On Rap Video Culture, Les Grand Ensemble & Self-Representation

The city, as the cradle of civilization, has been recounted by an infinite number of authors throughout history, however, for centuries we knew little about it from non-institutional and peripheral perspectives. Indeed, only ‘recently’, the urban periphery has found ways to convey its stories, occupying and making use of numerous arenas.
       This short essay analyzes and discusses how rap video culture has given voice to urban outcasts, and helped them portray their surroundings in a different array of styles; highlighting the formation of a shared sensibility, and the rising potential hiding behind a visual register widely used within the French context. On the other hand, it will analyse the limits of canonical rap imageries and restraining narrative schemes, in order to contribute to the implementation of sustainable practices within the genre.

The dissertation incorporates several music videos, uploaded on YouTube since 2006, and covering a period of time spanning from 1982 to 2020. In addition, parallel to a short historical and contextual introduction to the genre, as well as to the French urban periphery, the text will make use of the analysis of several sociologists, theorists, and artists in order to substantiate the critique of the aforementioned visual material.
       Last but not least, particular attention will be given to the French context, due to the abundance of documentation and emerging platforms discussing the state of affairs of both rap video culture and urban peripheries; yet I believe that the following analysis can be extended, with due proportion and additional research, to several other countries within Europe, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy.


Henri Lefebvre point-blank begins his 1970 book The Urban Revolution as follows:

I'll begin with the following hypothesis: Society has been completely urbanized. This hypothesis implies a definition: an urban society is a society that results from a process of complete urbanization. This urbanization is virtual today but will become real in the future.1 (Lefebvre, 1970)

Fifty years later, this is still not the case, however, most of the analysis discussed by Lefebvre in The Urban Revolution seems to be more than ever palpable today. Especially those concerning the aftermath of urbanization, where attention is drawn to the urban problematic and the intensification of violence
 2, especially from a global perspective.
        Although critiquing urbanization at all scales,however, Lefebvre's analysis often evokes, by way of example, the French urban society, as well as Paris, the city par excellence in relation to the combination of urban planning, understood as a grand design for the constitution of a new order, and its repercussion on urban communities.

[Georges-Eugène Haussmann] gutted Paris according to plan, deported the proletariat to the periphery [..] cutting through the urban fabric, and inscribing straight lines throughout the city [...] a logic that is inherent in class strategy and tends to maximize this type of rational coherence, which originated with Napoleon I and the absolute state.3 (Lefebvre, 1970)

La grande croisée however, isn’t an isolated historical event at all, and going back in time, Lefevbre inscribes it within a tradition and rationality long-tied to dominant ideologies, Bonapartism in this case; a stillicide perpetuated across various regions and times, not just linked to the city, as a defined geographic entity, but instead – acknowledging the scale and complexity of urbanization processes – to the urban, a much more porous and polymorphic organism; leading to what Levebvre defines as an overall colonization of space that sees no boundary dividing cities or countries, but cutting across the urban, between a dominated periphery and a dominating center
        The urban society, as formulated by Lefebvre, sees in fact, the formation of two major dichotomies: the rural-urban and the center-periphery. A clash between different geographies, running at different speeds, and defined by different logics, but still belonging to the same overarching system, state, or economy.

On the same matter 39 years later, Metahaven, questioning the state of affairs of the Pan-European identity draws attention to the expansion of advanced forms of marginality within the EU.

The French banlieues have developed something the sociologist Loïc Wacquant calls “advanced marginality” 6, a tremendously powerful condition with regard to the condition of border, or periphery. [...]
Revamped (historical) city centers, meticulously styled and kept, become "global destinations'' for capital, culture, and investment, while cheaply and quickly constructed urban peripheries become ever poorer, harder to reach, and more difficult to leave. 7
Center-periphery oppositions like these are increasingly found as borders within Europe. According to the French thinker Étienne Balibar, there are “modes of inclusion and exclusion in the European sphere.” 8. Europe is a “borderland”, anything but the patchwork of peace and prosperity conforming to the EU's official brand image.9 (Metahaven, 2009)

Keeping an eye on the French context, a case in point is the ZUS
10(Zone Urbaine Sensible), urban and infra-urban territories outlined by the Pacte de Relance pour la Ville 11(PRV) as priority targets for policies meant to revitalize the economy 12 and keep the country ‘safe’.  
        Launched by the right-of-center Juppè government in 1996,the PRV is the product of a political campaign by Jacques Chirac aimed at fighting against the fracture sociale [social divide] and the risk of social unrest in the suburbs, that was holding hostage the State. 

