The unwritten rule to launch any up-and-coming music artist's career is to have an intricate media strategy, active Facebook and Twitter profiles and to do as many interviews and gigs as possible.
But when French rap duo PNL stormed to the top of the iTunes album charts late last year with their sophomore LP Le Monde Chico, they hadn’t done a single interview, nor did they give away any information about themselves on social media. The group didn’t even have a record deal.
The French rap scene, which arrived in Paris over 30 years ago, is notorious for being reclusive, thoughtful, aggressive and highly egocentric.
Without ever fully escaping the influence of American rap - until perhaps now - the scene is evolving at breakneck speed. Here are five artists you need to hear right now.
Spearheading the contemporary French rap scene is PNL, which stands for Peace and Lovés ("lovés" being a slang reference for money). The two brothers behind the duo – NOS and Ademo – hail from the infamous Tarterêts estate in Paris' Corbeil-Essonnes commune, rapping about the frustrating, mind-numbing day-to-day lives of drug dealers on estates.
Holding a moody, slow-paced rapping style, very little is actually known about the two rappers, however, they're presumed to have Northwest African heritage. Their sartorial swagger is defined by statement pieces like Burberry plaid shirts, and they're rarely seen without crowds of young men and children behind them dressed in a mix of yet more gaudy designer garms and Paris Saint-Germain football shirts.
First emerging on the scene in 2009, Joke is a seasoned head in the game, but his personal style, both offbeat and nonchalant, led him to being branded as a rapper well ahead of his time.
The heavy production, similar flow and the half-genuine insolence heard back on his first releases, are typical of his contemporaries in 2016. The funny and astronomically ego-tripping lyrics found in his tracks typically tap Joke's youth spent in Narbonne and Montpellier in the south of France.
His most well-know track, “Harujoku,” and its video reference the culture of modern-day Tokyo and France’s own cultural heritage. “There is always some truth in the ego trip," he claims.
He’s just 18, uploads crazy beats to YouTube, and has an Instagram account filled with selfies, nighttime drives in Paris, and lots of footballwear. That’s about all we and the other 6.4 million people to have viewed the video for his track “Ah Non C'est Terrible," know about the person behind Guy2Bezbar.
His flow is fast and aggressive, and the trap beats are perhaps the most creative and and experimental in the entire scene. Debuting all of his tracks on the popular French rap YouTube channel Directed By W&T, it’s not unusual for his tracks and his collaborations to top 1 million views within a matter of weeks.
Given his young age and consistently dope output, we can expect big things of Guy2Bezbar.
Born in Mali, Sianna moved to Beauvais in France at just 8 months old. Inspired by Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Beyoncé, her spitfire refrains and Northwest African-infused beats are energetic and melancholic, typical of the current French rap game.
Sianna is one of the few women in the scene to be signed by a record company (Warner), which does not guarantee success, but at least provides a comfortable foundation and opens some doors - she supported the French mega star Booba at a show back in December, for instance.
Her series “Tour du Monde en Freestyle” attracted curiosity from the wider public, and demonstrated her growing ability to stand out from the crowd.
Gradur, who is of Congolese origin, emerged in late 2013 with a handful of hyper-aggro tracks, and over the last two years has exploded out of a small scene only to become one of France's most recent rap sensations.
His lyrics, which often deal with money, muscles, drugs, weapons, big cars, swimming pools, palaces and yachts, are perhaps a little clichéd, but his roots are genuine. He entered the military at a young age, and starting writings lyrics only after he broke his leg in three places. He struggled for a break early in his career (no pun intended), before his videos were shared on Facebook by other high-profile artists in the scene.
Boiler Room TV described him as “potentially France’s greatest straight-up trap ambassador," and for good reason.
Not enough French culture for you? Check out the work of French photographer Laurent Kronental who captures eerie dystopian architecture in Paris.