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Wesleyan University Press
Global Noise: Rap and Hip Hop Outside the USA / Edition 1

Global Noise: Rap and Hip Hop Outside the USA / Edition 1

by Tony Mitchell
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The thirteen essays that comprise Global Noise explore the hip hop scenes of Europe, Anglophone and Francophone Canada, Japan and Australia within their social, cultural and ethnic contexts. Countering the prevailing colonialist view that global hip hop is an exotic and derivative outgrowth of an African-American-owned idiom subject to assessment in terms of American norms and standards, Global Noise shows how international hip hop scenes, like those in France and Australia, developed by first adopting then adapting US models and establishing an increasing hybridity of local linguistic and musical features. The essays reveal diasporic manifestations of international hip hop that are rarely acknowledged in the growing commentary on the genre in the US. In the voices of rappers from around the globe with divergent backgrounds of race, nationality, class and gender, the authors find a consistent rhetoric of opposition and resistance to institutional forms of repression and the construction of a cohesive, historically-based subculture capable of accommodating regional and national diversities.

CONTRIBUTORS: Roger Chamberland, Ian Condry, David Hesmondhalgh, Claire Levy, Ian Maxwell, Caspar Melville, Sarah Morelli, Mark Pennay, André J.M. Prévos, Ted Swedenburg, Jacqueline Urla and Mir Wermuth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819565020
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 01/01/2002
Series: Music/Culture Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Tony Mitchell is the author of Popular Music and Local Identity: Rock, Pop and Rap in Europe and Oceania (1996). He is Senior Lecturer in Writing and Cultural Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Postcolonial Popular Music in France
Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the 1980s and 1990s


This essay will deal first with the steps that have marked the evolution of rap music and hip-hop culture in France in the 1980s and 1990s: their arrival in France in the early 1980s, their adoption by popular artists from varied musical and social backgrounds, and, finally, their adaptation by composers and performers to French societal and popular environments. The second goal of this essay is to locate these recent musical productions within the realms of postcolonialism. I will aim not toward a well-defined or definitive system, but at several steps that may contribute to a better positioning of these productions within realms of inquiry whose practitioners (Gilroy 1993a; Potter 1995) have already mapped out interesting inroads.


    The recordings produced by rap and hip-hop artists offer materials whose quality is not always remarkable but whose contents may benefit from detailed and close analysis. These analyses may also make more evident the fact that those who consume these popular productions belong not to an undifferentiated and shapeless mass, but to a multilayered and varied patchwork of subgroups, each with its own interests (Shusterman 1992: 168-70). Richard Shusterman has usefully underlined how rap artistry leads rappers to destroy the dichotomy between original creation and borrowing through the creative recombination of bits and pieces sampled from variedand diverse sources (219-20).

    In the concluding chapter of La culture hip-hop (Bazin 1995), the author mentions three possible and complementary approaches to hip-hop culture: the empiricist approach, which underlines the new strategies, replacing the integration model with one of increased social and cultural mobility; the structural approach, which stresses the rapport between the minority groups to which the rappers belong and the prevalent societal order; and the symbolic approach, which is based upon the notions of rhythm and messianisn as leads to a new social and symbolic space (Bazin 1995: 273-74). Rap musicians and hip-hop artists who make extensive use of turntables, records, and other items of mass consumption (computers, for example) in the elaboration of their art challenge the image of the work of art by bringing these everyday objects to the fore. They also challenge the more elitist rock musical productions associated with the so-called progressive rock of the 1970s (Tucker 1982: 276). In addition, through their use of prerecorded music and by looping brief musical excerpts, rap artists have, in effect, canceled out the linearity of time and created a new "a-historical" time, a kind of "sacred time" whose characteristics resemble those of "primordial time" (Eliade 1967: 62).

