MC Solaar
Qui seme le vent recolte le tempo


4.5
superb

Review

by Erwann S. CONTRIBUTOR (44 Reviews)
August 6th, 2021 | 19 replies


Release Date: 1991 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Unearthing French rap's first defining record

Until now, only the lucky fellas who bought this album in the 90s - and in the 90s only - could listen to it. Oh, of course, you could listen to it on YouTube or other unofficial means - looking at you Soulseek -, but you couldn't stream it officially or buy it in a record store. This situation arose after the success of MC Solaar's second album Prose combat, released in 1994. Solaar - real name Claude M'Barali - composed two albums and gave both to Polydor Records to be released within three months as a double LP. Against his wishes, the label released the two albums separately: Paradisiaque in June 1997, and MC Solaar in July 1998. Solaar felt the label had insulted his work and dishonored their agreement, culminating in legal proceedings against them. The verdict in 2004 forbade Polydor (now owned by the Universal Music group) from continuing to use the artist's first four albums, while he retained the masters. It was therefore no longer possible to obtain a handful of the founding albums of French rap: indeed, Solaar may have had possession of the masters, but he cut himself out of the means of distribution by dismissing a major record label. This is just another reminder that the music industry's goal is to make money off artists, and that if they can't, they’ll make sure the moolah doesn’t go in the artist's pockets either.

Fortunately, time flies, and decisions can be reversed. Universal and Solaar finally found an arrangement in early July: MC Solaar's first seminal albums will be reissued in physical format (CD, vinyl), and will also be available on streaming platforms. Each album will be released in chronological order to respect Solaar's original vision. Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo is already available, Prose Combat will drop this Autumn while Paradisiaque, his third opus, is scheduled for the end of the year. So, why is every French rap nerd wetting their pants right now? We'll have to go back to a dark age, an age during which the WorldWideWeb was being built, Serbia and Montenegro constituted one country, and Bill Cosby was America's Dad: the early 90s.

The year 1990 saw the first stirrings of French-speaking rap, the first salvo being Brussels Rap Convention (a kind reminder that French rap does come from Belgium, what a wonderful world we live in). A few months later Rapattitude, the first official French rap mixtape was released. At this point, the genre was still in its babbling stage, and no album had had any significant commercial impact. Then came 1991 with the debuts of the two most popular French rap groups of the 1990s: IAM with ...De la planète Mars, and NTM with Authentik. However, that year, the scene's poster boi was MC Solaar, whose debut Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo sold 400,000 copies and marked a tipping point in French rap development.

If MC Solaar was the first-ever star of the French rap scene, it's mainly because his music is unifying and completely discarded the snarling attitude dominant in French rap at this point in time. The man was more in line with French "chanteurs a texte", more content playing with words rather than with his energy-focused rap contemporaries. His rapological technique, as well as his writing finesse, come from two major factors: his love for wordplay, and his massive consumption of cultural works. For example, the album title is a play on Hosea's books' saying, "For he who sows the wind reaps the storm", and the album's most beloved track "Caroline" is entirely built on double entendre. Solaar knew that his job was deeply rooted in linguistics, so he read as many books as possible and acquired all kinds of newspapers, ranging in politics from the extreme left to the extreme right. He didn't want to preach to people already convinced by his vision: he wanted to take testimony and make a translation of it. Unlike other rappers from the French scene, Solaar never called for revolution: he prefers to simply tell and subsequently play on different spectrums. Behind the poppy "Victim de la mode" lies a sharp criticism of top models' enormous media coverage and their negative influence on young women, while the chill "Armand est mort" tells the story of a vagrant who died without anybody noticing. These tales are accompanied by dynamic flows, from conversational ("Victime de la mode"), to more aggressive (the title track) to a blend of laid-back and playful ("À temps partiel").

Such a nuanced posture, coupled with the French public’s relative inculture, got him to be labeled as too "street" by most listeners and too "bourgeois" by the more niched rap audience. Classic. The fact of the matter is, Solaar is simply continuing an old French tradition, one of soft-hearted bullies and rebels crying over a girl's rejection, one that traces back to Brassens, Gainsbourg, or Renaud. But Solaar was the first one to do so in French rap. The public eventually accepted him for who he is due to the man’s sheer coolness. He's one of those people carved from the same wood as Miles Davis: the effortlessly cool kind, the laid-back ones who can catch the attention solely with their natural elegance. This combination of conscious, chill, and good-natured rap is, in the end, the main reason for Solaar's astronomical success: while he remains the main actor of his accomplishments, it should not be forgotten that the music industry decides what it puts forward. Before Solaar, labels saw rap as music for and from suburban delinquents. But then comes a cultured man, who doesn't throw insults, and who attracts sympathy from the youngest spectrum of the population - jackpot: the music industry found a way to sell records to the youth whilst getting the parents' approval.

This unifying aspect not only exists from a lyrical or marketing point of view, but also from a musical one, as MC Solaar mixes samples of soul, funk, and jazz tracks. Beatmaker Jimmy Jay is a sample freak, frequenting London's Soul Jazz store and an obscure shop in the basement of a large shopping mall in Tokyo where his favorite American producers (Dre, Pete Rock, Q-Tip) were buying records. This sample craze also lies at the center of the record's main influence, the Native Tongues, who popularized the intensive use of old-school Black music sampling into its beats. The title track sports a Quincy Jones snippet, while "Inner City Blues"'s background vocals are reminiscent of Marvin Gaye and melancholic-laden "Caroline" is enhanced with strings and an almost-unnoticeable organ. Jimmy Jay knew how to incorporate the proper sample into the set mood: while the most introspective tracks are built around soul samples, a large amount of the album's groove comes from its funk antics. "L'histoire de l'art" sees turntable scratches being complemented by horns and clavinets; "Matière grasse contre matière grise" shows its funk roots through wah-wah guitars and James Brown-like backed vocals; main single "Bouge de la" is driven by funky drum and bass interplay.

