I first got the idea to search for rapping on ’80s pop records when I came across the compilation “France Chébran – French Boogie 1981-1985” in 2015. Through it, I discovered tunes – often obscure, sometimes vaguely familiar – that featured a healthy amount of rapping. The vocalists’ interpretations of ‘rapping’ varied, but compared to other collections and playlists covering this specific style (and region and period), the emphasis on rap vocals was evident. When Born Bad Records followed up with “France Chébran Volume 2” three years later, it was a déjà-vu in the best possible sense.
I began to remember random ’80s tunes with any sort of rapping that did not belong to the rap tracks I was intimately familiar with as a longtime hip-hop fan. From the obvious picks from the ’80s pop canon (the most obvious being Pet Shop Boys‘ “West End Girls”) and the rest that I discovered especially in the United Kingdom I concluded that such artefacts would not be hard to find in pop and rock music across Western, Northern and Southern Europe and North America so that we could put together an anthology of rap’s initial permeation into popular – predominantly white – music.
As it turned out, rap was not necessarily adopted by the major artists of their time (or the countless folks going with the flow of the mainstream) but in niche markets and by maverick or accidental artists. One such niche was what is retrospectively called boogie, a cluster of post-disco dancefloor tunes that could be characterized as disco going back to its roots in funk and soul. Boogie never established itself as an explicit genre in the USA, even though it originated there. A scene of boogie devotees would eventually develop in the UK, although British pop music embarked on adventures of its own during that period.
Since nowadays boogie is primarily a collector’s term, it’s not quite clear how much it was considered a brand in France at the time. According to the DUMMY website ”French boogie’ is a nebulous term used to describe a new, carefree form of music that didn’t take itself seriously. The legalisation of pirate radio in the country in 1981 allowed people to adopt a freer attitude towards what they spun on the airwaves and produced fertile ground for new sounds to take hold. French boogie emerged initially as catchy, danceable blends of American synthetic funk, plus disco, soul and old school rap, and the genre would come to herald the beginnings of French rap.’
The French music industry was open to it, and one of the reasons for that may have been that boogie began a liaison with the French version of post-war pop music, variété française. And in regards to rap stealing into individual compositions, the variété française genre might have simply been attracted by the fun a rap part could provide on a pure sonic level of a song.
Finding French pop tunes with rap was not the problem. Finding good ones was. Our list of experimental, pioneering and novelty French raps includes essential and interesting tunes, but compared to the discoveries we made in the Netherlands, Sweden or the United Kingdom, France hits the jackpot fewer times. There’s less variety and we found fewer tunes that you would call unique and fresh.
Part of the blame lies with insular French culture (and consequently the music scene), compared to the more permeable scenes in the rest of Europe who are, at least to a small degree, globally oriented. Just as an example how stubbornly self-centered the French can be, online comments on the 80 or so tunes (all containing some form of ‘rapping’) this list was selected from frequently assume that any French pop song with rap released between 1981 and 1985 tries to copy what they consider the big bang for this kind of music (presented below in the first slot). Because apparently the French invented pop rap. Or the French will only accept French/francophone cultural influences. Or something.
Au contraire, it seems the domestic music scene wasn’t just that interested in the possibilities offered by the rapping technique in regards to the topics you can rap about. Maybe we were looking in the wrong places, but the popular names that are France’s pride and joy seemingly stuck to singing. Same with celebrities who dabbled in music like Princess Stéphanie of Monaco or actress Isabelle Adjani. A hopefully somewhat comprehensible list of notable exceptions you find below.
1) Chagrin D’Amour – “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)” (1981)
‘Foreign films’ is such a cliché in US entertainment, typically involving some bonehead who is terrifyed by the prospect of having to watch a subtitled art house movie with his date. One thing however is for sure, French literature and cinema passionately negotiate every aspect of love. So when that chatty little bastard known as rap came along, guess what the French did…
Usually cited as the first record to feature rapping in French (although that was not the case, it was certainly met with the most response), “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)” by Chagrin D’Amour is the tale of a chance encounter of two lonely souls. As one online comment sums it up, the song touches on solitude, alcoholism, prostitution and free will.
“Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)” is framed by what you could mistake for a sample from an actual American rap song but seems meant to come from a radio playing nearby. While the reason for these eight English bars at the beginning and the end is unknown, they are, in the overall context of our Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop probe, a direct reference to the original rap recordings that arrived from overseas.
