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Jun 13, 2024

Why Is France the #2 Market in the World for Hip-Hop? A Case Study by Kiana Fitzgerald

Journalist, podcaster, on-air commentator & writer of Ode to Hip-Hop Kiana Fitzgerald takes a retrospective look on French Hip-Hop history, exploring the second biggest market in the world.


The Foundation of Hip-Hop 

Hip-hop is a cultural art form that has become a global phenomenon since it first began to take shape in the early 1970s. The apocryphal birthday of hip-hop is August 11, 1973, the day DJ Kool Herc spun records at a Back to School Jam in the Bronx, New York. Herc played songs by funk icons like James Brown and Jimmy Castor, but instead of playing them in full, he focused on a specific section, a method that has become the stuff of legend. Using two turntables, he went about extending the heavy percussion portion of these funk records—the break—which allowed his audience to engage in what would become known as breakdancing. 

After this event, hip-hop spread throughout New York and the East Coast, becoming a dominant form of artistic expression. The first commercial hip-hop record to reach the masses was 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight” by the New Jersey-based Sugarhill Gang. Inspired by the street sessions and park jams that were the home of hip-hop’s early amorphous creations, “Rapper’s Delight” showed MCs and DJs, b-boys and b-girls, graffiti artists and beatboxers that permanence was possible. 

Born out of a community that was experiencing dire environmental conditions and plagued by socio-political issues, hip-hop was created to project these challenges to the world. While the beginning of the genre was embedded in reflecting the harsh realities of life in New York, the genre was soon adapted by other states, like California, which became the home to West Coast rap, and Atlanta, which became the mecca of Southern hip-hop. Soon after, rap music and hip-hop culture made its way to France, a region that has become the number two market in the world for the genre’s consumption. But how did this become so? 


French Hip-Hop’s Beginnings 

France was one of the first countries to embrace and adopt hip-hop’s practices and lifestyle. Starting in 1984, the country boasted a TV show called H.I.P. H.O.P., hosted by DJ/rapper/b-boy Sidney, on France’s number one channel, TF1. It wasn’t until 1988 that the U.S. would see its own hip-hop influenced TV program come to life in the form of Yo! MTV Raps, hosted by Fab 5 Freddy. H.I.P. H.O.P. lasted for a brief period, coming to a conclusion before the end of 1984, but during its run, the whole country was watching. Young b-boys and b-girls on the show danced while wearing sneakers and hip-hop style clothing, while American rap, jazz, and pop musicians were invited to the program. Everyone shared in a brand new culture, with all of these ingredients introducing hip-hop to France. 

France transitioned from observational to participatory during the U.S.’s golden era, from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. The first French rap compilation, Rapattitude, was released on May 28, 1990. It featured pioneering rap styles from Assassin, Tonton David, Saliha, Saï Saï, Dee Nasty, A.L.A.R.M.E., Suprême NTM, Daddy Yod, EJM, and New Generation MC. These collaborative, innovative efforts led to the compilation being certified gold on its release, selling over 100,000 copies. MC Solaar, who released his introspective, jazz-inflected debut album Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo in 1991, is widely known as the godfather of French hip-hop. The feature considered to be the first France/U.S. collaboration dates back to 1993 on the first solo album by the late Guru (member of the revered Brooklyn-based duo Gang Starr): Jazzmatazz Vol. 1, on the track “Le bien, le mal” with MC Solaar. 

Acts like Suprême NTM and IAM are considered bastions of the culture, and were initially influenced by U.S. acts like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. These American MCs spoke openly about racism, police brutality, and socio-economic and -political issues plaguing their communities, inspiring artists the world over to do the same. By tackling topics of oppression and suppression, and speaking on behalf of marginalized people, groups like NTM and IAM staked a flag that positioned France to become the second market for rap music behind the U.S. 

Valou Gold is the president of the Fédérap union, which seeks to link rap professionals with the institutional and political side of culture in France. Gold was among the first people to bring hip-hop culture to France, through events that date back to 1987 and featured acts like Public Enemy and KRS-One“We were a few to teach the culture,” Gold says. “But now, we’re millions.” 

At the forefront of France’s hip-hop establishment were artists who were very much influenced by U.S. rappers. The “boom bap” sound was heavily present, similar to what was happening within the music of MCs like Nas and Mobb Deep. As hip-hop spread to other regions, like the West Coast, French rappers began to be inspired by artists like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E. 

While different regions trickled into the French hip-hop sound, the East Coast remained the most dominant. MC Solaar, one of the most successful acts of the early French rap days, leaned on the aesthetics of New York boom bap. The sound of early French hip-hop, released in the 1990s, was heavily influenced by beat makers like DJ Premier, who produced for East Coast rap greats like Nas, the Notorious B.I.G., and KRS-One, as well as his own group, Gang Starr. 

In the opinion of Gold, ‘90s French hip-hop was represented by the strong schools of U.S. rap: from the East Coast to the West Coast. “Our first rappers were very, very influenced by U.S. rappers,Gold says. “So, of course the [sound] is going to be the same.” 

As far as the lyrics, there was a heavy focus on living conditions. MCs had a lot to say about what was happening around them, and the subject matter bordered on politically motivated. Artists also specifically focused on the conditions of Black and Arab citizens, who are largely underrepresented and/or misrepresented in traditional French media. 

