L’art de rue

DISCLAIMER: This column was originally published in 2011.

Ten years ago today, I was a 15-year-old teenager enjoying his summer. Back then, I used to do a lot of stupid stuff. Boys will be boys, as some say. That July 12 of 2001, a childhood friend of mine and I attended our very first live hip-hop concert: Fonky Family’s performance at Club Aria, which was more notorious for being linked to numbers of deaths and shootings than anything else when it closed in late 2006.

But, that’s not the stupid stuff; the stupid stuff is that we thought it wise to dress up accordingly, which in my case meant a regrettable white ‘Clench’ hat underneath which I had a bandana. A black one, if memory serves correct. The colour doesn’t matter much but in many ways, it really does. It was one of those things à la MTV Diary: we thought we knew, but we had no idea. Chalk that one up to two teenage boys being teenage boys. In the end, we both got back home safely – something we can’t say of a fella who got into a fight in the middle of the show – and with great memories of the show.

That night of July 2001, there was nowhere neither of us would have rather been. That show was the event of the summer, at least as far as we knew. Faf Larage, Sans Pression, Yvon Krevé & Les Architekts were all performing, and Malik ‘Versatile’ Shaheed was hosting (see the flyer of the show to the right). Of course, the real stars of the night were Fonky Family. La FF, earlier that year, had released its second studio album, Art de rue, to rousing success. Both of us, of course, thought we had stumbled on a new group and didn’t know of their debut album,Si Dieu veut. Remember, we thought we knew.

Art de rue was a more commercial album than the group’s debut album, but that doesn’t mean that it was any less good. At the turn of the century, commercial didn’t mean the same thing as it does today; it didn’t have the same stigma. Lil Wayne’s Lollipop was Nelly’s Ride Wit Me in 2001. The lyrics and message of a song, commercial or not, mattered more ten years ago than they do now. Ten years ago, that Art de rue was more commercial than Si Dieu veut only meant that the former was more popular (at least, in Quebec) than the latter.

In retrospect, La FF probably tried to conquer la belle province only after having attained some level of fame in their native France. Apparently, a prophet hath no honour in his own country except if that prophet is Fonky Family. Regardless of how it happened, Menzo, Don Choa, Sat and Le Rat Luciano – the four MC’s of La FF - became household names in Quebec in 2001. The group’s first opus, Si Dieu veut, was a masterpiece, a muted cry for help of the lower social class that denounced the oppressive institutions. In Quebec, it was also just about unknown.

Ten years later, Art de rue is still as good as the first time I listened to it. Songs such as the title track, Mystère et suspense, Tonight and Dans la légende still ring true a decade after they were first released. As is customary of French hip-hop, some of the melodies of the album are a bit more tame than English (read: American) hip-hop; some might call them boring, but I prefer to say that the beats don’t try to steal the rapper’s thunder. When the rappers are the caliber of Menzo, Don Choa, Sat and Le Rat Luciano, this is a very good thing. All four have good mic presence, rap with emotion and a good flow. Though most of all, they never take a back seat to the song melody; rather, they use them as the foundation to the message they will convey through their lyrics. La FF is known for its ability to create songs to which the average man or woman can relate. OnArt de rue, Fonky Family stays true to its essence that is the struggling working class.

In 2001, Fonky Family was a rap group with a purpose and a message to give, and this guided them through the process of creating Art de rue. The good part is that La FF was, if you will, the antithesis of Puff Daddy’s shiny suit man. The bad part is that many of the social problems they denounced, then, still exist today.

Another thing that still exists today, despite the break-up of the group in 2006, is that Art de rue album. It is still the soundtrack to many days of procrastination of mine.