I discovered them on the remix of Akhenaton’s “Bad Boys de Marseille” — Sat in particular caught my attention. In fact, I never understood why people tell me that Le Rat Luciano and Don Choa are better than Sat. One day, I’ll explain why Sat is the best rapper of the Fonky Family.
- Sexion d’Assaut
I concede that the latest albums from Black M and Maître Gims leave much to be desired. But let’s not be forgetful. The “mistakes” they make in their solo careers shouldn’t alter our appraisal of the group. Certainly, Black M and Maître Gims now make regrettable musical choices, but this should not taint the reputation of the Sexion d’Assault.
Lino, one half of the group Ärsenik, has the finest pen of French rap. I have always admired his writing and I must admit that at the beginning of my career, I stole a lot of his punchlines. If plagiarism was a crime, I would have been incarcerated for a long time.
- Suprême NTM
Do you remember the winter of 1998? I remember it very well. Titanic had been the top movie for many months. And Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” seemed to be the only song radio stations would play. It was then that Kool Shen and Joey Starr decided to break the monotony and released their self-titled album, Suprême NTM. The campaign was catchy: “Titanic ta mère” (basically, fuck Titanic). As for the album, it contains many anthems such as “Seine-Saint-Denis Style”, “IV My People” and ” Laisse pas traîner ton fils”. In France, the outfit from Seine Saint-Denis broke sales records, dethroned the Titanic soundtrack and went atop the charts.
I took notice of NTM when the duo remixed Nas’ “Affirmative Action“. The resulting song was a resounding success: Kool Shen and Joey Starr even stole the show. I never imagined that French rappers could have stood up to the heavyweights of American Rap, yet that’s what Suprême NTM have managed to do.
Why is IAM the best french rap group? Because the album L’école du micro d’argent is the best French rap album of all time. Because the band members had great solo careers (D’où je viens from Shurik’N and Le Palais de justice from Freeman are masterpieces). Because without IAM, Psy 4 de la Rime, Fonky Family, 3e Œil, Def Bond, Faf Larage would not exist. Because IAM is the only French rap group to record a song with Beyoncé 😄.
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The original opinion piece can be found on ‘Un lion parmi les hommes‘