    The stylistic components and musical features of French rap productions are not significantly different from those of the works created by rappers from the United States or other countries. The opposition between "high" and "popular" artistic productions may have been diminished in France in the case of graffiti, since the earliest hip-hop taggers enjoyed official recognition from French artists belonging to the French "street art" school (Bazin 1995: 168). But nothing similar happened with rap productions; neither French composers nor recognized French popular artists openly supported the earliest efforts of French and Francophone rappers. They had to develop and assemble their own musical productions. During this process they used well-known techniques such as borrowing, or uncritical and almost slavish imitation; adopting, or a relocation of the borrowed items within a cultural tradition different from the one of which they once were a part; and adapting, or an innovation or modification leading to a new substyle or subtype of productions nevertheless still recognizable as rap.


    There is a long tradition of U.S. cultural influence in France (Lalanne 1994: 48) as well as in other European countries (Mitchell 1995: 334). The 1920s and 1930s were marked by the discovery of jazz by French enthusiasts. Tunes from the United States—some brought by GIs during World War II—remained popular into the 1950s until the arrival of rock and roll, which overpowered French popular music, from Cora Vaucaire to Juliette Gréco or from Eddie Constantine and Henri Salvador to Georges Brassens or Léo Ferré during the second half of the decade (Rioux 1992: 91-139). The U.S. folk revival of the 1960s and the disco wave of the 1970s also left traces in French popular musical productions (Prévos 1991). The 1980s were marked by successive changes brought on by movements from other European countries (such as punk from Great Britain) or from the USA. Such examples include disco, hard rock, "charity music," and the like (Prévos 1987) as well as original French popular styles: nouvelle chanson, "French rock" such as that of A. Bashung, and alternative music such as that of Bérurier Noir (Prévos 1991: 190-95). French and Francophone rap (the term "French rap" as used here covers these two notions) also falls into the new musical categories that emerged during the 1980s (Prévos 1992).

    The years 1982-83 mark the first recording of French rap. On the B side of Fab Freddy's 12-inch 45 rpm, issued in New York City in 1982, there was a song in French: "Change de Beat" by B-Side, who later made a 12-inch under her own name (Dufresne 1994: 135). In 1982 a group of U.S. rappers toured Europe (with a few dates in France) and helped to introduce the style to new aficionados (Beckman and Adler 1991: 17). In October the French newspaper Libération ran a series of articles about New York rappers and their lifestyles (Thibodat 1982: 21). That same year, the French group Chagrin d'Amour recorded a long-playing album whose songs, all in French, were clearly inspired by rap techniques (Chagrin d'Amour 1982). The instant popularity of the group attracted the attention of amateurs, who even today consider Chagrin d'Amour as the first recorded example of French rap on a long-playing record.

    The unexpected success of an almost unknown group was seen as both a positive factor and a disadvantage by younger rappers primarily from the northern suburbs of Paris. They were glad to see that rap, which they knew already, was gaining acceptance. But they were disconcerted because they feared that Chagrin d'Amour's innocuous rhymes would be seen as a new norm and force them to modify their own lyrics. Other French popular artists of the early 1980s used rap techniques in their recordings but did not see themselves as the originators of a new style. The group Garçons Bouchers recorded two versions of their "Rap des Garçons Bouchers" (Garçons Bouchers 1989, 1991), the style of which is close to that of the group's other recordings, but which nevertheless features "rapped" lyrics and a sampling of French-style musette music. The French comic group Les Inconnus recorded a popular sketch in which they imitated young French bourgeois attempting to imitate French rappers (Inconnus 1991); the Paris-based African jazz recording artist Manu Dibango, well known for his recording of "Soul Makossa," also turned to rap for several recordings (Mortaigne 1991: 24).

    Nowadays the suburbs of Paris form a succession of residential neighborhoods, some of them made up of high-rise apartment buildings, a component of the government-subsidized popular housing administration. Some of these places, the northern suburbs in particular, have become hotbeds of violence, drugs, crime, and poverty. They have come to be seen as desolate neighborhoods where the antisocial, the criminally minded, the poor, and others on welfare live in semidesolation, a stereotype reminiscent of the U.S. ghetto.

