Rwanda’s Gael Faye is perhaps one of the very few living rappers today with a very successful novel, published in the midst of releasing impressive rap albums. In both literature and music, he is a raconteur of straightforward tales and opinions, sure to bedazzle. With Rythmes et Botanique, he’s produced ambient hip-hop, similar to much of what is being produced in New York City. His version is an interestingly literate variant that often leaves you wanting music that is more personal in the rhythm side, but nonetheless impresses with a lyrical footprint of its own.
Since Cardinal Richelieu established the Académie française in 1635, it has sternly governed the French language. Today, the language is melded by literate counter-culture as much as it is by academic culture. Faye’s Hip Hop is in literate counter-culture French, the French of intellectual dissent, of youthful slogans, shouted to the sight of student rebellion, hashish selling, and scooters zooming by. “A trop courir,” which could manifest the thinking and living of today’s activist youths, is the best example of this. “Mefier vous / de vouloir vivre,” or beware of wanting to live, coexists with “le ciel est beau madame / j’ai dessiné l’image,” or the sky is beautiful, madame, I drew it, in what turns out to be a fantastic poetry, if you either understand the French language or are willing to translate the lyrics.
“Paris Meteque” is big and splendid, a grand statement. Again, the strength is in the song’s lyrics. It is an ode to Paris, as Faye knows it. “Paris ma belle beaute” or Paris my beautiful beauty, is how he explains the city’s diversity and it being a harbour of liberty. Here we find Faye rapping in verses that could have been written by a socially-engaged Jacques Prévert, Paris’s great poet of straightforward poetry. It’s fascinating that he raps that: “on ecrit pas des poèmes pour une ville qui en ai un,” or that one doesn’t write poetry about a city that is a poem, despite the fact that this song is a poem and that Paris has produced a whole host of great poets like Paul Verlaine and Jean Metellus.
“Irruption” is the most impressive song; it is street dissent Hip-Hop. It could be the soundtrack of a social movement, like today’s France Insoumise or yesterday’s SOS Racisme. It is a joy to listen to from start to finish, and its appeal a reminder that political street culture is hip-hop’s foundation.
Hip-Hop has become a game of thrones. Rappers fighting over who is the greatest, the wealthiest, often disregarding its humanity as street politics to do so. With Rythmes et Botanique, Faye, again, explodes onto the public sphere with intensity, rhythm, and poetry. Paul Verlaine was once upon a time the great poet of the Commune de Paris (the instance of dissent that inspired Marx) because he joined the fight. Faye seems to be gunning for the same with this album. “Aux armes miraculeuses” he raps in “Irruption” “on a lu Césaire.. on viendrai vous faire la guerre avec la parole” (with miraculous weapons, we’ve read Aimé Césaire, we’ll wage war with our rhetoric) as he does with these tracks, a poet of societal progression in the end.