Per Julien Cholewa, director of the hip-hop venue and cultural/expression center La Place, the mixing of the real culture of French spoken word, French language, and music, with American hip-hop is still felt today through various influences. “At the beginning of hip-hop and rap in France, we had groups like NTM, MC Solaar, IAM,” he says. “They mixed the influence between French rappers and groups like Public Enemy. This mix is the beginning of French rap history, I think. It’s carried on by tradition.” 

Oussama “Ogee” Ali Gabir, Senior A&R for BMG France, recalls listening to artists like Booba and MC Solaar regionally. Outside of France, he watched his father’s “TV box,” which had “all the channels in the world.” He became familiar with MTV’s TRL, as well as BET programming. It was his first introduction to the cultural element of hip-hop. “It was a real shock for me,Gabir says. “But in a positive way. I was really curious.” 

Bryan Countach, co-founder of Saturn Records and manager of hip-hop artist BU$HI, recalls growing up on both U.S. and French hip-hop, and seeing the melding of the two worlds happening in real time. “IAM was the first one to link up with the Wu-Tang Clan,” he says. “NTM was one of the early ones to go to New York and import that culture over here with the grills and everything. All that needs to be said and needs to be recognized. The new generation are not very keen on history, but we need to make sure that it stays there.” 

The core elements that make up the essence of hip-hop involve the following: DJs, beatboxers, breakdancers, graffiti artists, and rappers. The latter element has become the lead focus in hip-hop, as it is more about front-and-center performing and delivering an experience. Hip-hop, in its totality, is steeped in a sense of cultural belonging and togetherness. 

Per Loïc Genet, A&R of Urban Music at Play Two, the difference between French hip-hop and U.S. hip-hop comes down to the language and how French hip-hop uses language. Artists from France tend to be more descriptive and more precise in their punchlines. In the early eras, the delivery bordered on spoken word and lyrical precision, rather than elaborate flows. Thematically, the beginning stages of French hip-hop focused on attacking political issues, and presenting grievances against society. 

French MC/songwriter Vicky R explains that when hip-hop came to France, it was like rock or punk—a very underground culture with a great influence from the U.S. French hip-hop followed in the footsteps of American hip-hop, and because of this established foundation, French rappers were able to provide more context and regionally specific messages. “French rap and other urban cultures were all in the same place,” Vicky R says. “With the same aim to denounce police brutality. Every time there was a riot, there was a French rapper taking a stand and being the voice of the people.” 


Hip-Hop and French Culture 

According to Leila Bellot, the founder of Fédérap, French hip-hop creators aim to build a universe around their work. “They really create stories,” Bellot says. “There’s not only the music, but all the content around it: documentaries, movies. That adds up. Hip-hop is an art form with different disciplines.” Validé, a French television series created by Franck Gastambide, focuses on the story of a talented young MC who sees his career “validated” overnight by one of the industry’s frontrunners, who eventually becomes a rival. The program, with its dramatic storytelling and hip-hop focus, mirrors the U.S. television series Empire, created by American entertainment mogul Lee Daniels and actor/director Danny Strong. 

U.S. and French hip-hop differ in their approach to writing. “France is a country of writing culture,” Bellot says. “We have a lot of very, very good lyricists of all generations. I would say that that’s how we stand: The quality of our lyrics, the quality of our writing.” 

Cholewa agrees: “There’s a whole history of literature and writing, which goes back really far,” he says. “It influences even today’s scene.” Production is also an element of French hip-hop that sets it apart. The aural evolution of the scene has led French productions to have a quality and weight behind them. 

Since France is, historically, a country of literature, there have been many authors and writers of note in the past centuries. When hip-hop came to France, the first thing rappers did was write lyrics about protesting and racism. This led the genre to become very popular with the youth in France, who felt like they finally had artists who could speak for them. 

French rap has also absorbed other genres, like house, rock, and pop, leading to a myriad of subgenres that live under the hip-hop umbrella. When it comes to streaming, these offshoots of French rap count toward hip-hop listenership, leading to the highest numbers in music consumption. 

Mahaut Dufour, founder of the artist services agency Loom and studio manager of the music studio Artistic Palace, sees lyrics as more or less important when it comes to the ego trip subgenre. Rappers who employ ego trip styles of hip-hop rely on flamboyance and hard-hitting punchlines. “Obviously, they’re important: they make the song,” she says. “But I think it’s also about the musicality of the tracks. We have this whole background with the French touch. We have this whole thing that has been going on for years and that is really influencing what’s going on in the scene.” 

The image is key, as well. Per Dufour, you cannot talk about rap or hip-hop nowadays without thinking about the image or would-be video clips, as well as fashion, which has become a significant catalyst of French hip-hop. “Huge brands like Chanel or Louis Vuitton have a rapper on top of their creative department,” she says. “These artists get invited to do shows.” 

Vicky R agrees, pointing out that French hip-hop has become a multifaceted art form. “You can’t take apart French rap,” she says. “For example, street culture: the clothes, fashion, the art, street art. It is all a part of the big culture.” 