    The French branch of the Zulu Nation was established in a Parisian suburb in the early 1980s by Afrika Bambaataa, who had already created several such groups in the Bronx section of New York City (Louis and Prinaz 1990: 170). Bambaataa also used this occasion to showcase his own musical performances (Silvana 1994: 82). The Zulu movement in France helped introduce both rap music and hip-hop culture to youths in the poor suburban neighborhoods of the French capital. Since 1987 the French branch of the Zulu Nation has progressively lost most of its importance; few fictional examples (and those hardly positive) of the Zulu phenomenon have been found (Collard 1989: 197-99; Thomas 1994: 126), and nowadays only a few French rappers (Les Little 1992) claim to promote the Zulus' ideals.

    It is thus clear that rap music and hip-hop culture arrived in France through borrowings and transmissions from varied sources. The first wave of French rappers included mainstream pop artists such as Chagrin d'Amour, marginal groups, and followers of Bambaataa and his teachings.


    Before considering the adoption of U.S. rap by French and Francophone popular artists, it is important to underline the fact that French popular music has had a long history of substyles focusing on puns, plays on words, and suggestive phonetic combinations. Examples from this repertoire, some dating from the late nineteenth century (the golden age of the French music-hall era), were recorded as late as the 1970s. Such is the case with "Idylle Philoménale," recorded by Yves Montand during a live show at the Paris Olympia music hall (Montand 1972). Songs whose lyrics were made up almost exclusively of alliterations, onomatopoeia, and puns were the specialty of the late Bobby Lapointe (whose complete recorded output was issued posthumously); his "Le papa du papa" provides such an example (Lapointe 1972). If these songs seldom reached the top of the French charts, they nevertheless enjoyed a respectable following. A much more popular French singer is Charles Trénet, known for his outlandish double entendre-riddled lyrics set to bouncy jazz-inspired music (Trénet 1989). Trénet, who died in 2001, is recognized today, after a singing career of more than fifty years, as a key member of the so-called classical French popular repertoire (Prévos 1991). Prose combat, MC Solaar's 1994 album (Le Guilledoux 1995: 18), clearly illustrates the continuity of this tradition, all the while adding an identifiable element of social and personal protest as well as an identifiable amount of "signifying" also inspired by African American hip-hop lyrics (Potter 1995: 18-53).

    Produced by Labelle Noir (a subdivision of the Virgin label) in 1989, the first anthology of French rap was entitled Rapattitudes — a neologism and a pun combining the name of the new music and the most noticeable characteristic of its performers, their defiant attitude. Names of groups (Assassin, New Generation MC) were inspired by U.S. names such as N.W.A. ("Niggaz with Attitude," a name that clearly announces the explicit attitudinizing of its members). The groups featured on this record clearly demonstrate that they borrowed heavily from their U.S. counterparts and models. Recordings by Suprême NTM, Pouppa Claudio and Ragga, Puppa Leslie, and Gom Jabbar show that in their introductions French MCs imitated U.S. models and, like them, included a good dose of boasting and self-aggrandizement in their rhymes, as in "Rouleurs à l'heure" by the group Saï Saï (Various artists, Rapattitudes 1989). Claims of authenticity on the part of other performers also reminded listeners that the artists saw themselves as part of a tradition adopted in its entirety without dilution or whitewashing.

    In songs and albums recorded by French rappers in the late 1980s, several artists reproduced themes encountered in U.S. and African American recordings. French rappers express opposition to the social order and to political and economic systems that have led to what they call the "oppression" of minorities (North African and French Caribbean immigrants in particular). French rappers also tell about the hardships of everyday life in the poorer suburbs, which they often characterize as "ghettos."