The core of the song is totally different, a heavy cocktail of melancholy and ennui mixed with two shots of coldness and darkness. You couldn’t necessarily tell from the slick groove and breezy singing that accompany it. Because trained musician and musical actor Grégory Ken performs with a brisk cadence and the song puts a focus on rhymes, the forlorn, slightly freezing charm of his voice and the morose lyrics don’t come crashing down with their full weight.
Writer Philippe Bourgoin, fresh off a stint as a screenwriter for a (French) film starring Jodie Foster in ’77, had moved to New York to study film. His graduation project featured a couple similar to the one portrayed in “Chacun Fait”, and while the idea for the song had been germinating for some time, the emergence of rap proved to be the catalyst, especially after Bourgoin heard The Clash‘s mixture of (punk) rock and rap on “The Magnificent Seven” (see Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop – United Kingdom (Part 1)).
The author’s American-born wife Valli played the female part, which appears intent to tell the same story from her perspective but only lasts for one verse. Another hint that the song might originally have been longer (similar to rap records at the time) are these interspersed interrogation scenes like this was all part of a criminal case. At the same time the account is interrupted by these cheeky ‘Everyone does what they like’s almost like a Greek choir commenting on what happens to the protagonists. Old school rap itself was quite imaginative, but when even ‘dust bunnies on the parquet floor’ have a small singing role in a song, it’s fair to say that “Chacun Fait” (like other songs we have presented so far) uses rap as a language, as a form of expression, to tell quite a different story than we’re used to.
Ultimately, however, it is another cross-breed from the experimental early ’80s, whether you compare it to post-punk, new-wave, or of course hip-hop. “Chacun Fait” may have been an original composition, but in terms of how it operates it is not that far removed from what the Sugarhill Gang did with “Good Times”, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five did with “Get up and Dance” or the Treacherous Three did with “Daisy Lady”. Rappin’ to the beat.
Released in November 1981 and pushed by brand-new private station Nouvelle Radio Jeunesse (NRJ), “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)” was so successful (reportedly selling three million copies across the continent), it was soon adopted in other countries and languages – in Italian it became Pino D’Angiò‘s “Una Notte Maledetta”, in Spanish Fernando Martinez‘ “Todo El Mundo Hace Lo Que Quiere”, in English Stu Stevens‘ “Cowboy in Paris” and in Flemish Waterlanders‘ “Iedereen Doet (Wat Ie Moet)” (see Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop – The Netherlands & Belgium (Part 2)).
An accidental project, Chagrin D’Amour lasted for two albums (both relatively unsuccessful), which largely deviated from the (rap) blueprint of their breakout hit. But “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)” pretty much captured lightning in a bottle. One homage noted that ‘thirty years later, it is tempting to consider this title as the manifesto of the decade of rugged individualism, the 1980s’ (and doesn’t fail to mention that ‘women fell for Grégory’s charm and studied ’80s look – white shirt, loose tie, designer stubble – and men had a crush on Valli’). Be that as it may, “Chacun Fait” is perhaps one of the best early examples of rap influencing pop, from one artform to another.
2) Gérard Vincent – “Gérard Vincent Par Gérard Vincent” (1983)
Who knew RA The Rugged Man had a French forefather who made a career out of insulting everyone with cranky rap couplets back in the early ’80s?
As legend has it, Gérard Vincent spent part of his childhood in the care of Parisian prostitutes and was institutionalized early on, spending years in reform school and prison. He was the strongman of Corsican gangster (and decorated Résistance fighter) François Marcantoni and as recently as 2003 – falsely – accused of being involved in racketeering (he wrote a book about it, at age 69). This is a guy who admits, ‘I enganged in every unlawful activity except the drug trade, not because I was against it but because it wasn’t available at the time’.
In his prime he hung out with stars such as Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo while pursuing his own artistic leanings beyond the venues where underworld and showbiz mingle. After helping organize tours for musicians like Gilbert Bécaud and Joe Dassin, he bought a recording studio in Toulouse and established label Baccara International where he released three albums of his own between ’81 and ’83.
