RapReviews readers may be scratching their heads right now. "Flash, why would you take on reviewing a compilation rapped entirely in French? You don't even speak the language." French rap is not new to me though. I was first introduced to IAM's "Planete Mars" almost 20 years ago by trading mixtapes through the mail with a hip-hop fan I met online, and not long after that GangStarr's Guru started to collaborate with MC Solaar. My French speaking friend informed me that Solaar was considered "bubblegum rap" and sent me more tapes so that U.S. rap heads could get the "authentique" flavor of French hip-hop - I still remember names like Assassin and Supreme NTM to this day. For me the language barrier was secondary to the skills. You can listen to rap in any language and discern if the emcee is charismatic, has good breath control, can weave multiple lines of rhymes together and has a pleasant vocal tone to listen to - and the beats underneath are something of a global constant.
Back to "La Force Du Nombre" though, which as I understand it translates to "Strength in Numbers." That would certainly be an apt description of this compilation as no less than 16 different artists are represented. This is a little different than the French rap I was first introduced to though, as all of these artists specifically rep for Hip Hop Quebec, and I had never seen OR heard of this album until I visited a HMV in Montreal. In an effort to support the local scene, rappers from the Quebec province were given their own section in the store, and many of the albums were offered at a bargain price compared to their U.S. counterparts. I've long since subscribed to the belief I should support the local rap scene wherever I go - like finding Texan rap albums in Houston and San Antonio that just aren't available at home. I picked up three different CD's including this one to make sure my loonies and toonies did their part for hip-hop in Quebec and around the world.
Even though Hip Hop Quebec offers their website in French and in English that's about where the accommodation to non-French speakers ends, which I'm fine with. The liner notes of the CD are in French including the artist bios. 45 seconds into Militant's "Quand Le Mic Est On" (When the Mic's On) you can clearly hear the phrase "don't give a fuck" in English. Word? Well a pint's a pound the world around, and walking down the streets of Montreal I definitely heard French speakers cursing in English. Of course there are curse words specific to the region that prankster Canadian friends will try and trick you into saying and I won't print them herem but if they sound religious in origin trust a gringo and don't go saying them in Quebec. Anyway Militant and his friend Ale Dee (not to be confused with the similarly named early 1990's rapper) do throw in English phrases here and there, as do most rappers on the CD. You'll hear the occasional "get it" and "click click" throught, or "New World Order" and "Cash Rules Everything Around Me" on the almost self-explanatory title "Rep Ton Hood." The most surprising revelation though was a song almost 50 percent or more in Anglais - Accrophone's "C'est Sûr Qu'ça Brasse" featuring Bad News Brown:
"I'm the man, I plays the harmonica
Hittin them notes makes you sing like Monica
Plain and simple wisdom gettin straight to the point
Said I love to high so pass me the joint
Bad News, I'm turnin up like cashews
Mash you, but didn't mean to surpass you
Me and Drew, we get stupid with the X-O
Let's get the hell up outta here like them Expos"
If I'm following the liner notes, Claude Begin did the beats, and he did a good job with them - it's the kind of funky horn bopping slap groove you could hear any member of D.I.T.C. rapping to. There's plenty of good production throughout the album though. Chalmo Jazzmin laces up the marijuana ode (complete with patois chatta on the hook) "Smoke This," Mistalex gets as heavy as Mobb Deep on "Plus Qu'un Souvernir," Mash strikes a wistful whistling note of nostalgia on "Home Sweet Home" and DJ Manifest mixes Carribean influences with strong drums producing "Ginseng Pour L'esprit." It's harder to pick out a song that wasn't done well than one that was though, as HHQC clearly decided that being included on this compilation meant you had to be the best of the best. The Hotbox beat on Cobna's "Mauvaise Sequence" ends up sounding like a knockoff of an Akon track, and that's the only rebuke I can offer - and a very mild one at that. There's not a song on this CD that I didn't enjoy listening to.
For a lot of readers I expect the language barrier of "La Force Du Nombre" to be too much of an obstacle to overcome. I often have that same feeling when listening to great Australian rap albums, and in that case it's only an accent, not an entirely different language. On the other hand the adventurous in spirit may decide to sample a few tracks on Amazon and in doing so find that French-Canadian hip-hop is just like hip-hop anywhere. So long as you're doing it with passion and soul, with respect for the culture and art, and with a purposeful intent to be the best, the language you say it in really doesn't matter. I can't say I understand it all, but I can say these beats and rhymes are fresher than the produce at your local grocery store.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: December 21st, 2010