The focus of early French hip-hop centered on delivering a message: The main issue addressed was that of colonization and the subsequent issues that arose because of the practices that were enacted. “Being the first or second generation, it’s like a lot of people were fed up with what was going on in the outskirts of the city,” Countach says. “The fact that a lot of people were just living in poverty, and problems with the police, things of that nature. So [hip-hop] was a good way to be able to deliver a message and let the youth know that they weren’t by themselves going through those things.” 

Not only that, Countach says that when you look at all the other countries around Europe, the biggest immigration is in France due to the colonies that they had in Africa: Mali, Senegal, and numerous additional countries. “So when those kids came to France and those kids grew up, they didn’t have anything on TV in the ‘90s that a Black person could relate to. So MTV and all those [hip-hop elements], this is what really, really, really, really helped. I think people could dream.” 

Dufour agrees: “We are a country of immigration, obviously,” she says. “I think seeing people who are not one hundred percent from France, singing about traditional things, I think it makes people feel like, ‘Okay, finally there are some people who speak to me and who I can relate with.’ I think it makes a huge difference. I think really the younger generation, they can finally have people they can identify with, their skin color, the topic.” 

Similar to the transatlantic slave trade bringing a considerable African population to the U.S. over the course of hundreds of years before the 20th century, France colonized much of Africa, in addition to islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean, and other regions. Contemporarily, issues of privilege, racism, and Islamophobia, have painted a picture of the result of violent colonialism. France, despite its history, has chosen to remain colorblind and silent on its role in the lives changed by its actions. The children of colonialism are left to piece together their position in France and French history. 

Vicky R says France’s refusal to acknowledge its role in colonization has colored the output of French MCs. “We have here in France, the biggest African diaspora of Europe,” she says. “So you can hear it in French hip-hop. Rap is the number one music genre, in terms of streaming and selling, but it’s not recognized because we are in a very racist country. It’s very difficult to be recognized. France doesn’t want to be represented by its own diaspora and its own people.”  

According to Gabir, there are outside influences, but the core of French hip-hop stems from its diasporic ties. “Trap music influenced rap music in France for some artists, but we have a lot of different influences,” he says. “House music, African music, of course: West African and Central African music like Senegal, Congo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and of course North African music with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia. We can mix everything and do all music.” 

Oriana Convelbo, CEO and founder of the live agency Volta+, considers the elements of French hip-hop to boil down to “little continents.” “It means that it’s several kinds of music in the genre,” she says. “At the very beginning, very little. With time, it grows bigger and bigger and bigger. It was the same for drill, before trap, and so on. They are trying to take something from a place and do their own shit. It’s very interesting because, especially the beat makers, they are looking after and hearing a lot of things from the U.K., from the United States and from Africa, too. They are trying to do their own mix, trying to use the elements.” 

Convelbo continues: “When you are putting poor people together, it’s all about the money. Poor people all together from the same country. What they did with North African and Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan countries, when you are putting people together and they are coming from the same shit; they want to be stuck together because it’s what you are trying to do. It’s putting them all together in the same area, so they’re trying to enjoy themselves by having fun, by growing up together. It’s a distraction.” 

The New Wave (2010s to present) 

Hip-hop became a dominant genre in France in the early 2010s, most especially after 2013. Even so, the powers that be ensured that hip-hop creators did not hit their pinnacle. According to Countach, the majority of young people listen to hip-hop. This is verified by a study conducted by the Centre national de la musique’s (CNM) Department of Studies and Foresight, which indicates that rap is more popular amongst younger people. The CNM is a French public body that is responsible for the music industry, overseen by the Ministry of Culture 

Sixty percent of rap music listeners are between 15 and 34 years old. Additionally, rap is the leading genre in terms of the number of songs, as well as being the genre that generates the most amount of streams. Rap accounts for more than 45 percent of the top 10,000 songs, and 49 percent of total streams.  

“That ceiling has been blown up,” Countach says. “But still, as far as hip-hop, it’s the industry now. You see every festival has started booking hip-hop acts. Before two years ago, some festivals didn’t have probably one or two rappers. We are the ones that bring the most money, we generate the most money in the industry, and I feel that we’re still not where we need to be.” 

Genet pinpoints the mid-2010s as a pivotal time for hip-hop becoming prominent in France. “The turning point was 2015, and the post-COVID era, when the festivals and concerts came back—it was really beautiful,” he says. “Hip-hop was everywhere, in every festival, and in every big concert hall, which it was never before.” 

The rap scene is continually changing and evolving, and the generations are different in varying ways. The older generation of hip-hop listeners have a more challenging time understanding the mission of contemporary artists. They may think they’re not delivering crucial messages, but they’re just delivering the messages differently, per Countach. “You just want to hear what you want to hear,” he says. “You’re not hearing the layers, you’re not hearing little subtle messages.” 

The accessibility of the internet and the different methods of connecting with people has impacted hip-hop. Contemporarily, hip-hop is facing a different generation that is fighting a new fight, when compared to the struggles from 10 to 20 years ago. Underground or urban artists weren’t receiving record deals; now, many young artists are being signed to record deals. The world has shifted, enabling cultural stakeholders the time to catch up. 