Nobody would have gone as far as calling him a ‘rapper’ then, and not only because being a rapper was just not something anybody outside the communities that elevated rapping to an artistic level of its own envisioned as an actual artistic profession. But while Gérard Vincent is perhaps, in our growing list of non-rappers who happened to rap, the last guy to look for or to find inspiration in existing US rap recordings, this stuff comes pretty close.
We don’t use that word in vain around here, but ‘Gérard Vincent According to Gérard Vincent’ addresses ‘haters’ in the most direct fashion. The song starts as follows:
‘To all those who reproach me for always having money in my pocket
To all those who are disturbed by the charm of my broken voice
To those who are shocked by my scams and my past
To those who will censor me for fear of hearing the truth…’
As a female choir introduces him in best “What’s My Name?”/”My Name Is” fashion, his raspy voice repeats, “J’emmerde les gens, j’emmerde les gens”, which translates to ‘I’m getting on people’s nerves’ or something more rude. Whether you draw comparisons to American or French MC’s, there’s simply a massive amount of rap attitude in “Gérard Vincent Par Gérard Vincent”, which places it a lot closer to anybody who grew up with Ice Cube, Eazy-E and MC Ren or Schoolly D than your typical grouchy, middle-aged poet/songwriter. Need we mention that the police once raided his studio because they suspected him of laundering money? These days, Vincent sometimes tells his anecdotes from a bygone era of banditisme (organized crime) to an attentive audience, observers often pointing out how he “speak[s] with criminal slang” (to use a Nas quote from another bygone era).
Bottomline, “Gérard Vincent Par Gérard Vincent” is the renowned ‘I do what I want and don’t care what you think’ rhetoric presented in a rap rhythm by a guy who feels stigmatized by society as a good-for-nothing crook. We wouldn’t go as far as to claim that we’ve just discovered some proto-gangster rap from the City of Love, despite Gérard Vincent returning to the milieu after he didn’t enjoy the sudden fame he found with a fourth LP in ’85. Not to mention that “Gérard Vincent Par Gérard Vincent” is, if any comparisons have to be made, inspired by the Blaxploitation era – and finally isn’t that representative of the artist’s oeuvre. We have no testimony that this tune was inspired by some dozen imported rap records, yet it offers some circumstantial evidence for the idea that the artform of rap and the attitudes associated with it may have spread here and there à la Hundreth Monkey Theory.
3) Krootchey – “Qu’Est-Ce Qu’Il A (D’Plus Que Moi Ce Négro Là)” / “Whatazzy” (1984)
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the enigmatic Philippe Krootchey (real name Crutchet) was an indispensable part of Parisian night life, deejaying at legendary clubs Les Bains Douches and Le Palace, ‘by far the most modern DJ of his time’ in France, as one friend put it on the occasion of his untimely death in 2004. A gay rights activist of mixed heritage noted for his up-to-date comportment, his recording career began with short-lived post-disco outfit Love International. Of his three solo singles, “Qu’Est-Ce Qu’Il A (D’Plus Que Moi Ce Négro Là)” is the indisputable bijou. Roughly translating to ‘What Does This Negro Have That I Don’t Have’, the song tackles racism with humor by making Krootchey the oject of envy.
The song was also recorded in English as “Whatazzy” (‘What Has He’), visualized by a clip that is quite interesting in itself (see above). But what stands out about “Qu’Est-Ce Qu’Il A” besides the innovative song concept is the spectrum of the vocal performance (which is a consequence of the concept). The artist imitates the stunned people who wonder why the daughter brings this Krootchey guy home, why Krootchey is always in the news, etc. While no immediate companion from America comes to mind, it would be hard to deny that “Qu’Est-Ce Qu’Il A (D’Plus Que Moi Ce Négro Là)” is exactly what rap was invented for.
After a one-year residency at the Starck Club in Dallas (of all places), Philippe Krootchey returned to Paris towards the end of the ’80s, eventually joining major LGBTQ+ magazine Têtu as an art director and working for radio and music television, where he was able to show off his eclectic musical taste and flair for storytelling.
4) Elegance – “Vacances J’Oublie Tout” (1982)
Quite some time before odd rap couple M.C. Miker “G” and Deejay Sven put half the world in a collective vacation mood with “Holiday Rap” (see Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop – The Netherlands & Belgium (Part 1)), France had its own holiday rap in the summer of 1982 when Elegance celebrated escapism like only a vacation can provide it with “Vacances J’Oublie Tout” (‘Vacations Make Me Forget Everything’). The song title has become a common reference in French, an adage you can play on that has inspired cartoonists, journalists, Instagrammers, advertisers, AIDS awareness campaigners (‘On vacation I forget everything but the condom’), etc.
