Beyond hip-hop: Disenfranchised find voice via 'brut de femme' force

Nearly 25 years after Grandmaster Flash brought his message to the masses, hip-hop has finally gone global. And though mutations like Puerto Rican reggaeton and Brazilian baile funk might have more crossover appeal, the cultural epicenter of international hip-hop is in France, and the scene’s reigning queen is 26-year-old Melanie Georgiades, aka Diam’s.

As the country’s only female hip-hop superstar, Diam’s had to make her own way in the business. A native Cypriot raised in the disenfranchised banlieux south of Paris, the young rappeuse endured waves of projectiles thrown from crowds in her early days, an ill-fated debut album and general resistance from the male-dominated rap world.

Yet persistence earned her frequent guest appearances on peers’ records, and her 2003 LP “Brut de femme” finally broke her through to the public with the success of single “DJ.”

That album, which matched Diam’s’ spitfire — yet unabashedly feminine — vocals with an instrumental bricolage of the Bomb Squad, Timbaland and spliced-up snippets of chanson, was notable for its sonic diversity and willingness to tackle subjects like domestic violence and sexism.

Diam’s took a decidedly more mainstream turn for 2006’s “Dans ma bulle,” and record buyers responded. Lead-off single “La Boulette” spent six weeks atop the French charts, and the album debuted at No. 1, a first for a female rapper.

It’s unclear whether Diam’s could be headed for similar success in the U.S. Unlike some of its more internationalist counterparts, French hip-hop most resembles American hip-hop in its fierce regionalism. With her distinctive vernacular and deep cache of esoteric references, Diam’s could be a hard sell outside the Francophone market.

However, “Dans ma bulle” has gained traction elsewhere in Western Europe (where English-language hip-hop has long been popular), and second single “Jeune demoiselle” shows a sunnier side of the singer, dealing with that great universal: unrequited love. American industry execs have taken notice, at least — Motown recently recruited Diam’s as a scout for new French talent.

Who knows? Now that even “freedom fries” have disappeared from the congressional menu, the U.S. might be ready for an MC qui parle francais.

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