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The 11 Best French Hip-Hop Artists: Back to Basics

The 11 Best French Hip-Hop Artists: Back to Basics

Here is a list of iconic French hip-hop artists. I have to say it was hard to make this selection but this is a personal selection for sure I could add many more French rap singers. Those artists are mostly coming from the era of old-school French rap in the ’90s and ’00s.

I was listening to those famous French songs when I was a kid and when the French radio Skyrock was a real rap radio and not a mainstream radio as nowadays. I have the album or the single for most of those songs on this list, I started to feel old by writing this article.

List of popular French Hip-Hop Artists

Let’s start this selection of the best French Hip-Hop Artists!

  1. MC Solaar
Mc Solaar
Thomas Faivre-Duboz, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the Hip-hop French artist that I was listening to on my sound stereo while playing Lego as a kid. By looking at some information I’ve learned that he released an album in 2017 and I did not know about it, shame on me (and it is a good one). He was back after a break of 10 years, it was supposed to be a three or four years break when he became a father but time flies faster than he thought. Regarding the life of Mc Solaar, he was born in Dakar and his real name is Claude M’Barali.

He moved to France and grew up in the suburbs of Paris. At a very young age, he started to be passionate about rap. It led him in 1990 to record his first singles, which would become hits such as “Bouge de là” or the superb “Caroline”. In 1991, his first album “Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo” sold 400,000 copies. His second album “Prose Combat” had similar success and reached nearly double the number of copies of the first one. The album that had a big impact on my musical taste was “Cinquième as” all the songs are iconic.

He loves literature and was inspired by older French artists like Serge Gainsbourg. I really enjoy this artist because he is singing about life issues and stories in a poetic way that prevails over writing about money or belittling women, topics that most rappers would sing about.

This Parisian rapper is completely down-to-earth and is perfect if you want to teach some French music. I selected the French rap song “Da Vince Claude”, a song still pretty actual, talking about people believing that all the news are a conspiracy.

Great songs from MC Solaar:

  • La belle et le bad boy: describes the romance of a bad boy and a calmer girl.
  • Hasta la vista: singing about a love story
  • Solaar pleure: sharing his dark thought about life
  • Lève-toi et rap: telling about is childhood.

  1. IAM
Francis Bourgouin, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is an old-school French rap group composed of the two lead singers Akhenaton and Shurik’n that started in 1988. I wrote about this French rap group from Marseille in the article about current French male singers.

They have the same mindset as Mc Solaar writing about life’s problems. They are not superficial with texts about guns, money, and women. Long story short, they are pretty down-to-earth.

Great songs from IAM:

  • Je danse le mia: a story about the nightlife back in the French 80s
  • Le côté obscure: a tribute to Star Wars

From their solo career, I enjoy listening to “Bad Boys de Marseille” from Akhenaton. On the other hand, I would recommend you to listen to “Samurai” from Shurik’n.

  1. Suprême NTM
JB Quentin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The old-school hip-hop group is composed of two emblematic French singers, Kool Shen and JoeyStarr who started in 1989. In terms of old-school French rap from Paris, this is the band representing his city the best.

Actually, they are from Seine-Saint-Denis, a county next to Paris, well-known for being the most dangerous French county due to violence and drug traffic. Many artists or sportsmen came from this suburb, for example, the famous French football player Kylian Mbappé is from there.

There were two teams back in time either you were either a fan of IAM (my case) or Suprême NTM (or simply shortened to NTM). For your information, NTM is a vulgar French acronym, I am explaining it in this article: French Swear Words: Learn to Curse Like a Local! They went for such a controversial name to shock the French and to show their hate towards a society that they judged unequal for its lack of opportunities.

Great songs from NTM:

  • Seine-Saint-Denis Style: a tribute to their hoods full of talents
  • La fièvre: the story of an arrest and a woman
  • Ma Benz

Both french rappers went for some solo projects. I would cite the beautiful French rap song of Kool Shen “Un ange dans le ciel”. This song is a tribute to Lady V, she was a dancer for NTM, and also she was the partner of Kool Shen. The dancer passed away after a car accident in 2000.