    Antiestablishment attitudes begin with a criticism of the most evident bodies symbolizing the system (Piot 1993: 58). There are lyrics aimed at those who do not see the deepening of a generational conflict, and there are more violent and crudely worded attacks against France, the French army, and French public servants (Suprême NTM 1991). French politicians were often presented as "legal crooks" by some performers (Gom Jabbar and Puppa Leslie 1991) or as members of a political system corrupted by money (Suprême NTM 1991). Recent scandals involving high-ranking French politicians, such as the so-called blood scandal of the late 1980s involving the Socialist Laurent Fabius and members of his cabinet when he was prime minister, and illegal phone wiretaps involving members of the judicial system investigating other well-known politicians in 1994 and 1995 for the Right appear to give credence to criticisms and accusations of corruption encountered in the lyrics of French rappers.

    An indirect critique of French society and of its normative forces (similar to the coded criticisms encountered in African American blues and some rap lyrics) is also found in the lyrics of songs dealing with the everyday life of French youth. The majority of French rappers emphasize that they live on the fringes of French society. They are kept outside because of forces within the societal mainstream (anti-Arab racism, poverty, police, etc.) or because of their own inability to correct the negative image they project. Calls for unity among performers and, indirectly, among their listeners are often found in the repertoires of French rappers. Such is the case with calls for a "nation" by IAM (IAM 1991) and Original MC (Original MC 1991) and for "peace and unity" by Lionel D. (Lionel D. 1990). The political agenda defended by the French movement SOS Racisme was also encountered indirectly in several recordings, including those by Saliha, one of the very few French female rappers (Saliha 1991). The least attractive activities of some members of the ghetto, drug dealers in particular, also attracted the wrath of French rappers.

    By the early 1990s French rappers had truly covered most of the relevant styles found in the repertoires of their U.S. models, including more commercial styles and less vulgar lyrics, originally introduced by Chagrin d'Amour (Chagrin d'Amour 1982) and by French rap artists who, like Benny B. (1992), may be seen as having been inspired by popular U.S. styles such as those of MC Hammer.

    It was also clear, even during the late 1980s, that some French rappers, in addition to their language and its stylistic or semantic inventions, were trying to inject a Gallic element into their recordings. Since most French rappers were of Arabic origin, and since their parents had fled Algeria and other North African countries because of economic hardship, they could not easily praise Africa in their songs (Phillips 1993: 45-72). In addition, Afrocentrism did not fit comfortably into their lyrics because the French extreme Right would have exhorted Arab immigrants to go back to northern Africa (Phillips 1993: 105-33) and because the rise of Arab fundamentalism in northern Africa would make it impossible for rappers to replicate their behavior in their native land. The only openly pro-black African song encountered during the late 1980s and early 1990s is "Lucy," by B-Love, in which the performer notes that the oldest skeleton found by anthropologists is that of a black African woman nicknamed Lucy who is thus "the mother of us all" (Various artists, Rapattitudes 2 1992).

    Several artists expressed views that were developed in the first half of the 1990s. Humor, which, according to the U.S. rapper Ice-T, is often present in African American rap recordings (Ice-T 1994: 103), was more evident in French productions. Some artists included puns in their titles; such was the case with "Do the Raï Thing" (original title in English), a song by IAM (IAM 1991) in which the allusions to Spike Lee's popular film and to the Algerian musical style of Khaled and others are brought together. In 1993 IAM recorded "Le retor de Malek Sultan," in which the narrator poked fun at his own desire to become a popular performer.

    The late 1980s and the early 1990s marked the end of a period of uncritical adoption of African American musical styles and repertoires by French rappers. To be sure, some continued to imitate their U.S. counterparts, while others developed either French versions of U.S. models or even invented original French popular ideologies. Three such cases are clearly identifiable today. The first two may be seen as readings or adaptations of U.S. popular ideologies; the last is truly an original invention by a French rap group.