French rappers of today are largely influenced by the MCs who preceded them, though they can be impacted by other scenes. “They talk a lot about codeine and being drunk and gangster life that they’re not even living,” Gold says. “But some of them copy Americans. The French wave, they might copy the music like drill and trap, but then transform it into a French wave with French words.” 

Per Bellot, the artist Jul is an example of originality in France. “He really created music—not lyrics—but just the music, because he’s also a producer,” she says. “He does a lot of instrumentals. He created such a special and unique genre that has led to people producing Jul-type music in Eastern Europe. Drill is from the U.K. and Chicago, so it is really not that much different from what you can hear abroad, but Jul? It’s him.” 

Gold agreed: “[Jul] really created his own sound,” she says. “The Jul sound and the Jul way of working, producing his beats. He does it very quickly, very fast. He’s not going to spend seven hours on it. He’s doing stuff very, very quick, not even mixing the track. And then he’s putting his lyrics and his voice on it. The Jul sound, the way it sounds, the way he talks. He really created it, and the whole of Eastern Europe is copying him.” In early 2024, Jul sold out two stadium shows in 30 minutes. There were 1 million people waiting in the queue to buy tickets. 


Per Gabir, a new golden era is currently taking place. “I think today we have our own sound, our own techniques, and we take the source into our culture and influences,” he says. “We created a movement called Afro Trap. It’s like a mix of African music and trap music. It was popularized by a rapper called MHD. In the first golden era, we used to really copy what was happening in the U.S. We used to copy Mobb Deep, the East Coast rap, the West Coast rap. When trap music and Dirty South music came out, we used to copy that style also. But nowadays, trap music still influences rap music in France, but we have a lot of different influences, uninhibited.” 

Another example is Drill music, which has origins in the U.K. and Chicago, and has made its way to France. In the beginning, it was a darker sound of Drill music in the U.S. or in London. But in a few months, France took the drill codes and inserted a French flavor of music with guitar chords and African influences, and they made it their own. France has every kind of rap music present. Additionally, Afrobeats has become one of the biggest genres in the world of music. “When Americans try to do Afrobeats, they don’t know how to do it because there are codes and you have to be inside of that type of music to really do it with your soul,” Gabir says. “Especially with Afrobeats mixed with hip-hop today, you have to listen to French music because we do it the right way.” 

Genet says that the importance of French rap boils down to its foundation: “It’s important to think about its roots,” he says. “Because we are the main genre, maybe we forgot a little bit, what is the purpose of hip-hop and the spirit that comes through it. It is a bit spiritual, but I think it’ll drive the music to think like this. I think we lost a little bit of the spirit. Now that we are the main culture, we lost some people in the spirit. I think to keep this level of innovation in the music, in the business, in the entertainment, we have to look back at our roots, and what is the meaning.” 

Convelbo adds: “People are trying to be the best artist in an artistic way,” she says. “They’re trying all the genres and they’re mixing and they’re trying to take some risks about how the songs are made. They’re trying. I think that is the reason why the market is becoming huge, because there are a lot of people trying and I think it’s amazing. I’m always hearing a lot of new stuff and I can tell they are trying. People need to hear more about this kind of music because it’s a smash. All these solutions are artistic and I think it’s really real. So it is becoming huge because the artists are better.” 

Per Vicky R, the more established French rappers have changed their topics to become more mainstream. In her perspective, artists are more open to discussing capitalism. “Money, fashion, cars, and everything,” she says. “There was that switch between 2005 and 2010. There are different topics, different kinds of rap—like conscious rap. When trap in the United States came to the front, one year later, we got a big, big trap wave in France. In rap culture, you basically have the mainstream version, with capitalism, things like the U.S., and then you have conscious rap with more conscientious beats or very soft rap.” 

From the mid-2010s, there was a significant shift in the content of French rap. “With trap coming into France, there was a big, big switch because there was big success, including Afro Trap,” Vicky R says. “At this time, MHD was the first French rapper to perform at Coachella.” 

Vicky R adds that 2013 was a big turning point for French rap because of the widespread use of streaming platforms like Spotify. “Since [hip-hop is] the genre of young people, of course it’s going to contribute because you’re not going to listen to old French artists on streaming platforms,” she says. “It’s more like the artists of our generation. They were the first artists to join the streaming platforms to distribute their music. And after that, the labels added the catalog of older artists.” 



According to Gold, a significant factor in helping France to become the second market is that record companies weren’t helping up-and-coming hip-hop influencers at all. “Big record companies in France didn’t really believe in rap music because for so many years they’ve been knocking at their doors, sending them demos of rappers,” she says. “They didn’t sign rappers straight away. It took a long time for rappers to get into the record companies. They signed very, very few. So that created independent labels. Since they didn’t want us, we opened our own little companies, our own labels. Of course we didn’t know how to work, but we just learned starting from the bottom, now we’re here. We just learned, and I think it’s one of the reasons that we are so successful now in the second market, because we had so many people that wanted to succeed.” 

These independent entities created their own structures, their own companies, their own labels, their own media. “It’s the other way around now,” Gold says. “Record companies, they run after independent labels, independent managers, artists—they want to sign them because we’re making a lot of money on our own.”  

Gabir adds: “It’s our way of thinking, our way of doing our own shows, our own ceremonies, our own clothes, our own way of thinking.”  