Nominally a trio, the rap parts on “Vacances J’Oublie Tout” were done by Marc Ricci, a former DJ who spun at Paris’ Le Palace and Saint-Tropez’ Papagayo, and possibly co-writer Patrick Bourges. Another success for Barclay/PolyGram, “Vacances” was modeled after the Chagrin D’Amour smash at the top of our list, masculine rapping paired with joyful singing, almost a musical number. Where it differs from “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)” is the complete lack of any ponderous undertones. Strictly sonically speaking, however, if there’s a category of best breezy pop rap tunes, Elegance still earn a nomination forty years later.
Despite further singles, Elegance couldn’t escape their one-hit wonder status. The group even recorded an English version called “Wanna Groove” under the name Key West in ’83 that bore little resemblance to the original. The same year, there was also an Italian version called “Vacanze” by Rete 105. The only other noteworthy addendum from our rap-centric perspective would be that Elegance member and “Vacances” composer/co-author Pierre Zito was also involved in an exclusive rap song called “Creepshow Dance” to promote the ’83 French theatrical release of ‘Creepshow’, a horror stories anthology by George A. Romero and Stephen King.
5) Interview – “Salut Les Salauds” (1982)
In a curious coincidence, two – white – American women with similar first names wound up on French records who made pioneering use of rap. One was Valli Kligerman, who played the female part in Chagrin D’Amour‘s “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)”, the other was Wallis Franken, who rapped on Interview‘s “Salut Les Salauds” (alongside a male partner going by Nicolas).
Interview, named after the Andy Warhol lifestyle magazine, was the brainchild of 19-year-old Philippe Perthus, who was looking for a singer for the project and found her via his sister Martine who worked as a stylist. Wallis Franken was signed to Ford Models when she decided to settle in Paris at age 18. She got her feet wet in the music industry with two singles in ’69 but successfully returned to the fashion world in the ’70s after becoming a mom.
And then, at age 33, the New York State-born Franken was rapping in French about being stood up by a guy. How exactly that rap part came about is not known, but “Salut Les Salauds” was the demo song labels were interested in, so that RCA let Interview record the song properly under the condition that the title be abbreviated to “Salut…!” (a ‘salaud’ is a ‘bastard’ or worse). The original version recorded in late ’81 is a completely different song, centered around bilingual rapping from Wallis set to a loose funk/new-wave groove.
At the suggestion of a Belgian producer they remodeled the song with the help of German DJ Bernie Bernthaler in a more club-friendly fashion, recorded a ‘Version Française’ and a ‘Version Anglaise’ in ’82 and exported it via a small Belgium label overseas, from where it returned and was picked up by CBS in ’83.
It wasn’t a hit on the level of the other male/female duet mentioned up top, but you can imagine it getting played in clubs, with its spirited prelude and the funky ride that ensues and the determined, structured female rapping that enters shortly after. You might even be able to see some contemporary relevance in this episode about unreliable love interests and the role phones play in the matter.
Wallis Franken was already missing from the second Interview single and would release just one (sung) solo single in ’85. She unexpectedly came into the spotlight in ’90 when her bare-bosomed appearance in Madonna‘s “Justify My Love” (the song that sampled Public Enemy‘s “Security of the First World” drums) caused the video to be banned by MTV. In contrast to the lightheartedness of “Salut Les Salauds”, its lead voice’s life came to a tragic end when she committed suicide after suffering years in an unhealthy relationship with her fashion designer husband.
6) Bandolero – “Paris Latino” (1983)
Brothers José and Carlos Perez were in a Parisian punk band before forming Bandolero at the end of the ’70s with the intent to create a musical identity of their own. Like for many of our unsung heroes of ancient rap appropriation, rap arrived at the right moment for Bandolero. Wikipedia describes their music as a mix of Latin, funk, disco and rap. Their breakout hit featured loads of the latter.
