Oxmo Puccino is a well-known rapper in France, but as we don’t listen to much French rap here in the UK, despite being neighbours, most of us haven’t heard of him. When did you come across him?
Oxmo aka Abdoulaye Diarra was born in Mali but grew up in the 19th district of Paris. Though he was surrounded by the burgeoning hip-hop culture of the late 80’s he himself first took up the pen and the pad in the mid-nineties as a part of the Timebomb crew. He explains: “I was surrounded by artistically visionary people like the graffiti artist Slice. The 19th district is somewhere a little special. We felt we were neither Paris nor suburbs. And I think that geography gave birth to a particular state of mind…where innovation was prized.”
Years ago Oxmo was given the audacious nickname ‘the black Jacques Brel’. Was it for his songwriting abilities, his poetry, his suave delivery? I don’t know yet. I’m sure one of you will tell me.
I spent some time listening to Oxmo’s back catalogue and there’s a lot of material, but it’s his recent work, which I’m most impressed with.
Here’s Oxmo’s ‘Artiste’ from his 2012 album ‘Roi Sans Carosse’ to help get you on his wavelength. Of course if you speak French you’ve a vast advantage, but I’ve enjoyed reading the translations of Oxmo’s work and this video oozes the confidence of a rap veteran and his cracking sense of humour.
Also from his new album: ‘Le Sucre Pimenté’ or ‘Spiced Sugar’
Here’s the satisfying ‘Equilibre’ a feel-good collaboration with Hocus Pocus about the struggle to find balance in life. Play it LOUD.
Oxmo’s manner and vocal tone give him this strong calming presence both sincere and melancholy. These qualities are reminiscent of MC Solaar’s delivery, for example on the superb ‘La concubine de l’hémoglobine’. Going back a few years we have the beautiful ‘Soleil du Nord’ or ‘Sun from the North’, which describes ‘cigarette-less men stuck in horrible jeans between their future and their origins’. Oxmo contemplates whether poverty might be less painful under a warmer sun.
Oxmo’s vocals are clearly compatible with more melodic hip-hop compositions, his sincerity and gravitas grounding the orchestral flourishes and flights of fancy. And the videos as you can see, unfurl in an often unhurried cinematic fashion. His style [both aurally and visually] allows for breathing space, thinking space maybe even grieving space. His music works in a way I haven’t quite witnessed in English language rap yet.
And don’t worry, there will be more French elevators to come. Vive La France!