When it comes to French hip-hop, MCs from the suburbs tend to be the individuals that influence the rest of the industry. “We’re the ones that are making the new language, the new slang all the time,” Countach says. “We’re the ones that dictate how a certain community in the cities has to dress. The influence is huge. We are the ones that make the waves. People want to dress like us, people want to talk like us, people want to sound like us. People want to have the same music as us. So we dictate that market.” 

Cultural Acceptance 

Cultural acceptance of hip-hop in France is complicated. Dufour contends that despite hip-hop’s ascension, the culture of the country is still catching up. “Hip-hop is pop in the way that it doesn’t need to excuse itself to be there anymore,” she says. “Still, obviously, there are people who are not happy with rap music. France still has a very old-school, racist view. There are still people who are not really happy with that. It’s on every radio, but still, some award shows are not really a good mirror of that. So it’s still a process.” 

Cholewa elaborates: “It’s very difficult in France, because hip-hop is very popular,” he says. “It’s very large and we have a lot of different scenes. I think it’s the same in the U.S. They listen to rap. And for many young artists, the link between hip-hop and the music they produce now, it’s not very obvious.” In the French opinion, to accept hip-hop artists that come from the culture is always subject. Hip-hop culture is a part of modern French culture. But the hip-hop industry still has an element of not being completely intertwined, when it comes to the establishment and rappers, hip-hop culture, French companies and structure. This perhaps goes back to a question of colonization in France. 

Countach adds: “Public opinion, young people, and a lot of people love hip-hop,” he says. “But when you talk about people in the industry that are actually there to make the decisions, to be gatekeepers, it’s a gatekeeping situation that we have in the French music industry. Just an example, we nearly don’t have anybody that’s come from the outskirts of Paris, or you come from a certain inner city or a tough city that has made a hundred million, yet we don’t have those positive stories here. This is what we are lacking.” 

“This is the reality,” Countach continues. “This is what we are fighting. Drake can come here and go see the president. We could sell 50 million records. If the president sees us, we are probably lucky. When Jay-Z comes, there’s a red carpet. When Jay-Z leaves, the red carpet is gone. How come in France we are not searching for the next Virgil Abloh, but a French version? In your own country? Create something, a storyline that will be positive. Why are we not doing this? No disrespect, I love Pharrell. But if you don’t allow those kids to dream, you’ll never see any positivity coming out of anything—because you don’t allow the kids to dream.” 


Women in French Hip-Hop 

When it comes to women in French hip-hop, there was one female megastar in France: Diam’s. She broke sales records, and won numerous awards, not only in the scope of female artists but for all rap music in France. She has since retired for religious convictions, but her accomplishments were so astronomical that every label and audience wants the new Diam’s. Per Gabir, “We have to accept that there will always be one Diam’s. We have to make room for new female rappers and new female artists.” 

Genet concurs: “For women artists, it’s so difficult,” he says. “We had Diam’s 20 years ago, and now if you are a French woman rapper, you have to look like her. You are always compared to her. But there are many, many rappers and why always her? It’s still difficult for people to hear French rap out of a woman’s mouth. So we have to make progress on it. There are more goals than before, but it’s more difficult. They can coexist, but it’s really hard for them to blow.” 

Per Convelbo, women are in a difficult situation in French rap. “I think it’s very tough,” she says. “And it’s very tough to try to understand that a lot of times women, we were put aside. And men took a lot of advantage and took a lot of fame and a lot of trying to say that it’s about them. But we are more focused than ever. And when I think about several of my sisters in the industry, I’m like, they’re doing so well. They’re pushing boundaries, they’re trying. And it’s beautiful.” 

Vicky R acknowledges the accomplishments of her predecessor Diam’s. “She’s the number one person and has been,” she says. “She was the biggest name, the first rapper with a big mainstream following. She was very, very talented. She deserves it. But right now, it’s complicated because when you are a female rapper in France, she’s still here. She’s still here. She’s not here anymore for 20 years. So let us do our music. Give us a chance. Just give us a chance because we are young, welcoming with different genres, different styles of music. I’m a beat maker too, so I have a different vision of music and it’s not the same. So just give us a chance. Her shadow is still there, over every female rapper even 20 years after.”  

“Rap is a big party with everybody in it and people don’t want to invite the girls,” Vicky R’s manager Sephora says. “It’s like a very male-only party. It’s like when you are a girl, it’s very complicated to get recognition, even with the media.” In 2020, Vicky R was in a documentary called Reines with other women rappers. It was not discussed amongst rap media, nor was her song featured on the soundtrack, “AHOO,” immediately added to streaming services by the documentarians. Consequently, Vicky R discussed the double standard on social media, starting a controversial conversation. This eventually caused Diam’s to weigh in with her support. 

Vicky R remains steadfast in her view that the challenging nature of the industry has the potential to suppress the involvement of women artists. “With all the intersectionality that we have as women in the industry, it’s even difficult just to be in the industry as a human being,” she says, “To be in the music industry is very difficult. When you add the fact that you are an ‘urban’ artist, it’s even more difficult. When you add that you’re a person of color, it is even more difficult. And when you add the last thing, that you are a female, it’s even more difficult. The glass ceiling is here—it is right here. We can feel it every day. But it’s like, okay, we can touch it. It’s here.”  