As other exhibits in our presentation, “Paris Latino” employs rap as a special device in a song concept. Rap here is used to narrate a story, or rather depict a scene. Lead vocalist José Perez describes characters who frequent a place where the local Latin community socializes. The official video for the (English) US version remixed by star DJ John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez ended in a big melee (see the clip above), in all probability because Bandolero decided to put Don Diego de la Vega BKA Zorro into their song. Plus, after all, a bandolero is a bandit.
In those days (and later as well), rap was furthermore seen as an instrument to create a party atmosphere on records. Which brings us to “Paris Latino” guest Doctor B, who in the unabridged version emerges as the event’s MC. Doctor B was voiced by early hip-hop enthusiast Gary Volet, a participant in the nascent Parisian scene, who was nicknamed Gary Gangster Beat by Afrika Bambaataa and under that name began working as a songwriter and musician, including playing bass on French hip-hop albums in the ’90s. Gary Volet can be seen performing with Bandolero in some TV footage (a screenshot is this article’s featured image, see above), but like the girl(s) singing the chorus, ‘Doctor B’ was an interchangeable figure in a band project that despite the trilingual “Paris Latino” reaching the top ten in France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland and several comeback singles until ’89 (“Conquistador” even had a global-political English rap part), wasn’t built to last. In ’83/’84 however, the future looked bright for the trio, none other than Madonna, at the time dating Jellybean, apparently helping them sign with Sire stateside.
7) Harry – “Dommage T’As Pas L’Age” (1983) / Peter Ching – “Dommage T’As Pas L’Age (Too Young)” (1984)
Since you are visiting a hip-hop publication, we are going to assume that you are familiar with the great late Prodigy. “Shook Ones”, “Hell on Earth”, “Keep it Thoro”. A certified hip-hop icon. A giant of street rap. What you may be less familiar with is Prodigy’s first gig in the music biz as a guest on teenage swingbeat group Hi-Five‘s “Too Young” from 1990. The song was included in the “Boyz N the Hood” soundtrack, but even our own review from 2010 wasn’t aware of the cameo.
The notion of someone deemed too young for something has been a motif of popular American music since at least “Too Young”, first interpreted by Nat King Cole in 1951. While this oft-covered number deals with young love, the Hi-Five song defends a kid’s right to have opinions and make decisions in fields such as politics and religion.
At no time was rap seen as a vehicle to express the opinion of children as much as in the period between 1990-1993. Still old school rap occasionally featured performers who were closer to childhood than adolescence, and while we wouldn’t go as far as postulate a thing called ‘European old school rap’, we did find Euro kids recording raps in the first half of the ’80s. We had Danny Boy in the Netherlands, we’re gonna have this kid in Germany, and in France it’s Harry and Peter (plus Stéphane, Vanessa, Smurfer Junior and Valérie Dumas, not listed here).
Harry was first in this exchange program, complaining about being excluded from the restricted audience (“Dommage T’As Pas L’Age” starts with a mock “This motion picture has been rated R” segment). He details several situations where he’s told he’s ‘too young’ before giving in to the “refrain des parents”, which – as the actual hook – goes, ‘Sorry, you’re not old enough’.
To top it off, this astonishing tune even contains a lyrical reference to the recording that is central to this list. “Chacun fait-fait-fait ce qui lui plaît-plaît-plaît”, Harry quotes Chagrin D’Amour‘s “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)”, to add that being able to do as one pleases is exactly what’s being denied to him. The next year producer Jean-Pierre Savelli found another one-off performer, Peter Ching, for an English rendition of the song. It retains the (rhyming) title and chorus and otherwise files the same complaint, without going for a literal translation. He slanders “that stupid Sesame Street” and hints at adult content he’s seen on “dad’s videos”.
The song ends with a dialogue between him and his mom. She asks him, “Peter, are you doing your homework or are you playing with that computer again?” After we learn that she has yet to get the hang of computers, the dispute ends with him telling her she’s “too old to play with computers” and should go watch something rated R on TV… Oh how the times have changed. Or have they?
8) Pierre-Edouard – “A Mon Age Déjà Fatigué” (1980)
Once the two boys who on “Dommage T’As Pas L’Age” rapped their frustrations about not growing up fast enough off their hairless chests finally reach adolescence, they just might turn into Pierre-Edouard. Poor Pierre-Edouard shows all the signs of teenage fatigue. The title is him repeating what his mom told him: “A Mon Age Déjà Fatigué” – ‘Tired Already at My Age’. He doesn’t feel like eating breakfast or making his bed, and the rest of his day is filled with expectations and impressions that strain his brain: ‘There’s so much stuff… I’m tired’. Being a teenager, he’s still looking forward to the party at night, just to watch his buddy get into a fight and the girl he’s interested in flirt with another guy. More reasons to feel weary.