As it was championed through all media, this musical diversity would go on to inspire an early wave of French rap made of soulful samples, like Democrates D's La Voie du Peuple, also produced by Jimmy Jay, and 1992's Les Little's Les Vrais. As opposed to many of its contemporaries - oh how cheap they now sound -, Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo did not age badly. Well, not that much for an album of its age; some attempts are not conclusive, like some showman vocal effects, and "Ragga Jam" surely does sound like a good time live, but ends up breaking the album's pace with its exuberant energy. However, what hasn't aged much are the beats' quality, partly because the instrumentals constitute more fully fleshed-out compositions on top of which MC Solaar raps. This aesthetic would soon die though, with East Coast producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock popularizing the boom-bap style that would invade all New York, and thus French rap albums. Indeed, except from the cream of the crop, French rap in the mid-to-late 90s was basically trying to approach what New York already mastered. But at his peak - from roughly 1991 to 1995 -, Solaar made it as far as possible in terms of artistry. He remains one of the few French rappers who made it to the Peel Sessions. In Japan, during interviews, journalists only talked to him about acid jazz: they didn't see him as a hip-hop artist, but simply as a musician.

The sad reality is that, in terms of rap musicality, France remains a narrow country. Does it come from a lack of education? Perhaps more a lack of habit: the most popular artists from the past twenty years haven’t relied on musicality as much as on how beats could accompany their gangsta persona. This is not without exception, of course, Belgian rapper Damso having filled his latest record QALF Infinity with lush instrumentals, incorporating saxophone and organs. However, when looking at what kind of beat sells best, energetic trap beats without many ornaments are the norm. While that's a jab that could also be thrown at US rap, rich instrumentals have made their way into the mainstream here more frequently than on the French scene; the best example being Kanye's noughties records which were directly influenced by the Native Tongues' approach. More recently, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly went as mainstream as it could have given the record's nature, while J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive has sold one million copies in Dave Chappelle's country. Even mainstreamer-than-mainstream Drake leaves some space among the trap jungle for soulful tunes like "8 Out of 10" or "Views". This relative open-mindedness might be what's currently lacking in modern French rap, where party trap anthems are being replaced by gritty, UK drill-inspired pieces.

While MC Solaar's influence can thus hardly be detected in today's sound, it clearly gave French rap its first impulse. In 2021, it mostly acts as a reminder of the genre's origins, an all-encompassing approach where musicality was as important as technique or coolness. Let's just hope these re-releases will allow new generations to understand where their favorite music comes from, and, maybe - I hope I'm not being too optimistic here, but I bet I am - it will allow some beatmakers to not entirely focus on crafting the next barebones banger, and rappers to try and actually play with words rather than telling fake gangsta narratives.



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user ratings (16)
4.2
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
dedex
Contributing Reviewer
August 6th 2021


10249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

This is too damn long, but I couldn't not do it. Huge thanks to Johnny and Jesper for their lovely way to kick my ass - gotta love these boiz



So this is finally available on all streaming platforms - fuck yes!

Coast
August 6th 2021


1499 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Très bien!

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
August 6th 2021


10249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Hell yeah man, glad to see you pop in!

bloc
August 6th 2021


67595 Comments


First two albums slap nuts

Digging: Matthew Good - Avalanche

haesslichermensch
August 6th 2021


115 Comments


Fantastic review

Digging: Anna von Hausswolff - Live at Montreux Jazz Festival

JesperL
Contributing Reviewer
August 7th 2021


3817 Comments


hell yes dedex, very bonjour big oui

parksungjoon
August 7th 2021


39266 Comments


1991? il faut ecouter

parksungjoon
August 7th 2021


39266 Comments


>Such a nuanced posture, coupled with the French public’s relative inculture, got him to be labeled as too "street" by most listeners and too "bourgeois" by the more niched rap audience. Classic.

tfw

> and "Ragga Jam" surely does sound like a good time live, but ends up breaking the album's pace with its exuberant energy

this is prob true in the context of the album (havent listened in full yet) but its kinda based lol

>In Japan, during interviews, journalists only talked to him about acid jazz: they didn't see him as a hip-hop artist, but simply as a musician.

crazy


gr8 review m8

HalfManHalfAmazing
August 7th 2021


2782 Comments


I've never heard this guy other than the Le Tempo track with Gang Starr

HalfManHalfAmazing
August 7th 2021


2782 Comments


Je suis Americains je ne peu pas parle aux francais

bloc
August 8th 2021


67595 Comments


Prose Combat is by far his best album and definitely needs a review

parksungjoon
August 8th 2021


39266 Comments


did dedex died

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
August 9th 2021


10249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

i am alive and well! thanks for the kind words



@bloc: yeah if it wasn't for the re-release I'd have rev'd Prose Combat

parksungjoon
August 9th 2021


39266 Comments


m/m/

Davil667
August 9th 2021


3937 Comments


Haven't listened to this in ages, Bouge de là is still a banger.

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
August 9th 2021


10249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Now's the perfect time then! Also yeah Bouge de là remains an early French rap classic

Bedex
August 11th 2021


2819 Comments


m/ m/ m/ Bouge de là classic [2]

Panzerchrist
August 11th 2021


604 Comments


Never heard of this but I downloaded both this and Prose Combat and I'm in love with the jazz loops he raps over. Great delivery as well.

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
August 11th 2021


10249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Yeah, Claude's a bae



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