Rising French rap star MHD charged with murder over deadly gang brawl

Paris (AFP) –


French rapper MHD, who shot to fame with a catchy blend of west African music and southern US-style hip-hop, has been charged with murder over a brawl that led to a youth's death, in the latest case to rock the French rap scene.

The 24-year-old Parisian, who rose from delivering pizzas to become one of the hottest new rap talents in just three years, denies any involvement in the death of the 23-year-old man, who was stabbed and beaten on July 6.

A police source described the fight involving around a dozen youths as a "settling of scores" between gangs from Paris' 19th district, where Sylla grew up, and the adjacent 10th district.

MHD, whose real name is Mohamed Sylla, "denies any involvement in this brawl," his lawyer Elise Arfi said in a statement sent to AFP after he was charged on Thursday.

"His presence at the scene of the incident remains to be proven."

MHD, a contraction of Mohamed, is the self-proclaimed inventor of "afro-trap" music.

The football-mad performer, who was born in France to Guinean and Senegalese parents, is best known for "Afro Trap Part. 3 (Champions League)", a song in praise of Paris Saint-Germain football club, which has been viewed over 100 million times on YouTube.

Most of his music videos are relatively low-budget affairs, shot among the high-rises of the 19th district -- of which he sees himself as a youth ambassador -- and feature local youths in football jerseys dancing in the street.

One of his albums is called "19" and the cover shows him pictured from behind wearing a football jersey marked MHD 19.

Sylla prides himself on injecting African sounds and slang into his lyrics.

"I was listening to French rappers who peppered their lyrics with English words because they were inspired by American rappers," he told the Guardian newspaper in 2017.

"I did the opposite. I thought, 'Wait a minute, I know Africa more'."

- 'Punishment' attack -

He was taken into custody on Tuesday in Paris along with three other suspects over what the police described as a "punishment operation" by youths from the 19th district on their rivals' turf.

All four were charged with murder on Thursday night.

Sylla's car was reportedly seen at the scene of the fight but his lawyer said the vehicle was used by other "individuals identified by investigators as the perpetrators of the deadly attack".

She claimed he had "never been involved in conflicts between rival gangs" and had made contact with investigators in July "as soon as he became aware" of his car's use in the attack.

She also said she would seek to have him freed from custody, noting he had no prior convictions.

The case comes months after a brawl between the country's two biggest rap stars led to a partial shutdown of a Paris airport.

The August 1 fracas at Orly airport between arch-rivals Booba and Kaaris and their entourages -- both of whom were on their way to a concert in Barcelona -- went viral after bystanders filmed the fight in a duty-free shop on their phones.

The pair were both given 18-month suspended prison sentences and fined 50,000 euros ($57,000) over the incident.