On goes the parallel universe of Anglophone and Francophone music. It's easy for most of us in the English-speaking world, even the most adventurous music nerds among us, to assume we've got the world covered, forgetting that most of the blogs, webzines, newspapers and artists we're keeping tabs on (and most of the programmes we watch on TV) tend to narrow their focus as much as we do, showing us only enough of the rest of the world to inadvertently lull us into believing they're covering the world. Thus there are Francophone-African artists who are huge in countries like DR Congo, Cameroon, Mali, France, etc. but who remain mostly unknown in the English-speaking parts of the world. Which is a bummer, since these parts of the world produce a wealth of great music and artists.
One such artist is the 32-year-old Kinshasa-born, France-based rapper called Youssoupha, described by AlMusic as "… one of the most thought-provoking, intelligent, and controversial rappers on the thriving French urban scene." His heart might be in "the streets" - his songs comment of everything from social injustice to the state of hip hop today - but he's not your average street-hustler who got lucky. The guy has a masters in Cultural Mediation and Communication.
Noir Desir, his third studio album, came out earlier this year, reached No. 3 in the French charts and was certified Gold. It's even more defiant and free-wheeling than his previous one, 2009's Sur Les Chemins du Retour, an album that stirred up controversy in France due to the lyrics of one track, a metaphorical calling out of a journalist who took it literally as a death threat sued the rapper and the Director General of EMI Music France. Youssoupha protested in an interview with French daily newspaper Le Parisien that he advocated non-violence, and was simply pointing out the the journalist's contradictions, but he probably didn't help his cause by also releasing Menace de mort (which means "Death threat" in English) with clips from various TV programs quoting the anti-immigrant sentiments expressed by media figures. Not surprisingly, the journalist won his suit in October last year, and some compensation from the rapper.
That track, a percussive number with a neo-classical loop, is one of several tracks on the new album on which he demonstrates his enthusiasm for inventive genre-hopping. There's something for everyone, here:
some aggressive dubstep on La Vie Est Belle
a bit of Bollywood on on J'ai Change
some acoustic flamenco with a rock-guitar loop on L'Amour
and the gospel-chorus-and-organ-backed Viens (the vid below isn't for the album version)
Dreamin' (featuring Indila & Skalpovich) and Histoires vraies (feat. Corneille) are the two concessions to the mainstream English-speaking / US-centric parts of the world, the latter with its reference to 2Pac and Biggie.
But the one track that will appeal to fans of old school African music and younger hip hop heads alike is the breezy rumba Les Disques de Mon Pere, on which the rapper pays respect to his heritage and collaborates with Tabu Ley Rochereau, one of the pioneers of soukous and indeed one of the most influential vocalists to emerge from DR Congo. He also happens to be Youssoupha's dad. Here's a live version for French TV:
and the original track, Pitié, by Tabu Ley Rochereau.
So my colleague and hip hop encyclopaedia Juma (responsible for africanhiphop.com) was surprised to hear this new hip hop version of Pitié (below) from Cameroonian artist Jovi's soon to be released album H.I.V. and initially took it for Youssoupha's single. It samples Tabu Ley Rochereau's original in more of less the same manner as Youssoupha, but doesn't mention the guy. See update at the end of this post.
Kicking version, though, and good vid, so props where props are due; the guy has the goods. It credits Tabu Ley Rochereau, as it should, but it still feels like it ought to play safe and credit Youssoupha too for, I don't know, inspiration, perhaps, especially since there was a bit of controversy last year over Jovi's omission of credit for US rapper Red Cafe after using the instrumental from the single Hottest in da hood on his track Don 4 Kwat. Jovi should probably have a chat with his producer or label.
Anyway, for fellow English-speaking music fans, Noir Desir is available at iTunes and Amazon.
AllMusic conclude their write-up by saying "Noir Desir might be best remembered as the most impressive French hip-hop record of the year." To these ears, they just might be right, so check it out.
We have since been informed that Jovi's sampling of Pitie was done 5 years prior to Youssoupha's, but that the video was only released this year.