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Echoes of 2pac and Biggie? French rap feud turns violent

© Photo: AFP

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2014-04-24

A French rap star has been charged with assault after a brawl at a Paris shop owned by a rival rapper left a young man fighting for his life in the latest chapter of an ongoing feud between two of the music genre’s biggest names.

According to witnesses, around a dozen people, among them the rapper Rohff, entered a branch of Unkut, the clothing brand owned by fellow hip hop star Booba, in the centre of Paris late on Monday afternoon.

"They asked to speak to an employee of the shop and a fight broke out,” a source close to the police investigation said.

A 19-year-old employee was seriously injured after being “kicked and punched” in the scuffle, said the source.

He was rushed unconscious to the Beaujon Hospital in Paris’s northern suburbs where at one stage he was fighting for his life, French daily “Le Figaro” reported, though he has since emerged from a coma.

Rohff was taken into custody in the early hours of Tuesday after going voluntarily with his lawyer to a police station in central Paris.

On Thursday police decided to charge the rapper with "premeditated" assault over the incident. His lawyer Francis Terquem said Rohff had admitted that he "delivered some blows" to the shop assistant but denies the attack was planned.

French rap becoming more violent?

The incident marks a violent escalation in the months-long feud between Rohff and Booba that, until now, has largely been confined to verbal attacks on social media and in song lyrics.

The only real-life altercation of note was a scuffle near Booba’s home in Miami involving Booba and another French rapper, La Fouine, who has also become involved in the feud after aligning himself with Rohff.

It is also largely unprecedented in the French hip hop scene, which has so far remained free of the kind of violent feuds that have in the past affected the genre in the US, such as the infamous rivalry between Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. in the mid 1990s.

CCTV footage of the fight between Booba and La Fouine in Miami

Olivier Cachin, an expert in French rap and hip hop, believes Monday’s violence is a result of the effect of social media networks on feuds between French rap stars.

For months, Booba, real name Élie Yaffa, and Rhoff, born Housni Mkouboi, had been trading insults on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

But on Sunday, Booba challenged Rhoff to a face-to-face confrontation, inviting his rival to find him in “Paname” – a nickname for Paris – in a post on his Instagram account.

“The verbal jousting between rappers [in France] has always existed,” Olivier Cachin, a journalist who specialises in French rap and hip hop, told FRANCE 24.

“Facebook and twitter are a magnifying glass used to add fuel to the fire. They must show their fans they are the toughest, the most authentic.”

‘Empty lyrics'

However, French music journalist Bertrand Dicale of radio station France Info believes growing violence is an inevitable result of a shift in the subject matter in the lyrics of French rappers in recent years.

While early French hip hop artists such as NTM or IAM often addressed political and social issues, this is something now absent in the lyrics of many of the current generation, he says.

“The violence comes from the stupidity of these rappers,” he says. “The problem is not the feuds, it is the emptiness of their lyrics.

“They have no political conscience, no social responsibility. These are rappers who believe only in money, in capitalism.”

More worrying could be the wider social impact such artists have on France’s poorer communities, where the genre is most popular.

“They reduce the image of neighbourhoods to one of savagery,” says Dicale.

“There is a clannish emphasis to their lyrics. ‘We must protect the interests of the clan’. It is primitive.”

France has one of the world’s biggest rap and hip hop markets, with a large number of successful homegrown artists rapping in their native tongue.

Rohff and Booba are among the genre’s most successful artists, the former having sold more than 1.4 million albums and the latter more than one million.


Date created : 2014-04-22


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