Rap music is responsible for causing urban violence in France. Results have indicated that rap music has been linked to deviant and destructive behaviours throughout urban France. Rap music is often associated with violent behaviours amongst the French urban youth and has been seen to be influenced by the imagery of American ghettos. The popularity of hard core groups in France is influenced by several factors including being the voice of the youth in the banlieue. It has drawn attention to vital issues such as racism, discrimination and social injustice. Since its arrival in the early 1980’s, rap music in France has experienced an evergrowing success. Behind the United States, France is second in the cultural influence of its rap scene.
Empirical studies have shown the potential negative influence of rap music. Russel (1997) found that adolescents who preferred rap music were at higher risk of poor academic achievement, antisocial behaviours and substance use, than other adolescents. These studies have also shown that that the influence of rap music differs according to the genre of the music, with preference for French rap having the strongest link to violence and bad behaviour, whereas preference for hip hop and soul was linked to less deviant behaviours.
Up until the election of Francois Mitterand in 1981, the French government was the only legal entity with a right to broadcast. After his election, the law was changed and ‘free radios’ were allowed to broadcast on the FM. This allowed many new artists to emerge and have their voices and opinions heard through rap. However, the first French-language rap song had little impact in France. Nonetheless, in the late 1980’s and the 1990s, the youth of the French banlieue started becoming more aware of American hip-hop culture, with the low impact preformance of the release of the first language rap recording, many early artists copied the American style and rapped in English.
The turning point of french rap was With the success of ‘Rapattitude’ in 1990, French record companies were more encouraged to sign French rap preformers, once again increasing their power and influence. Their main influence was over the French youth, whether from the less disadvantaged environments or the banlieues. As the 1980’s went on, many of the youth from wealthy families found their cultural impact blunted by the emergence of the banlieue youth culture. At this time many French rappers emerged including ‘Mc Solaar’ and ‘Benny B’. Benny B has said his goal was to place rap in France at a high level and popularize this new musical form as a solution to the problems facing the youth. He described his group as the originators of rap in France. Solaar was one of the few black French rap artists to attract white fans and, with hip hop selling so well, it was natural that the major record companies became interested.
There are many examples of the urban violence in France influenced by the rap culture. An example of such violence occurred at a concert on July 14th in La Seyne – Sur – Mer , where Supreme NTM allegedly insulted the policemen before taking to the stage to preform their song ‘Police’. Supreme NTM claimed to be spokesmen of the suburbs, but were soon found guilty of “flagrant verbal insults to the public authorities”, the first sentence of its kind in France.
They characterized the police as a “brainless machine under justice’s order and upon which I pee”. Kool Shen and Joey Starr also requested of fans to shout ‘Nique la police’ while introducing their song ‘Police’.14 This created a big issue and concern around the violence of their songs and its influence on the youth. Although NTM have said their primary political engagement has been to express their voice rather than to create violence, they confess that they will not shy away from violent action if they feel it is a necessity, in the case of drastic means. Another example of such violence includes the 2005 riots, In these riots the youth of the banlieues were pitted against French police resulting in disatrious violence. The damage included the burning of 10,000 private vehicles, 30,000 rubbish bins, hundreds of public buildings, buses and post-office vehicles.The total cost of the urban violence amounted to over 200 million euros.
Despite the fact that there were no deaths directly caused by the uprisings, the material damage was so great that many observers called this violence the most significant protest in France since the events of May 1968. It is believed that these riots occurred as a result of incompatability between mainstream French society and recently settled immigrants. After these riots, violence in schools and patterns of discrimination continuted throughout France. In media, clichés and hyperbolic images present an unpredictable, uncontrollable, violent youth rejecting republican values of a ‘universal France’ and creating its own subculture. These riots have been interpreted by some academics as the expression of a desire for recognition in a society from which they feel excluded rather than a rejection of the French republican model.
We can also see the continued pattern of discrimination interwoven into the society of the city of Marseille, which has a large population of immigrants from Italy, Turkey and former French colonies such as North and Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of the economic crisis in the 1970’s , there was a larger increase in the unemployment rate in Marseille than the rest of the country, resulting in high numbers of immigrants of African origin who suffer poor academic preformance, drugs, unemployment and violence. The arrival of these new ethnic groups led to a view of these urban areas being places whose inhabitants often resorted to illegal activities in order to survive. This city has a stereotype of being dirty, violent and even a dangerous place, a ‘city of gangsters’. “In Marseilles, at all levels of society, people feel that their city is the victim of the French government’s favoritism for Paris”. At a time of racial and social tensions, rappers in Marseille worked hard to create a new image of Marseille at a time when rap still was very marginal.
To receive a better understanding of the extent to which rap music is responsible for causing urban violence in France, we must look at it in a broader political context. In many cases, Politicians have refused to take a good luck at the situation that the youth are facing in the suburbs. Many of the French rappers have said that if only their lyrics had been listened to, the suburban violence may not have ever occurred. ‘Instead of sleeping in the national assembly, government ministers should have listened to our albums’ (rapper Rim-K of 113, BBC news).
MP Francois Grosdidier blamed rap music for stoking the 2005 riots. “When people hear this all day long and when these words swirl round in their heads, it is no surprise that they then see red as soon as they walk past policemen or simply people who are different from them. He requested that the chart toppers 113, ministère AMER and five other rappers face legal sanctions. The new ethically diverse urban youth soon became known as a new ‘dangerous class’. The politicians believe that they have to fight back against the rap culture and violence in the urban areas, but the rappers just want their voices to be heard and opinions to be taken into account.‘il faut lutter contre les paroles aggressived de l’encontre des autorités ou insultantes pour les forces de l’ordre et les symboles de notre république. (Manuel Valls) . To this day, there is still numerous acts of violence connected to French rap occuring, French rap star MHD was arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter (“homocide volontaire”) at the age of 24 ,22 and French rapper Samat was shot and killed while sitting in his car at a McDonalds in Garges-Les-Gonesse at the age of 37 soon after being released from prison and was just beginnning to make a name for himself in the music scene.
The vast majority of the hip-hop and rap world is made up of immigrants who generally left former French colonies for France, whom soon faced tough conditions whether racial or economic. The original image of the banlieue was an area peopled by poor French migrants who had come to look for jobs in the urban environment, today the banlieue is seen as an area where immigrants live, sometimes in poor economic conditions, with a clear disdain for the French cultural, social, and economic environment.
The media also drew many comparisons with the American ghettos and emphasised the dangers of the Americanisation of French society (no go areas, drugs, gangs, etc). The lack of interest in business, fashion and cinema, makes the future of rap in France unpredictable. Based on the O.Hirschman’s trilogy (exit, voice, and loyalty) the assumption is that ‘urban violence’ in France is the voice of a minority of disenfranchised youths of Muslim and post-colonial immigrant origin, unable to emancipate themselves from marginalised spaces and insert themselves in the mainstream.