The Impact of Social Media 

Social media has significantly altered the trajectory of French hip-hop. Because of apps like Instagram and TikTok, and online platforms like YouTube, artists are able to find their audience not only in France, but across the globe. “Labels, A&Rs, and project managers, they will always be like, ‘Social media, social media, social media, social media, TikTok, TikTok, TikTok,’” Dufour says. “So obviously, it makes a whole difference.” Since the popularization of these applications, many artists “pop” or become well known within the industry seemingly overnight, thanks to a particular song, sound, or dance trend going viral.  

Per Gabir, social media has become a tool that is readily at the disposal of artists. “Every era has its own tool,” he says. “Every two or three years, you have one social media that is bigger than the other to promote music. It’s a tool for artists and a way of discovering new music for the audience—how could it be bad? We are in the TikTok era, and for me it’s a wonderful tool because I use it for my work as an A&R to discover new talents, and artists can use it to make trends about their music.” 

While social media can be largely beneficial to artists, Gabir does acknowledge that there are some drawbacks. “The only thing that I regret is that for some artists, they don’t convert from the TikTok trend to a real listener for all the music,” he says. “But I guess in some eras, you had one-hit wonders. I think it’s the modern one-hit wonder, when you have one success on TikTok and then that’s it. But it’s a wonderful tool for artists and the audience. We don’t have to be afraid of it.”  

Looking at it from another perspective, Dufour sees caveats to the platforms: “I think the downside is for their mental health,” she says. “I think it’s hard, because to be an artist, a rapper, or a producer nowadays, you cannot only focus on just doing music and build an image just for your video clips. You need to be a content producer all the time, and for some of them it’s just too much and it’s really not what they like to do.” 

According to Genet, social media has sped up the evolution of hip-hop in the last 20 years. “That’s why we are the biggest genre now, because the youngest people are always right, and the youngest people are always on social media,” he says. “This is one of the biggest things in the culture of hip-hop—not the biggest, because this is not the essence, but this is the way to communicate, to get your music listened to. So this is fundamental.” 

Convelbo agrees: “Social media is doing everything now,” she says. “Because back in the days, I think the good musicians were like the best kept secret. And then it’s like, okay, I have the best kept secret, but I’m going to tell you and you’re going to tell other people, etc. And for me, it’s like you cannot control everything. So I’m trying to help some careers and some of them did everything with social media. I can say that for Freeze Corleone, he did everything with Twitter. No marketing campaign, no promo, no gigs, nothing. But when he released his album LMF, it was a smash. I think it’s because the audience are super, super, super fans, and super involved in the success of their artists.” 

Additional artists that Convelbo has worked with, Merveille and Yamê, have also seen their careers boosted by social media. Yamê’s performance of “Bécane” on the popular YouTube program Colors went viral on TikTok months after it was released; the original video stands at 71 million views at the time of this writing. Merveille, at age 16, has already connected strongly with an audience online, leading to a buzz that ultimately placed her on the 2024 Les Flammes award show stage, as both a performer and an award recipient for la Flamme de la révélation féminine de l’année. 


Award Show Recognition 

The Victoires de la Musique is a longstanding cultural institution, comparable to the Grammys in the U.S. It’s an annual French award ceremony where the Ministry of Culture recognizes outstanding achievements in the music industry with the Victoire accolade. Historically, Black and brown musicians are not awarded nor highlighted as noteworthy artists at the Victoires de la Musique. “It’s closed for POC people,” Sephora says. “It’s very closed. Aya Nakamura, even if she’s doing pop-zouk, she’s in the urban category, just because she’s Black. When you are a POC person in French music, you are ‘urban,’ no matter what kind of music you do.” 

Les Flammes, a French award show that honors hip-hop, R&B, and Afro music, celebrated its second iteration of the ceremony in April of 2024. The program was organized by two media companies, Booska-P and Yard, to highlight the diversity in popular music. The CNM has a hand in rap’s increasing visibility, thanks to partnerships with events like the Les Flammes awards ceremony, as well as supporting and integrating rap into its audiences through various funding programs. 

Convelbo says efforts like Les Flammes are crucial to the hip-hop scene. “It’s very, very important to have our own media,” she says. “It’s very important to have our own merit ceremony. It’s very exhausting because you have to fight all the time to explain the genre, to explain that people are very, very smart. That people are joyful. It’s a fight.”  

Dufour offers a different perspective: “Some people, even from the rap scene, were not really pro-Les Flammes because they felt like we’re just even more aside, and then we’re just not accepted as a main genre,” she says. “Rap is the new pop in France, to be fair. So you should just embrace it. There were a lot of debates because it was the same kind of system that makes the Victoires de la Musique not representative of the scene. It was kind of the same mechanism that was used to do the selection of the artists the first year at Les Flammes. So we’re a bit like, okay, you’re just reproducing a model that doesn’t work. For instance, it was mainly mainstream rap. What about indie French/Parisian rappers? This year, they’ve done a better job.”  

