Filed under: Album Reviews
I promised a few more pieces of French hip hop earlier this month, and as a response to a request I saw over at WYDU I thought now was the right time to go continental. MC Solaar has been on the French scene since 1990 and is without a doubt the nation’s most highly acclaimed and internationally recognised hip hop artist. He has recorded six albums in the last sixteen years as well as one live album and has worked with a number of influential American figures including Guru on his ‘Jazzmatazz’ project and Missy Elliot on the single ‘All N My Grill’. Not bad for a little Parisian kid who still managed to complete his baccalauréat…
Jimmy Jay and Boom Bass of Le Funk Mob handle the majority of the production on ‘Prose Combat’ and for the most part it is excellent with a selection of indispensible cuts to boot. The opening to ‘Le Free Style d’Obsolete’ is strikingly well-produced, building slowly over 40 seconds before a drop into some heavy drums to provide a backdrop for Solaar’s charismatic flow. ‘Nouveau Western’ is moody and atmospheric taking you on a neck-snapping four minute journey and ‘Temps Mort’ features a slammin’ trumpet loop that soars over the rolling drums beneath it. The Roots also feature on the album with the track ‘I’m Doin’ Fine’ which sounds like it could have come straight off ‘Do You Want More?!’. The beat works well with Solaar’s delivery and he stands his own against The Roots’ rhyme section.
Despite the language barrier Solaar is a skilled enough MC to engage foreign listeners over the course of an album. He sounds best on the more uptempo tracks with a smooth flow that occasionally fires out some rapid multi-syllabic phrases. Even though I can’t understand what he is saying I feel like I do, which speaks for the strength of his ability: he conveys mood and tone through flow alone. His rhyme style takes in ‘wordplay, lyricism, and philosophical inquiry’ (says Wikipedia) although I’m somewhat in the dark with the exact nature of the content unfortunately. Should have taken that A Level French more seriously.
Of course, it isn’t perfect and some of the slower tracks feel a little dull, and I imagine rely more on being able to understand Solaar’s thoughts and observations of the world around him. Still, I think that this stands up with American and British releases of this era and is a shining demonstration that hip hop can work in contexts outside of the US. More French stuff to come in the future. Au revoir y’all.