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Playlist: Women In French Rap

Gangster or “biatch”* ?

Among the many clichés about French rap –and rap music in general- is the often heard criticism of its misogyny. And clearly, in many respects, misogyny is a part of French rap. One can think of Booba’s striking punchline “Si t’es sérieuse t’es ma meuf, sinon… t’es ma pute” (“If you’re serious, you’re my chick, if not, you’re my bitch”). Rappers, moreover, are mainly men, in France as well as in the United-States.

In American hip-hop and R’n’B there seems to be a traditional gender divide between rappers and singers, embodied by the couple Beyonce/ Jay-Z. Women are more celebrated in R’n’b or pop music than in rap. Everybody knows Rihanna; less people have heard of Rah Digga –even if Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj are some counterexamples. Of course, there are countless male R’n’B singers, but far fewer female MCs.

However, there are women who rap, and many who are truly skilled. In France, women have become more and more involved in hip-hop. Although they still often face discrimination, they are increasingly recognized by their peers –who are, most often, men. The female rapper Ladea’s, for example, recently won an MC battle against Tetris, a male rapper on the French television show “Rap Contenders.” Tetris made the unfortunate choice to focus his punchlines on his opponent’s gender, but the all-male jury chose to ignore these slights and give Ladea the victory.

However, one of the best illustration of the status of women in French rap is in La Rumeur –a French rap crew- and focus of the film De l’encre. The film tells the story of the female rapper La Gale struggling with conflicts between her aesthetic and moral integrity and the necessities of everyday life.

Here are some excerpts:

Female rappers make a twofold contribution to the genre: they lend a unique voice by taking new approaches to different subjects, and they prove that rap’s main themes are not restricted to the male perspective. They have tackled issues from political involvement, to life in their home towns (Marseille is in the heart of Keny Arkana’s songs as well as in Fonky Family’s or IAM’s songs) and violence in both music and society (as shown by both the aggressive “flow” and lyrics of Casey and La Gale).

*this specific writing form expresses the way French rappers recycle, with their own accent, the American insult “bitch”