Written and produced by Belgian Jay Alanski, who also worked with Plastic Bertrand (see Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop – The Netherlands & Belgium (Part 2)), Pierre-Edouard’s “A Mon Age Déjà Fatigué” (like Plastic’s “Stop Ou Encore”) predates the ‘officially’ first appearance of rap in France, Chagrin D’Amour‘s “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)”.
9) Annie Cordy – “Et Je Smurfe” (1984)
The big thing, if we’re looking at what is now called hip-hop culture as a trend that spread across the globe in the early ’80s, was not rap, it was breakdance. At least breakdance was the brand that the entertainment industry used, a term that obscures the fact that there were a variety of street dance styles that all contributed to the athletic, competitive, improvised dancing spectators got to see in public spaces, in nightclubs and on television. In France, hip-hop-style dancing was called smurfing, apparently because the ever popular Smurfs (or les Schtroumpfs in the language of their origin) were depicted breakdancing around that time while several electro/hip-hop musicians wrote songs about a dance called the Smurf (Tyrone Brunson, Spyder-D, The Smurfs and Whodini’s Jalil). In France, break was smurf and it was huge.
The kids must have hated it when 56-year-old Belgian show business veteran Annie Cordy clambered aboard the bandwagon. France’s version of Fab Five Freddy, Sidney, also came out with “Let’s Break (Smurf)” in ’84, but that was an early attempt at hip-hop, whereas Annie Cordy, a popular chanteuse and actrice, represented the entertainment establishment and francophone popular culture.
So of course “Et Je Smurfe” is pure novelty, Cordy applying all her showbiz wit to the task of keeping up with the times. She reveals that her nephews told her in order to be cool she needs to smurf. They fit her out and off she goes:
‘And I smurf, smurf, smurf
It’s as silly as an egg
When you smurf, smurf, smurf
You feel brand new
They shout at me: ‘Auntie
You’re a break machine!’
It’s like in Flashdance
‘Go ahead, auntie, dance’
And I smurf, smurf, smurf
Breathing like an ox’
10) Ettika – “Ettika” (1985)
Of all the gems hiding in Born Bad Records’ two “France Chébran” vaults, this obscure treat is perhaps the most thrilling one. To include it here is the least we can do to acknowledge, on this special occasion, the presence of Africa and the Arab world at the party we call pop music that is so often defined and dominated by the anglophone world. “France Chébran” collected several such tunes, another reason the project is such an important reminder of the earliest global reverberations of what we might call the rap revolution.
Thanks to Karim Hammou, who wrote the 2014 book ‘Une histoire du rap en France’ and runs the website Sur un son rap, we can shed some light on “Ettika”. A young teacher at a vocational training center in Rouen named Bernard Guégan initiated a school project that, at the suggestion of his students, half of which came from disadvantaged or dysfunctional backgrounds, turned into a rap song that mocked typically bureaucratic rejections to job applications.
Since a rap contest was underway somewhere, the class – about thirty girls – recorded a demo at an actual studio and submitted it. It didn’t win, but they were contacted by one of the jurors, Chagrin D’Amour’s Valli, who wanted to put it out for real, saying she connected with the girls being a stranger in France herself. They stuck to the original idea of presenting a French and an Arab version, the re-recording featuring four girls – Samira, Hafida, Djamila and Sunaï. Recorded between ’82 and ’83, the eponymous “Ettika” was finaly released sometime between ’84 and ’85 with the support of Celluloid. While demand did exist for concerts (Ettika even recorded additional material to be able to perform live), the single didn’t sell (partly because record stores simply sorted it with traditional Maghrebian music) but can now be considered a critical document of rap making its way to one of the most fertile grounds it would ever cross, the banlieue française. For the best experience, check the bilingual version also heard on “France Chébran Vol. 2”.