    French social analysts have argued that, linguistically speaking, French rappers cannot elaborate upon a linguistic invention similar to that of their African American counterparts. Their dialect of choice (but seldom used exclusively), the so-called verlan, based on an inversion of the phonemes of the original French word, hampers stylistic and phonological invention owing to its heavy dependence on standard French words (Paquot 1994: 106). French and U.S. rappers both use similar musical techniques and sounds ranging from normal musical instrumental sounds to manipulations, samplings, or distortions of recorded sounds or voices. Musically, however, there is a clearer tendency among French rappers to use stylistic devices associated with reggae and raggamuffin music. In the United States there are only a handful of such artists, most of them associated with the older forms of U.S. rap, the so-called New York school (Potter 1995: 142). In France more rappers have branched out into the reggae-raggamuffin musical vein and have developed their own styles based on these Jamaican-inspired musics. One possible explanation for this particularity may be the significant percentage of French and Francophone rappers from the French-speaking Caribbean. If we are to believe U.S. musical and cultural critics, French rappers would thus have become more attuned to one of the factors in the elaboration of the rap vernacular (Potter 1995: 142). Among the most widely recognized artists in this group are Daddy Yod (Daddy Yod 1990, 1991), Saï Saï (Saï Saï 1992), and Tonton David (Tonton David 1991). Several from the southern part of France, primarily around Toulouse (Fabulous Trobadors 1995) and Marseilles (Le Guilledoux 1994: iii), have developed styles incorporating local and French regional dialects and, at times, techniques borrowed from the raggamuffin artists; such is the case with the group Massilia Sound System (Massilia Sound System 1991, 1993).

    The most characteristic adaptations have nevertheless taken place on the so-called ideological level. The popularity of the gangsta style in the United States has not spread wholesale into the repertoires of French rappers simply because armed gangs and violent drug-dealing gangs in France are still very rare (Olivier 1994: 21). Even the most vocal French rap and hip-hop artists see drive-by shootings as typically U.S. occurrences (Garnier, Olivier, and Hoimian 1994: 24). Three major tendencies in the ideologies expressed by French rappers are evident: "hardcore," "zulu," and "pharaohism." As suggested earlier, two have been inspired by U.S. models, while the third is an original creation by the French group IAM.

    In the ideological rap style known as "hardcore," the term, while it sometimes refers to a crude and noisy hip-hop style, is used as a characteristic more of the lyrics than of a particular political school of thought. French rappers who identify themselves as hardcore performers include Suprême NTM, Ministère AMER, and Assassin. Such groups do not pretend, nor do they try, to be simple replicas of U.S. groups linked to the gangsta rap style. Rather, they insist that what they see as their central mission is a continuation of rap as a vehicle to popularize and vent the anger and the frustrations of many disadvantaged or sometimes mistreated individuals, and to defend the cause of the poorest and least socially integrated segments of French society (Renault 1994: 32).

    For members of Suprême NTM, hardcore French rap and hip-hop are one of the few possible forms of revolt given to those whose words and acts have traditionally been silenced. Hence, the hardcore performers have a clear antiestablishment slant in their lyrics and a truly oppositional attitude vis-à-vis all the representatives of the establishment or the prevalent social forces. Their lyrics sometimes include words directly borrowed from the lyrics of their U.S. examples, but once again, French hardcore rappers and hip-hop artists hardly ever mention firearms or drive-by shootings. One exception, the 1993 Suprême NTM album, features a picture of a handgun on the cover because the first song of the album deals with the suicide of a young, unemployed, and lonely individual (Renault 1994: 32). The French hardcore movement has sometimes been seen as an adaptation of the African American gangsta style because both, even though they appear to be oddities in the popular-musical repertoire, enjoy a noticeable following and an enduring success.