  1. Fonky Family

The Fonky Family or the FF is a famous French rap band from the 00s from Marseille. This band is composed of seven French rappers with Pone, Don Choa, Sat l’Artificier, Le Rat Luciano, Menzo, Karima, DJ Djel, Fel. They definitely have marked the French rap with their great album “Art de rue” released in 2001.

Great songs from Fonky Family:

  • Art de rue
  • Petit bordel
  • Histoire sans fin

  1. Booba
Thesupermat, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An old-school French rap artist that I like to dislike. Booba nicknamed B2O or Le Duc de Boulogne originates from Boulogne Billancourt, a city next to Paris. I am a fan of his old songs but I never understood the character that he created. He promotes hate in French society, he is misogyny and superficial. He tried to create street cred by going to jail in France when he is from a wealthy Parisian family and did his university in the USA, he is now living in Miami.

I have to admit that you recognize his songs right away, he has a signature. He sings super slow and plays with the French language, it might sound a little bit dumb but maybe it is a sign of intelligence, I can’t tell. He released a new album in 2021 named “Ultra”, he is still active, still in the game.

My favorite albums from him so far are “Panthéon” (2004) and “Ouest Side” (2006) with the songs “Boulbi” and “Garde la pêche”. Booba loves to create some controversies to promote his music. It’s been some years, he used to be friends with the rapper Kaaris before entering into a hateful clash. Thanks to Booba, the Belgian artist Damso emerged on the rap scene with the collective of rappers 92i. Damso decided in 2018 to go to another record label. Since Booba is pretty salty about this choice and keeps sending comments on Damso’s social networks.

Great songs from Booba:

  • N°10
  • Mon son
  • Jour de paye
  • Tombé pour elle
  • Ultra

  1. Don Choa

Don Choa is a member of the MC collective the Fonky Family from Marseille. I remember listening to the French hip-hop song “Dr. Hannibal” on repeat on the iconic French radio Skyrock.

Great song from Don Choa:

  • 7H00 du mat
  • Dr. Hannibal

  1. 113

French rap group composed of three friends Rim’K, AP, and Mokobé. Why the name 113? The name of the group is a reference to the number of the building where they spent their youth, in the cité Camille Groult at Vitry-sur-Seine, a southern suburb of Paris.

In 2000, the 113 won two Victoires de la musique (French music award), not only they won the rap album of the year but also the revelation to the public. Indeed, their first album “Les Princes de la ville” in 1999 was a major popular success, double gold record in less than six months.

Besides this successful album, they released a song that has probably some strong resonance amongst the French with Maghrebian origins with “Tonton Du Bled ” where Rim’K is telling about his summer trips to his parents’ birth country, bringing back a lot of furniture, food on the roof of the car. They also have the honor to produce a song with one of the members of the Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter in “113 fout la merde”.

Great songs from 113:

  • Tonton Du Bled
  • 113 fout la merde
  • Au summum
  • Un jour paix
  • Les princes de la ville

  1. Sniper

Sniper is a French hip-hop band formed in 1997 composed Tunisiano, Blacko, Aketo, and DJ Boudj (ex-member 1997 to 2004). I apologize in advance for all the drunk French you will meet that are going to put on the song “Gravé dans la roche” during a party. It is an emblematic old-school French rap song that most French would know.

Sniper was a rap group with the goal to point out the country’s ills like racial and social discrimination. Recently, they split up in 2019 after one of the founder members Blacko left the group.

Great songs from Sniper:

  • Gravé dans la roche
  • Sans (re)Pères
  • Pris pour cible

  1. Diam’s

Diam’s is the only woman from this list of French Hip-hop artists. The French rap scene is still mostly a male industry in France. Diam’s was a precursor in that way, and she was a real phenomenon. Fun fact, she was born in Cyprus to a Cyprus dad and a French mother, and she ended up growing up in the suburbs of Paris.

