Playlist: IAM, Pioneers of French Rap
IAM is not only the most famous French rap group in the world, they were one of the first groups to popularize hip-hop in France along with NTM and Mc Solaar. Even if French audiences were introduced to the genre in the early 1980s through popular American hits like “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang. Hip-hop only truly took off in France in the 1990’s. IAM’s influence was enormous throughout this decade: in 1993, their album Ombre est Lumière was an enormous success; but it was with L’école du Micro d’Argent in 1997, considered by many to be the best French hip-hop album ever produced, that the band reached its peak.
IAM originally had six members: Akhenaton, aka Chill, aka Sentenza (Philippe Fragione), Shurik’n (Geoffroy Mussard, who used to be a B-Boy and then became an MC), Kheops (Eric Mazel), Imhotep (Pascal Perez), Kephren (François Mendy) and Freeman (Malek Brahimi) who left the band in 2008.
It all began in New York with the young Chill. His family lived in Brooklyn and so did he for several years. Brooklyn was one of the centers of hip-hop music throughout the 1980s, there he met many early pioneers and brought the skills he learned from them back to France. When he came back to France, as he said in the song “La Saga” –one of the numerous songs that tells the story of the band: “Je ne possédais rien et je voulais fonder un empire/ J’ai persisté, dit des trucs vrais et ai été pisté/ J’ai insisté et le groupe IAM a existé!” (“I had nothing and I wanted to found an empire/ I’ve persisted, spoken truth and been tracked/ I’ve insisted and the band was born”). Thus was IAM founded in 1989, in Marseille.
Aesthetics & themes
IAM’s originality comes largely from the diverse influences that nourished their music. The name “IAM”, has many meanings including “Imperial Asiatic Men”. Their fascination with Ancient Egypt and Africa is apparent in titles of songs like “Libère mon imagination”, which evokes slavery as an origin for their music. Japanese and Chinese cultures also inspired many of the metaphors in songs like “L’Ecole du Micro d’Argent”: the “samurai fighting spirit” becomes a reflection of the terrible battle every wannabe-rapper has to fight in order to be truly called an MC.
Their songs also focus, like many French rappers, on socio-political issues, such as racism, social inequalities and life in the “banlieues”. Marseille, their home town, an embodiment of the “French South-East spirit”, is a recurrent subject of their music. Their biggest hit was “Je danse le mia”, which is a humorous song about typical Marseille lifestyles at the beginning of the 1990s. IAM also means “Invasion Arrivée de Mars” (Invasion from Mars)1.
Since the 1990s, they have given concerts around the world, not only in Francophone countries, but also in Egypt, Thailand and the United States. They will be back in New York this summer to launch their new album, Arts Martiens.
On June 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm, IAM will perform with Rakim in New York at Central Park SummerStage for La Fête de la musique 2013 / Make Music New York. The concert is free and open to the public, more info here.
1. Mars= diminutive for “Marseille”, with a pleasant echo to the planet Mars: one of the first album of IAM was entitled “De la planète Mars”.
1. Demain c’est loin
- 2. L’Empire du Côté Obscur
- 3. Libère mon imagination
- 4. Contrat de conscience
- 5. Je danse le MIA
- 6. La Saga
- 7. Les raisons de la colère
- 8. L'école du Micro d'argent
- 9. Le Shit Squad
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