Contemporary French Civilization

"Marginal binaire audio / outsider et en stéréo": on the margins of French rap, 2003-2013

Contemporary French Civilization (2013), 38, (3), 255–275.

Abstract

Rap music has always expressed various degrees of confrontation, appropriation, rejection, and crossing borders. Providing outlets for expressions previously limited to the margins, it offers a large canvas against which many dimensions of identity politics can be projected. France, the world's second-largest market for rap music, is by no means an exception in this regard, as its forms of hip-hop music have grown out of inflections of the dominant African-American practice and evolved into something unique to its own cultural and historical situation. Or, rather, situations: for the central practice of borrowing, riffing, and blending often yields a music rich with confrontation between and métissage among issues of identity as they are related to race, ethnicity, and nation. By examining several recent French rap projects through the notion of the "counternation" that proposes simultaneous inclusion and exclusion, the present study considers how expressions from the margins can also be expressions of the margins: in this case, blurring the boundaries between musical genres. Some examples of recent French rap music illustrate how tensions surrounding undecidability and indeterminacy are played out, lyrically and musically, by artists who seek different degrees of resolving the tensions (or letting them linger). Ultimately, as it crosses borders - of genre, nation, and language - French rap music represents an increasingly important cultural presence throughout the world.

Le rap a toujours produit divers degrés de confrontation, d'appropriation, de rejet et de brouillage de frontières. Parce qu'il rend possible des expressions autrefois limitées aux marges, il offre une grande toile contre laquelle peuvent être projetées de nombreuses dimensions de l'identité. Deuxième marché mondial du rap, la France est loin d'être une exception à cet égard, et ses formes de musique hip-hop, d'abord issues des inflexions de la pratique dominante afro-américaine, ont évolué et sont devenues quelque chose d'unique et propre à sa situation culturelle et historique. Ou plutôt à ses situations, puisque la pratique centrale de l'emprunt et des riffs donne lieu souvent à une musique riche de confrontations et de métissages sur le plan des questions d'identité liées à l'origine ethnique et à la nation. La présente étude prend en considération plusieurs projets récents du rap français à travers la notion de "counternation" qui propose une inclusion et une exclusion simultanées, et elle s'attache à la manière dont les expressions depuis les marges peuvent aussi être des expressions à propos de ces marges: en particulier, quand les frontières entre les genres musicaux s'estompent. Quelques exemples de rap français récents illustrent la façon dont se manifestent, lyriquement et musicalement, des tensions de l'indécidabilité et de l'indétermination, chez des artistes qui cherchent des éléments différents de résolution des tensions (quitte à les laisser irrésolues). Ainsi, comme il traverse des frontières - de genre, de nation et de langue - le rap français représente une présence culturelle de plus en plus importante dans le monde entier.

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Whidden, Seth

Hilaire, Hervé