Her third album “Dans ma bulle” released in 2006 took over the French music scene. From this album, there were many successful songs such as the songs “La boulette”, “Jeune demoiselle”, “Big up” and “Confession nocturne”.

Actually, I have to mention the excellent parody of “Confession nocturne” made by Michael Youn (Kind of a mix in between Jackass and Alfred Matthew Yankovic), you can watch it after watching the original music clip.

In 2012, after the release of her first book, “Autobiography,” the Cypriot rapper Melanie Georgiades (her real name), announced the end of her career. In 2020, she came back commenting on the end of her music career with a message on Instagram:  “I had lost interest in the business after winning everything in the music business but also losing everything humanly.”

Great songs from Diam’s:

  • La boulette
  • Jeune demoiselle

  1. Doc Gyneco

Weirdly, I discovered his French hip-hop songs pretty recently. Doc Gyneco is a French reggae/ hip-hop artist with Guadeloupean origins. Bruno Beausir (his real name) grew up in the 18th district of Paris where he wrote a tribute to it with the song “Dans ma rue”.

His music career was short but intense. He released a total of four albums but I guess only the first one “Première consultation” had a commercial impact on the French rap scene. This album was controversial due to its very sex-oriented texts.

He ended up working as a TV guest on the TV show “On ne peut pas plaire à tout les monde” in the 00s. His last album was released in 2018 but had no echoes in the music scene.

Great songs from Doc Gyneco:

  • Dans ma rue
  • Passement de jambes
  • Nirvana

  1. Mafia K’1 Fry

Mafia K’1 Fry is a hardcore French rap collective that reunited with some famous artists for Val-de-Marne. We can count artists and groups like Manu Key, Kery James, Karlito, Intouchable, Rohff, and the 113.

The name of the collective is pronounced Mafia Cainfri, Cainfri is the verlan version of the French word Africain (African).

Great songs from Mafia K’1 Fry:

  • Pour ceux
  • K’1 Fry invasion

I could add to this list many other old-school French rap artists as:

  • Sefyu with the song “Molotov 4”
  • Diziz la peste with the song “Dans tes rêves”
  • Nèg’Marrons with the song “Le bilan”.
  • Saian Supa Crew with the song “Angela”.
  • Def Bond & K-Reen with the song “Tu Me Plais” (In the movie Taxi 1)

I hope you enjoyed discovering some French hip-hop artists! French rap started back in the 90s with groups that became nowadays iconic as IAM for Marseille or NTM for Paris. A strange fact, there is an absence of old-school French rap artists coming from one of the major French cities: Lyon.

Thanks to time many new genres emerge on the French rap scene and the choice of styles is more diverse today. Now I invite you to read my blog posts about modern French rap: 

By the way, if you want to learn more about another street art, we have an article about French street artists.

You can find some of those songs in my Spotify playlist

Greg Barwis

Saturday 15th of May 2021

(J'étudie le français depuis seulement deux ans, alors j'ai peur que ma grammaire ne soit loin d'être bonne)

J'ai trouvé votre liste en recherchant des artists similaires à MC Solaar; j'ai bien aimé ecouter sa musique depuis que j'ai reçu "Qui sème le vent..." en cadeau il y a 20 ans. Je tiens à vous remercier d'avoir créé cette liste, car elle a vraiment contribué à élargir mes horizons musicaux. Je travaille mon chemin à travers vos recommandations et je les ai toutes appréciées jusqu'à présent; Je me suis abonné à ceci et à plusieurs de vos autres listes de lecture Spotify et j'ai hâte d'en écouter au cours des prochaines semaines.

Merci bien!


Saturday 15th of May 2021

Merci beaucoup Greg pour ton message ! Ton français à l'écrit est excellent ! Top, je vais continuer à faire des recommandations musicales avec de nouveaux articles et des playlists Spotify :)