11) Serge Gainsbourg – “You’re Under Arrest” (1987)
The biggest name on this list, Serge Gainsbourg is one of the most important singer-songwriters in French chanson but also a divisive figure. A perennial provocateur as a performer and as a public figure, Gainsbourg is nevertheless an icon to many and one of the few personages in French pop with an international reputation.
“You’re Under Arrest” was a single off his ’87 album of the same name and it plants Gainsbourg in the Bronx hoping to meet a girl (Samantha, a staple of his songs) but getting into trouble with the police instead. What exactly goes down is not clear because he ends up getting robbed by the cops while the hook implies a more humorous version of the event with “You’re under arrest / cause you’re the best”. Some sources claim that the aforementioned Gary Gangster Beat we heard on “Paris Latino” plays the friendly cop, which we can’t rule out with certainty.
“You’re Under Arrest” doesn’t hold much interest beyond that, except that Gainsbourg, hélas, made a less than half-hearted foray into hip-hop territory with one of his last singles. The man was well traveled, but he still conjured up the cliché of the dangerous Bronx where even black policemen will attack white men (and women, the video suggests). It’s past problematic, similar to another tune from a fairly famous Frenchman, François Feldman, whose “Wally Boule Noire” (1984) is a patronizing portrait of a breakdancer that keeps repeating “N’aie pas peur, c’est un breaker” – ‘Don’t be afraid, he’s a breaker‘.
12) New Paradise f. Phil Funk (Phil Barney) – “Sophistication” (1984)
As we wind this down, we return to French boogie one more time. New Paradise were a three-girl group masterminded by producer Leo Carrier, originally called Paradise. They did not enjoy the success of similar European projects, but they turn up with some regularity when you research French dance music of the earlier ’80s. (Speaking of, you will also come across a single called “Gangster’s Paradise” in their discography. No relation whatsoever to the Stevie Wonder song that inspired Coolio‘s smash but still a cute coincidence.)
They went with the changing times, going from the cheesy “U.S.A. Disco People” to a French version of “What a Feeling” from ‘Flashdance’ to a Donna Hightower “This World Is a Mess” cover with scratched elements. The New Paradise girls also dropped the occasional rap, longtime member Tiffanie Beroy for instance trading rhymes with a certain Phil Funk on “St-Tropez, St-Tropez” in ’83. Phil Funk also guests on the New Paradise tube “Sophistication” from ’84, and he just so happens to be a key figure in mediating rap and hip-hop in the French capital.
More commonly known as Phil Barney, he had a show on unruly community radio station Carbone 14 for a couple of years that played the latest in black music. Working at a record store, he had access to the newest imports, which he introduced on the air, accompagnied by a self-rapped theme song. He also had a brief tenure on TV (RTL, nonetheless) which he used to sneak in rapped segments and he deejayed at various clubs, developing a habit of rapping over existing records. By his own account, the Jewish, Algeria-born Philippe Baranès was an all-out rap nerd, taking every opportunity to introduce it to whoever was around him. Considering himself a French rap pioneer, he says about his role in promoting rap: ‘I came to Carbone 14 to play funk and then rap came my way, so you could say I turned on the taps’, not without acknowledging Sidney as the real broker of hip-hop culture in France.
As a recording artist, Phil Barney was talked into a career as a singer, which began in ’84, yielded the hit “Un Enfant De Toi” and spans 8 albums (the most recent from 2015). But forty years later he still keeps funk and rap close to his heart.
BONUS LIST: 12 FUNKY FRESH FRENCH TUNES FROM THE ’80s FEATURING FEMALE LEADS
- Laurie Destal – “Frivole De Nuit” (1982)
- Henriette Coulouvrat – “Miam Miam Goody Goody” (1982)
- Ariane Larteguy – “Eva Tango” (1982)
- B. Marchand Family – “Rapp’ra (Allez… Vas-Y)” (1983)
- Bibi Flash – “Histoire D’1 Soir (Bye Bye Les Galères)” (1983)
- Ich – “Ma Vie Dans Un Bocal” (1983)
- Véronique et Davina – “Les Filles Canon” (1983)
- Caroline Loeb – “A Malibu” (1983)
- Zahia – “Notre Amour Sent L’Ail” (1985)
- Elli Medeiros – “Toi Mon Toit” (1986)
- Yianna Katsoulos – “Les Autres Sont Jaloux” (1986)
- Les Rita Mitsouko – “Andy” (1986)