It’s jolly in the ghetto with France’s uncrowned kings of Hip Hop, TTC. When we think of French music most of us are stuck in the past. We either conjure up a singer-songwriter grotesque like Serge Gainsbourg, or the particular mix of cheesy teenage romance and bad Handbag House that holiday hits are made of.
But somewhere along the line the French have become the second most voracious consumers of Hip Hop after the Americans, producing scores of homegrown acts willing to tussle with the intransigence of their native language and its supposed lack of easy rhymes. It would be unthinkable, after all, for the French to acknowledge that the best Hip Hop might be written in another language.
TTC are at the forefront of the French Hip Hop movement, and with their third album 3615 they’ve got a collection of grabby tunes and sufficiently comprehensible lyrics that dangles the possibility of breaking through into the English-speaking mainstream. It doesn’t take too much entente cordiale to work out what a song like Turbo is about. Which is just as well, because heaven forfend that we should trouble ourselves to understand another language!
Of course, like all the best French music, there’s something fundamentally different, fundamentally French about the songs. For a start the language sounds nicer: Frotte ton cul par terre sounds a good deal more romantic than Rub Your, er, Bottom On The Ground, even if the song itself is a clubbing version of the Hokey Kokey with a squawking backing track. And their work is enriched by Europe’s massive Techno heritage (think Flat Eric rather than Puff Daddy).
Musically TTC sound like they listened to a couple of early Beastie Boys albums, got the idea of passing around the mike mid-line and learned not to sweat it if their voices were a bit high and nasal, and then cut themselves off from the often bombastic and self-referential world of American Hip Hop. Their appreciation of ’80s electronica is huge, as well.
The result is cheeky, breezy and clever, and sets out its stall with bravado, from the word tapestry of the opener, Quand je claque des doigts (When I Click My Fingers), with its knowing and fast-paced chat up lines, backed by a sketchy sprinkling of beeps and boings. These guys (the playfully named Cuiziner, Teki Latex, DJ Orgasmic and slightly more sober-sounding Tido Berman) aren’t about waiting to be shot in the ghetto, and they’re not silly enough to try and pretend they are. they’re far too busy weaving clever rhymes, winking outrageously at the pretty girls and working out more ways to get their electronic hooks into you.
The range on 3615, from weird instrumentals like J’ai le son to the sweeter R&:B vibe of Ce pou vou, or the breathily dirty tone of Strip pour moi reflects the broad range of production talent on offer to French acts. The work of Para One on the deep and grinding Turbo, Antenne 2 and Quand je claque des doigts is outstanding, and the results are so quirky and grabby that even without a word of French you’ll still get a lot out of a listen. Better than that, it’ll make you grin from sheer exuberance.