Gabir says Les Flammes, even in its early stages, is a positive outlet for Black and brown creatives in the music industry. “For many years, we were waiting for recognition from Victoires de la Musique,” he says. “And one year, it was the biggest insult because they did the big show on a main channel, and on a really small channel, they did the urban one. They really split both. Even today when they vote, rap is the biggest genre, but the French traditional songs always win over rap. So we decided to do our own awards to say, ‘Okay, you don’t want us, we will do ours.’” 

Genet confirms that despite rap’s outsized presence in the overall industry, the acknowledgment from well-established cultural institutions is minimal. “It’s a true lack of hip-hop representation,” he says. “Now, there is Les Flammes. Years before, there was only one award for everybody in the hip-hop genre at Victoires de la Musique. And every time, the white guy wins. There are many things to change, but in two or three years, things are getting better. We have to do more to present all the things that are not seen, like unions, etc. But they’re really, really important. In France, it’s different than in the U.S. In the U.S., you make money, everybody is looking at you. In France, you make millions and millions, if you are not from the right circle, nobody considers you. That’s the difference in the French spirit. Slowly, but surely, we are getting there.”  



Various societal pain points impact the French hip-hop audience that is looking to music for respite. “There are a lot of people that are oppressed in France,” Gold says. “I have to tell you that. That’s a point we have to say. There’s a lot of racism in France. Racism, police brutality, all of these things we have. Just like in the States. But for the U.S., France is the country of freedom of opportunities for Black people. No, that’s not true.” 

Convelbo believes that despite hip-hop’s overwhelming popularity in France, it’s still not established. “I think it’s not established because there is a strong racism, very, very much stuck in the roots,” she says. “And that’s a problem for me. The genre is not established because it’s about systemic racism. Hip-hop comes from nowhere. It comes from brown people and people from the suburbs. I think it’s not established, and I am not sure it will be. I hope so, but I’m not sure about that because I think it’s a need of many things that we cannot have now, to see people really together. I’m afraid it’s not going to happen for a long time.” 

Convelbo says there is an unfavorable opinion about hip-hop in France, because of factors like media institutions having biases. “It’s because of the media,” she says. “I’m working with a lot of artists, and they do not want to use the media, to talk with the media, because of contempt. I think it’s a problem.” 

Similarly, Gabir shares that there is a fundamental lack of understanding from the media. “Even TV is not the big thing today,” he says. “When French rappers go to TV, they still do it the old-school way. Like, ‘Okay, you’re rappers. We will give you the last part of the show when everyone’s asleep.’ Or, ‘We will give you cliché questions. Okay, you grew up in the hood; okay, your father left when you were a young; okay, you went to prison.’ That kind of question. We still have some clichés in the big media outlets.”  

According to Bellot, the political side of the industry can also be an obstacle. “I feel like rap music is very creative,” Bellot says. “It’s very strong, it is very clever to manage a business, to make money out of music. But what they did less is take on political responsibilities. And that’s what we’re trying to do [with Fédérap]: put some rap professionals or rap artists into those institutions so they can have power and make decisions that will impact their genre.” 

Bellot is attempting to get members of Fédérap to better understand the political institutions and their influence. “The institutions and the other unions have a lot of power because they have been there for decades and decades,” she says. “Rap music has never been listened to in the political systems. There are a lot of rules that do not fit the reality of rap music. In France, politics can be very participative, but you have to be involved and it takes time. You have to fight for it. It’s like a fight for your rights. But in the music industry, because there’s a lot of people, everyone wants the biggest slice of the cake. So we see it as we want to have a slice. We have the biggest slice in the economy; now, we just want a small slice in politics. Because having a business, even in art, there’s a lot of rules.”  

The impact of the internet and the proliferation of social media apps have changed the way artists are able to enter the industry. “Even to note their own rights,” Bellot says. “The collective societies, they gather money for you. But you have to make some declarations. It’s an administrative process and not everyone is aware of it because there’s a lot of rappers, they just start rapping. And now, with social media, there’s superstars in weeks. Their friends are managing them and they don’t know the business because they just popped in two seconds. So we try to give them the tools so they can better understand the industry, which is very complicated.” 


Key Industry Players and Artists  

According to a study that focused on rap in the French music ecosystem, conducted by the CNM’s Department of Studies and Foresight, the top 10 most-streamed artists in France in 2022 are as follows: 


  • Jul, 1.4 billion streams 
  • Ninho, 1.3 billion 
  • PNL, 839 million 
  • Djadja & Dinaz, 595 million 
  • Damso, 595 million 
  • Orelsan, 553 million 
  • Gazo, 483 million 
  • Lomepal, 409 million 
  • Naps, 318 million 
  • SCH, 315 million 


Additionally, the study looked at the ranking of women artists in French hip-hop, also utilizing data from 2022: 

  • Diam’s, 54 million 
  • Shay, 46 million 
  • Laeti, 21 million 
  • Bianca Costa, Chilla, DAVINHOR, Le Juiice, Vicky R (collaboration), 5 million 
  • Chilla, 3.2 million 


Per a CNM Research and Forecasting Department report reflecting on 2023 export certifications, rap music was the genre with the most export-certified titles (33 percent), followed by dance-electro (24 percent), variété-pop (15 percent), and Afro music (14 percent). Even as other genres continue to grow and flourish in listenership, rap music remains at the top of the certifications, led by artists such as Hamza, SCH, and Zeg P, whose gold single “Fade Up” ruled the summer of 2022. Additionally, Ninho is present on 18 certifications, and Jul and PNL have both certified albums and singles. 

