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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MC Solaar, "Qui Sème le Vent Récolte le Tempo"

MC Solaar
"Qui Sème le Vent Récolte le Tempo"
Polygram (1991)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Hip-hop albums in a foreign language always pose a unique problem to music critics who aren't fluent. The intelligence and vocabulary of a rapper's verses are always smiled upon in English-language tracks, but if one doesn't understand the language, it's near impossible to rate the lyrics. Even when translated, it's tough to appreciate wordplay because it won't rhyme outside of the song's native tongue. One thing is universal in hip-hop however: Good flow is always worth something. Busta Rhymes may or not be speaking English when he's at full speed, but the listener can't help but appreciate his control. In this regard, I, someone who has a very limited grasp on French, can say confidently that MC Solaar's "Qui Sème le Vent Récolte le Tempo" is a worthwhile listen.

Solaar, a Parisian rapper, emerged at the forefront of French, nay all European hip-hop thanks to his grasp on rhyme and rhythm. As with B. Rhymes on a good day, Solaar's ability to adjust from a laid back saunter to a spitfire triple-time passage is impressive and entertaining. "Victime de la Mode" ("Victim of Fashion") demonstrates Solaar at his best in this regard.

The title of the album translates to "He who sows the wind reaps the beat," which is apparently a play on words from a popular French euphemism. The title, albeit impressive unto itself, is somewhat misleading because the best tracks on "Qui Sème" are less notable for their "beats" but rather for their jazzy backing ensembles. Jazz and horns were en vogue (Ha, french term!) during the "old school" era of hip-hop, of which I would argue Solaar was a part, despite his 1991 debut. What sets his work apart are the subtle solo passages that make the instrumentals less like a backtrack and more like their own entities. This is far from jazz fusion, but it will make things better for those who are jazz-inclined as opposed to hip-hop.

As I mentioned, I can't tell you too much about the meanings behind Solaar's lyrics because I don't speak the language. Gleaning from the entry in "1001" and other reviews of the album, the lyrical themes seem to be in keeping with the "feel good" hip-hop of old; social commentary ("L'Histoire de L'Art"), having a good time responsibly like his idol Afrika Bambaataa ("Quartier Nord" or "North End") and occasionally lamenting sad times (Armand set Mort" or "Armand is dead"). The point is, this isn't gangsta rap.

Don't be scared by the language barrier. Sometimes the best part of listening to hip-hop is just being able to bob your head. MC Solaar is more than able to provoke that reaction.

INTERESTING FACT: Solaar appeared on the Red Hot Organization's "Stolen Moments" record, an album that was created to raise awareness of AIDS in Africa and that would be named album of the year in 1994 by TIME.

"Victime de la Mode"

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