France: New onslaught against French rappers

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France:
New onslaught against rappers

The French government has reacted to the rioting in France’s poorest neighbourhoods by measures that include a clampdown on French rappers. An attitude that harbours on state censorship of one of the few outlets for the youth to articulate their realities, writes Daniel Brown in his Mondomix editorial of December 2005

     “France is a country full of cops
     At every corner there are a 100
     They murder with impunity.”

     “A cursed ghetto in the forbidden zone
     An army of cops marked by hatred
     The youth are unleashed
     We’ve got nothing to lose
     Burning cars
     Zones up in flames
     …We’re going party tonight.”

     “The French don’t even have an ass anymore!
     …This country disgusts me
     But there’s no way I can become English
     Or Swiss, or asshole or insect.”

     “I love (the police) but only when they are stiffs (corpses)”

No, these are not the words of French rappers currently being accused of fomenting the worst rioting France has known since May 1968. They were composed by Renaud, Les Béruriers Noirs (in 1985!), Léo Ferré and Georges Brassens, respectively: four venerable and venerated French anarchists or groups who have dominated mainstream and alternative music here for decades. Yet they never were threatened with prosecution and censorship like the half-dozen rap groups that are currently in the line of fire of France’s hard right.

The call by 153 Parliamentarians and 49 Senators for prosecution of the rappers reflects a growing climate of intolerance and bigotry that has gripped the ruling UMP coalition. Since the November days that saw many of the 750 “cités” or ghettoes erupt in largely spontaneous violence the conservatives led by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy have targeted polygamy, clandestine immigration, mixed marriages, history lessons on French colonialism and now rap music as inciting the riots.

The anti-rap allegations reek of populism and political opportunism. What is worrying is that such a large number of politicians, spearheaded by Daniel Mach and especially Didier Grosdidier, have found so much support within the National Assembly. Justice Minister Pascal Clément has agreed to investigate possible prosecution of Smala, 113, Ministère Amer, Lunatic, Fabe, Salif and Monsieur R. They will be investigated for “anti-white” racism and “hatred of France”.

Ludicrously, Ministère Amer split up in 1995, Lunatic disbanded in 2002 while DJ Fab retired five years ago. That was the year 113 released the songs that are today the source of so much ire. Nothing was intimated then and the album on which they featured bagged two prestigious and very-official Victoires de la Musique awards (France’s equivalent of the Grammy’s).

The threat to the rappers are real indeed. One hip hopper, Monsieur R. (real name Richard Makela) is being prosecuted for “outrage to public decency” by Melun MP Daniel Mach. The UMP politician stated: “You cannot hide behind the freedom of speech. Maybe Dutroux (the notorious Belgian pedophile.Ed) read too much Sade and Hitler too much Céline…” The date of trial is set for February 6th, 2006, and the rapper faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine. In a Le Monde article he defended the venom of his lyrics by saying he “uses virulent terms to avoid the explosion of violence in the cités.” Makela denounced the campaign as a witch-hunt. His video clips have been banned from television, but the FNAC chain store made the CD one of its records of the month.

For the moment, French judges seem somewhat hesitant to follow prosecution calls for sanctions. On June 15th 2005 the Rouen courts threw out charges against Sniper for racist and anti-semitic language. On December 17th 2004, La Rumeur successfully defended themselves against accusations of inciting violence against the police. The state is appealing the decision with Sarkozy personally following the affair.

In the face of the political onslaught, the rappers have not stood by idly. For a couple of decades they have been warning anyone willing to listen about the dangers of forgetting France’s ghetto-dwellers. * Kery James and 113 have are part of a collective bringing out an album called “Pour rien”. They will be donating all proceeds to the families of Ziad and Bouna, the two adolescents whose death on October 27th sparked off the rioting.

Few are disputing the inflammatory terms used by the rappers. But the violence of the texts have always been there, and they are chronicles of the social realities the rappers live in. “They are merely sublimating their anger through poetry,” explains Christian Bethune, philosopher and the author of “Pour une esthétique du rap” (Klinchsieck Editions) . “This poetry has a symbolic form…If you cut them off from such oral forms of expression, I don’t know what will happen.” (Interview with the Swiss publication “Le Temps, November 28th).

The economic, social and political reasons behind the riots are being eschewed as the state wastes its time on prosecutions they are unlikely to win. It is hard to imagine a court sentencing the rappers and ignoring similar lyrics by the likes of Brassens, Ferré and Renaud. “Rap is part of our cultural expression,” admits opposition MP Jean-Marc Ayrault. “It has a right to live.” That’s the polite way to put it. Rap duo Tandem put it slightly differently: “I’ll fuck France until it loves me,” they sing.


* See the chapter “Rap and censorship in France”, D. Brown, in “Shoot the singer!” Zed Books 2004. Daniel Brown


This article was Mondomix’s editorial in December 2005: 
‘New onslaught against French rappers’

Published by Freemuse with permission from Mondomix and the author 

Rap music resources

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
‘French hip hop’

Los Angeles Times – 27 November 2005: 
‘Can’t fight this power’

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