Having the young Genevan rapper, Di-Meh, grace the cover of the French music magazine ‘Inrockuptibles’ was for many Romand rap fans the culmination of a long, hard wait. After nearly 30 years of anticipation, is the commercial breakthrough of a Romand artist beyond our borders finally on the cards? Or are we still stuck on the same loop that’s kept going around in circles since rap first reached our ears ?
The 90s : the first signs of rap from Romandie, the french part of Switzerland
At the beginning of the 90s, the Geneva-based group, Les P'tits Boss, embodied the hope of Swiss-French hip-hop finally getting recognized in France. With an avantgarde style, this Geneva crew made themselves known through their freestyling and some noteworthy appearances on the Cut Killer mixtapes. An exciting national debut that sadly didn’t take flight due to creative spontaneity being sacrificed at the altar of business and contractual complications.
At the same time, though in a different way, Lausanne’s Sens Unik were gently making waves in France thanks to their presence on the compilation inspired by the film La Haine. There too, what should have allowed them to consolidate their breakthrough in France didn’t have the full impact expected. But another Romand group were also starting to make some noise: Double P.A.C.T, made up of Stress, Nega and beatmaker Yvan. In 1995, their first project was released on the French label, Night & Day, an important release with a sound that allowed the band to hold their own amongst the French rap of the time. Just like Les P'tits Boss, it was mainly through mixtapes that they made their most significant impact in France, consolidated by one of their biggest hits of the time, "Ranch Saga".
Yvan Peacemaker : the Swiss beatmaker of French rap
Far beyond the rappers, it was the beatmaker Yvan Peacemaker who really carved a place for himself in the French rap landscape. His first work was with Ideal J, Fabe, Manu Key and 113. In the early 2000s, his contribution to the biggest sales of the time are what confirmed his success: Passi, Rohff, Sniper, Diam's, Sinik, Booba Joey Starr ... He was quite simply everywhere. His work then opened the door onto a new world of Swiss-French producers. Hot on his heels, other Lausanne artists started sprinkling the French charts with their work.
Here, we are thinking in particular of Jay Fase (Psy4 De La Rime, Booba, Soprano), Argo (Alonzo, MHD, Calbo, RedK), The Soundsbrothers (Gims) and many others who allowed Romand rap to remain connected to France for 20 years, a time when rappers struggled not just to make a name for themselves, but to earn in terms of sales. The example of Stress’s career is a telling one: despite being helped by a big record company infrstructure, Romand rap still struggles with the French market. Finding an audience that stretches beyond the success of esteem and recognition remains the biggest challenge.
2010 and beyond : the dawning of a new era?
The 2010s seemed to go in the same direction as the other decades, namely talented artists recognized by everyone, collaborating with their prestigious French counterparts, but never really managing to convert their success into sales or concert dates. However, could this phase now be over with the advent of the Genevan SuperWakClique (Di-Meh, Slimka, Makala) and their genius beatmaker Pink Flamingo whose output on YouTube is instantly shared throughout the French-speaking world? Their X-TRM tour filled Parisian venues, and Di-Meh, after having nailed it as warm-up act for Frenchman Lomepal, made the cover of the January edition of Inrocks magazine devoted to the hopes of 2019 ("Nos espoirs 2019 : Di-Meh, enfant du rap"). Consequently, we dare to hope that this loop of broken dreams smashed against the French border glass wall is finally at an end. A hope that one can legitimately believe in, since the frontiers of Francophone rap have been completely shattered in recent years, finally leaving room for Romand rap at last.