    French hardcore performers pride themselves in their adhesion to hardcore ideology. In their song "Pour un nouveau massacre," Suprême NTM defines itself as wholeheartedly in agreement with the hardcore philosophy and the attitudes that derive from it (Suprême NTM 1993). Members of the group Assassin, in "Kique ta merde" (here one sees how English expressions are incorporated by French rappers), emphasize the fact that some critics dismissed them at first as simple imitators. They have now reached a level of popularity that allows them to be more brutal: they tell their listeners that if they do not like the song, they can always switch to another radio station (Assassin 1992). Ministère AMER, whose members also pride themselves in having clung to the values of the old style, fall squarely within the hardcore ideology. They have gone so far as to compose a song, "Brigitte (femme de flic)," about the fictional wife of a policeman who hides her amorous desires for members of the groups her husband fights (Arabs in particular) in the streets (Ministère AMER 1992, 1994).

    The importance of the French branch of the Zulu Nation declined significantly after 1987, and today only a few groups adopt a clearly pro-Zulu stance. A notable exception is Les Little. Their songs suggest possible explanations for the success of the movement and for its loss of relevancy. First there were "curious" members who wanted to discover this new movement. When the group became larger there appeared "vicious" individuals and "envious" members more attracted by financial or personal gains. In addition, the Zulu movement always had to fight for its reputation because some individuals borrowed their dress code but did not adhere to their ideals. For the members of Les Little, as the title of one of their songs makes clear, "Rap Is Worth the Price of Life" (Les Little 1992).


Excerpted from Global noise by Tony Mitchell. Copyright © 2001 by Wesleyan University Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Another Root- Hip-Hop Outside the USA, Tony Mitchell
Postcolonial Popular Music in France: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the 1980's and 1990's, Andre J.M. Prevos
Islamic Hip-Hop vs. Islamophobia: Aki Nawaz, Natacha Alas, Akhenaton, Ted Swedenburg
Urban Breakbeat Culture: Repercussions of Hip-Hop in the United Kingdom, David Hesmondhalgh & Caspar Melville
Rap in Germany: The Birth of a Genre III. Mark Pennay
Rap in Bulgaria: Between Fashion and Reality, Claire Levy
Rap in the Low Countries: Global Dichotomies on a National Scale, Mir Wermuth
"We Are All Malcolm X!" Negu Gorriak, Hip-Hop, and the Basque Political Imaginary, Jaqueline Urla
Fightin' da Faida: The Italian Posses and Hip-Hop in Italy, Tony Mitchell
A History of Japanese Hip-Hop: Street Dance, Club Scene, Pop Market, Ian Condry
"Who is a Dancing Hero?": Rap, Hip-Hop, and Dance in Korean Popular Culture, Sarah Morelli
Sydney Stylee: Hip-Hop Down Under Comin' Up, Ian Maxwell
Kia Kaha! (Be Strong!): Maori and Pacific Islander Hip-Hop in Aotearoa- New Zealand, Tony Mitchell
Rap in Canada: Bilingual and Multicultural, Roger Chamberland
Notes on Contributors

What People are Saying About This

Will Straw

"This is a fascinating study of the way in which hip-hop has flourished in innumerable contexts outside the United States. The individual studies themselves are authoritative and compelling, written by experts on each national scene. The book as a whole invites us to rethink longstanding ideas about cultural imperialism and the flow of cultural influence. As such, it should be read by those with an interest in any kind of popular music. This book will spark discussion and shape the direction of future work on popular music and cultural globalization."
Will Straw, Associate Professor and Acting Chair, Department of Art History and Communications Studies, McGill University

From the Publisher

"This is a fascinating study of the way in which hip-hop has flourished in innumerable contexts outside the United States. The individual studies themselves are authoritative and compelling, written by experts on each national scene. The book as a whole invites us to rethink longstanding ideas about cultural imperialism and the flow of cultural influence. As such, it should be read by those with an interest in any kind of popular music. This book will spark discussion and shape the direction of future work on popular music and cultural globalization."—Will Straw, Associate Professor and Acting Chair, Department of Art History and Communications Studies, McGill University

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