Image on the track

For three weeks now, with a few rare exceptions, France’s rappers have kept silent on their social media channels and in their tracks. They were once known for being more vitriolic and outspoken, notably in the wake of the first round of France’s 2002 presidential elections, which saw far-right figurehead Jean-Marie Le Pen come to face former president Jacques Chirac. At the time, two irreconcilable figures, Kool Shen of the rap crew NTM and Akhenaton of IAM, even came together for a joint call to vote against the Front National (FN, far-right). In the aftermath of the 2005 riots, the rapper and producer JoeyStarr and his organization Devoirs de Mémoires had also rallied together to get young people to register to vote. Then, the rapper Diam’s wrote two songs against the FN, “Marine” (2004) and “Ma France à moi” (2006).

Following the European elections, which were dominated by the far-right Rassemblement National (RN, the FN’s name since 2018) party, and after the announcement of the dissolution of the Assemblée Nationale, nothing. Barely an op-ed in a daily newspaper; a few videos from young artists, like the rapper Danyl, on Instagram, calling on young people to turn out to vote. Yet what about the heavyweights of the genre, such as Ninho, SCH, Gazo, etc.?

At 11:45 pm on Monday, July 1, 20 rappers finally broke the silence. Among them was Akhenaton, but also the prodigal artist Pit Baccardi; some leaders of the rap industry like Fianso, Soso Maness, Mac Tyer, Demi Portion; and, finally, some stars of the younger generation of rappers, like Zola, Kerchak or RK. Brought together by the producer Kore and the designer Ramdane Touhami, they recorded a 9′ 43″ track, “No pasarán,” inspired by the Spanish Republican slogan against Franco’s fascism, as well as the rap protest against the 1997 Debré immigration laws, entitled “11′ 30 contre les lois racistes” (“11′ 30 against the racist laws”). The start of the clip states “all revenues generated by the track will be donated to the Abbé Pierre Foundation,” a French charity supporting poor and homeless people. One after another, the 20 artists take turns rapping over archive footage. The tone is one of anger, the lyrics are often excessive, insulting, and, at times, misogynistic or promoting conspiracy theories – mixing together the Freemasons, the Illuminati and Benjamin Netanyahu on the same track, which risks muddying their message.

‘I prefer the outstretched hand to the outstretched arm’

“The initial idea was to speak to young people who listen to rap,” said Touhami. “With Kore, we decided we couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. We’ve got kids, and we’ve got to explain to them that the RN is dangerous. The first idea was to do two tracks, ‘Premier tour’ (“First Round”) and ‘Second tour’ (“Second Round”), but there’s too much ego in rap.” Some rappers declined the invitation, saying they weren’t interested, while others had scheduling problems. “And then, in the end, we decided we were going to counter-attack between the two rounds.”

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