When US hip-hop magazine, The Fader, dropped its new cover last July, there were more than a few readers asking, “Who’s that?” In front of a pastel violet background with their fists bumped and their hair slicked back stood PNL, two brothers from the Parisian suburbs. In only two years, the duo have released three albums, the last of which (Dans la Légende) was certified diamond after selling over 500,000 copies in France alone. After years of succeeding only in their home country, the whole world is now catching onto the dreamy cloud rap of their breakthrough hit, “Le Monde Ou Rien”.
PNL are just one example of a new generation of French artists who are drawing fresh attention to the country’s music scene with their bold experimentation and dedication to their roots. Where once French rap was seen as the true and gritty struggle sound of the suburbs, it now has a colourful new vision; packed with vibrancy, emotion, hooks, and a raft of new influences. And, more importantly, its popularity has rocketed among listeners. One Parisian MC, MHD, has gone from delivering pizzas to playing in front of 65,000 in just 18 months. And that’s before we mention stars like Marseille’s Jul and nice guy rapper Nekfeu.
One of the rising stars of this new crop is Manast LL’, who hails not from Paris or Marseille like most French stars, but from a quaint central city on the banks of the river Loire called Orléans. In the last few years, he’s crafted a niche for himself with his sensual sing-rap style and contemplative lyrics about late nights and lost loves. Last year’s single “Sookah” – which premiered on Pigeons & Planes – was Manast’s aesthetic encapsulated: a sparse and hypnagogic track that oscillated between rap and pop, romance and lust.