Danse sensuelle du Hip Hop Français
This was written for LUMPEN magazine, out of Chicago,
and was published in their February 1998 issue!
french couldn't rock to save their Beaujolais!
Throughout the sixties, and through bootie-shaking rock 'n roll, jerk,
twist, madison, mashed potatoes, Beatles and Stones, Acid summer of
Love, Cream and Jimi,....., the french had to suffer, without realizing
it most of the time, through dubbed clones of the anglo real thing.
Johnny Hallyday (Jean Philippe Smet), Eddie Mitchell (Claude Moine),
Dick Rivers (?), Richard Anthony, and a slew of forgotten others, made
a career out of french versions of UK/US originals.
In the early 70s, Les Variations were hyped up in New York for a few
weeks, a sort of Free/Stones/BadCompany quartet that sank without a
trace. Big teen idol Michel Polnareff, for tax exile reasons, took his
chances in the US, around '75/'76, getting himself the cream of the
NY-Nashville-Memphis-LA musicians crop, released an album on Atlantic
and got to know first hand what it's like to be ignored en masse!! A
tiny ripple of amusement for Plastic Bertrand in the 79-82 period; and
even Serge Gainsbourg, a living (now dead!) god in Gallic lands, publicly
supported and extolled by the likes of David Bowie, couldn't cut America's
disinterest (of course, using Love on The Beat, a black and blue funky
number on rough sex, complete with female screams of pain and slapping
sounds wasn't really the best way to crack open the US market in the
Besides the music itself, break-dancing turned out to be the crucible,
the main entry point for rap in french ghetto life. Any american visitor
to Paris in, say, 1990, must have been surprised at the number of break-dancers
doing their thing on city streets, complete with boom boxes and sheets
of cardboard laid out on the sidewalk, eight or so years after the phenomenon
had essentially disappeared from the american urban landscape. Whereas
american modern dance companies have incorporated hip hop dance techniques
in their choreography while remaining firmly rooted in the Modern Dance
(white) tradition, France has seen an explosion of strictly hip hop
dance troupes! And needing musical material to shake it and work it,
they've provided french musicians, DJs and MCs with an outlet in which
to showcase their wares. Supply-and-demand being what it is, the twain
did meet, and hip hop dance and music production have grown exponentially,
both together and separately.
So, let's join in the division of labor. I'll break this up into two
general categories: the hard(er)core rap side, with vocals, heavy beats
and a "message", into which I'll dwell longer in a subsequent article;
and the gentler, trippier, 'sexier' (unless you like your sex rough!!)
side, closer to trip hop and the UK/japanese scene.
To them, Dimitri and Cam were hip hop, but have
now branched out into Jazz/Cocktail/Club, Dimitri creating more of a
Bossa Nova Deee-Lite, lounging Disco-samba-Latino-House sound around
all the French cultural cliches you can think of. Cliches he gleefully
transcends, exagerating them to no end: l'amour toujours, ooh la la,
Mon Dieu, c'est romantique, in a sonic environment as removed from urban
decay as Astrud Gilberto travelling on a 60s Soul Train between Rio
and Saint Tropez!
Dimitri relaxes at home! :-)
cues from A Tribe Called Quest and Pink Floyd (!), lacing that with rock
and jazz samples, Kid Loco was first to introduce sadness, profundity
and menace to instrumental hip hop. Smooth, cool and sexy, his music arrives
at the antipodes of Dimitri's, all the while using similar ingredients
This is quite a jump for Jean-Yves Prieur/Kid Loco, the founder of the hard-punk label 'Bondage'. But with panache he jumps, finding his latest "A Grand Love Story" (Yellow/EatsWest) quite punk in attitude, if definitely NOT in sound: "Punk is an attitude, sampling is a punk attitude, and the album is mainly samples", he explained.
Lazily sweet and sugared as it is, attitude has to be the only punk reference here. Marrying 60ish guitar loops, soft and semi-electric, with moments of soul-funk umph, he'll treat you next to a lovely love song where smoky-and-fragile-voiced Katrina Mitchell (The Pastels) asks to be loved "sweet, baby!", on a background of acid indo-tambura, for a psychedelic effect Donovan would have loved to sing with Rickie Lee Jones on a decidedly-90s beat!!
There are flutes dancing closely with reverb guitars, repetitive but never tedious, a woman's voice obviously enjoying her lover's ministrations, and the active percussions churn along the low-key melodies, luxuriant strings, and Fender Rhodes spicings, with great efficacy.
We're somewhere between the Haight, Marrakesh, Benares and Downtown, grooving to Bitches Brew a-la-tech, as Kid Loco lights up that big joint for proper moodage! Yes, for all the 90s i-dottings and t-crossings, right on as they are, Kid Loco is a hippy, heeding Their Satanic Majesties Requests for an Oming homage to Raja Ram! Om Shiva wickee-wickee, home boy!
No joke and precious little humor for DJ Cam. This is serious stuff,
dripping melancholy and jazzy sadness, sampling Coltrane and Miles climbing
that Elevator to the Scaffold.