Because of the generic line of descent of rap music, a style given birth by hip-hop which itself was born out of poverty and oppression in the South Bronx of the 70’s, it comes with a certain amount of baggage. This baggage has since turned into certain stances and cliches, self-aggrandisement, a gangster pose, the pursuit of materialism, of music being a salvation and a way out of the ghetto. But that was then and this is now and things have changed in the last 40 years or so. Rap music is where you find it and maybe it is time to shake off those tried and tested images.
It’s a position that Emmanuel Dalmas and Petravita take on this dark and sultry piece and one look at the video for French Kiss immediately places the song at the opposite end of the spectrum from the usual blinged out, angry, ghetto bound slice of bravado. Here the backdrop is the glitz and style of uptown, where the real money rather than the drug money lives, the environment that the anti-heroes of the ‘hood could only dream of finding themselves part of. And it is a feeling that runs through the music too. The flow and sentiment of the lyrical rap it is built on stays true to the genre but here it is blended with a dark and sultry undercurrent, a minimalism and restraint where classical strings provide the drive as much as the beats and synth washes that they share space with.
This is rap music turning a corner, rap music finding a new identity, one that sits in a less confrontational place. Urban music has always been good at documenting life, but so far it seems to have been far too preoccupied with being the underdog,playing the victim. But the world has moved on and rap and hip-hop, if they want to evolve and stay relevant have to find new stories to tell, new settings to working in, new places to live. I’m not saying that French Kiss is the ultimate new direction, that it should replace the traditional constructs of the genre, but I am saying that it represents a new, parallel path, not subverting anything but certainly adding to the canon.
It is rap music with a classical edge, hip-hop with real uptown style rather than merely street smarts, urban music becoming urbane music. Those street hustlers who defined the genre always dreamt of the high-life, French Kiss is the sound of what their dreams becoming a reality.