As mentioned previously, the pioneering acts of French hip-hop consist of solo artists like MC Solaar, and groups like Suprême NTM and IAM. That recognition expands out to include innovative acts such as Assassin, Les Sages Poètes De La Rue, Lionel D, DJ and producer Dee Nasty, Ministère A.M.E.R., and Idéal J 

From these acts come newer artists of varying approaches, like Freeze Corleone, Yamê, Tuerie, Luidji, TIF, Jewel Usain, MHD, Shay, Dinos, PLK, Dadju, Jungeli, Werenoi, Josman, and Prince Waly. 

On the executive end, Pauline Duarte, a promising leader in the industry, was the first Black woman to manage a record label in France. She is now vice president of Columbia France at Sony Music Entertainment France, a role that has caught the attention of many within hip-hop and the overall music landscape.


When hip-hop emerged in the early 1970s, the genre was considered to be an art form that was exclusive to the region in which it was created: New York. As time progressed, hip-hop found itself growing, evolving, and transforming, eventually making its way to France, where it has planted roots that have been tended to over the past few decades. This careful cultivation has led to France’s domination in hip-hop, as the second-largest market for the genre worldwide. This global recognition shines a spotlight on hip-hop’s universal appeal, and its capacity to resonate with diverse audiences worldwide.  

France’s cultural diversity, due to colonization and immigration, has brought forth different artistic ways of expression, and dynamic, innovative methods of fighting against socio-political issues. Early French hip-hop artists tended to focus on delivering powerful messages about the aftermath of colonization and the issues that impact the affected communities, particularly poverty, racism, and police brutality.  

Hip-hop has given French artists a megaphone to share their grievances and frustrations with the powers that be. By being vulnerable and sharing their reactions to economic disparities and a dearth of resources in their communities, these artists have given marginalized communities a voice. Despite hip-hop being the most popular genre in France, it still struggles for recognition due to systemic racism. Overall, hip-hop has become an essential vehicle for advocating for social change.  

France proved to be fertile ground for hip-hop, due in large part to artists’ ability to reflect the experiences of marginalized communities—particularly, those of immigrant backgrounds. In addition to providing a platform for people to express their struggles, identities, and aspirations, hip-hop has become a long-lasting and continually evolving point of culture in French society.  

The appeal of French hip-hop lies in its diverse influences: artists regularly incorporate elements from music genres from around the globe, particularly from Africa. This blend of cultural influences has led to a rich, varied sound, which is even further experimented through subgenres like trap, which originated in Atlanta, and drill, which can be traced back to both the U.K. and Chicago. 

French hip-hop is even further solidified as a prominent genre because of its ties to street culture, encompassing fashion, street art, and more. Because of its inextricable ties to the life of France, hip-hop has become deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of the country. 

French hip-hop is also distinguished by the quality of the artists’ lyrics. This attention to lyrical detail is directly influenced by France’s rich literary history.  

Over the past 10 years, French hip-hop has become increasingly more popular, leading to its current status as the most dominant genre in the country. Streaming services, social media, and other digital innovations have affected the genre and the way artists are able to connect to their fans. Post-COVID, more rappers have been added to festival line-ups and concerts, reflecting a surge in interest that developed during the pandemic.  

While hip-hop no longer needs to justify its presence and is widely listened to, there are still elements of resistance, particularly from older and more conservative sections of society. 


About the author

Kiana Fitzgerald likes to do a lot of things, but most of her time is spent with music. She specializes in analyzing the art form as a journalist, podcaster, and on-air commentator. Additionally, she’s a cultural critic and a champion of Black culture. She moonlights as a personal essayist and DJ.

Kiana’s debut book, Ode to Hip-Hop: 50 Albums That Define 50 Years of Trailblazing Music, is out now via Running Press.

Most notably, Kiana has written viral cover stories for Paper Magazine (Megan Thee Stallion) and New York Magazine’s The Cut (Chika). Her work has been printed in Rolling Stone, Texas Monthly, Stranger’s Guide, Houstonia Magazine, and Bitch Magazine. She has also produced highly circulated pieces for NPR, Vibe Magazine, Billboard, Mic, Vox, NYLON Magazine, The FADER, Brooklyn Magazine, Okayplayer, REVOLT, Saint Heron, Uproxx, and other publications. You can read much of it here.

On top of her writing endeavors, Kiana is a mental health advocate on TikTok where she has built a community of 20,000+ supporters.

Kiana earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism with summa cum laude honors from Texas State University in 2011, and a master’s in new media in mass communication in 2013, also from Texas State, with summa cum laude honors.
Aside from the above, Kiana has worked as a social media strategist, editorial producer, office receptionist, and web developer.

To get in touch with her for commissions or submissions, visit the Info page.

Discover a selection of made in France titles curated by Kiana Fitzgerald :


A made in France selection by Kiana Fitzgerald

Discover a selection of made in France titles curated by US journalist Kiana Fitzgerald Listen now