Le plan présenté aujourd'hui par Alain Juppé semble avoir choisi d'autres angles d'attaque: celui du renforcement de la présence de l'Etat dans les banlieues et surtout celui de l'emploi. Ainsi le pacte prévoit­il une augmentation des effectifs de police, des mesures supplémentaires contre la délinquance (avec la création, déjà critiquée, d'« unités à encadrement éducatif renforcé »), des dispositions en faveur du secteur éducatif ainsi que du logement. Afin de favoriser la mixité sociale, les règles d'attribution de HLM seraient assouplies par la suppression des plafonds de ressources et la non-application des surloyers. (Philippe Moreau, Les Echos, 1996)

The plan presented today by Alain Juppé seems to have chosen other angles of attack: that of strengthening the presence of the State in the suburbs and especially of employment. Thus, the pact aims to increase the police force, and additional measures against delinquency (with the creation, already criticized, of  juvenile detention centers.), and provisions in favor of the educational sector as well as housing. In order to promote social mix, the allocation rules for low-cost housing would be relaxed by removing income ceilings and rent surcharge.

Such intensive policing led to the expected results. Along with what Silverstein and Tetreault (2006) have called the “defacto militarization of housing projects”, the PRV is considered to have also introduced a shift in focus from solidarity between communities, to a model based on economic success with strictly defined space of intervention
13, and paved the way to a neoliberal approach based on zoning which rather than breaking down problems to their constituent parts, lumps together social issues in a box promptly defined as 'ghetto' 14.
       One of the major downsides of the census has been in fact the encouragement of forms of institutionalized segregation and discrimination
15 based on territorial stigmatization. Indeed, territories classified as ZUS were and still are easily identifiable and labeled thanks to extremely detailed maps 16 offered by the French government itself, where areas are marked street by street 17 [rue par rue] and cut off from the rest of the city with red-line boundaries 18.

When asked where they reside, many of those who work in Paris say vaguely that they live in the northern suburbs (Avery 1987: 22) rather than reveal their address in La Courneuve. 19 (Wacquant, 2008)

One of these districts is La Villeneuve
20, a residential neighborhood located in the south of Grenoble.  Designed and built between 1963 and 1983, in the 1970s it has been widely publicized as a symbol of the post-68 architecture, being one of the first attempts at creating a differentiated district integrating jobs, housing, and various services altogether. But as much as the buildings were quite correct and the urban space agreeable, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the lack of investments, and the ongoing deterioration of the estates, combined with acute economic problems, turned this 1970s utopia into a fragile ecosystem; worthy of inclusion in the Zones de Redynamisation Urbaine (ZRU). A downfall predicted by French sociologists 21 already in the 1970s.

The city is a furtive object, it seems, one that conceals itself. Far from dominating their city, the inhabitants seem to lose themselves further and further within it. The production of urban space today hardly offers the inhabitants any respite, now that it even goes so far as to reduplicate this loss of self and of “home” in the city, by closing off all prospects through the shrinking of cityscapes, economic pressure, social division, overpricing of “small” property lots, and the concentration of slum areas 22.(Medam, 1971).23 (Augoyard, 1979)

On the other hand, the decline of La Villeneuve, together with other neighborhoods across France, has been covered by French media manufacturing an image of la banlieue as a public issue, deserving of the attention of specialists and the intervention of political decision-makers
24. Indeed, especially in the early 1990s, and just before the introduction of the PRV, a supposed Americanization of French suburbs, supported by the analysis of several journalists and scholars 25, exacerbated the national public discourse around the social divide and social impoverishment; defectively comparing the banlieues to ‘American style ghettos’, such as the Black Belt district 26 of the Southside of Chicago, and sensationalizing the issue by resorting to resembling historical cases.

Proof is the epidemic of articles with alarming and alarmist titles, such as 'Ghetto Stories', 'Long Live the Ghetto', 'These Banlieues where the Worst is Possible' 27, triggered at the beginning of the 1980s by the infamous 'rodeos' in the Minguettes neighbourhood of Venissieux (a waning industrial suburb of Lyons) and the firearm death of little Toufik Ouanès in the cité of the Quatre mille (4000) in La Courneuve in July 1983, which was suddenly accelerated and greatly amplified following the incidents in Vaulx-en-Velin in October 1990, variously described by the press as a riot', a 'revolt', an 'uprising', and even a 'veritable urban guerrilla [war]'.28  (Wacquant, 2008)

A stigma still put forth today by several newspapers and newscasts in France, such as M6 with its TV program Zone Interdite 29 [No-go Zone](1993-present) or France 2 with Envoyé Spécial (1989-present) and its reportages on ‘les quartiers sensibles/chauds’ [agitated neighborhoods]. Despite the political and mediatic ostracism however, there is still who offers resistance. Stigmatizing media coverage in fact do not go unnoticed and often found instead the opposition of local residents accusing newspapers and broadcasters of carrying and supporting prejudicial beliefs about the grands ensembles [large-scale & high-rise housing projects].
       A case in point is exactly Envoyé Spécial, which on September 26, 2013, broadcasted a reportage entitled “La Villeneuve: le rêve brisé
30 [the broken dream],  picturing a prejudicial and one-sided portrait of the area featuring clashes between young men and the police, teachers struggling to support their students, gun violence, and the discomfort of the elderly. A few months later, a defamation lawsuit 31 was brought by a group of residents against France 2, leading, despite the dismissal of the appeals court, to the mobilization of the local community and the production of a crowdfunded documentary 32 aiming to rebalance the image of the district; an initiative that shifted the focus from the voyeuristic and sensationalistic viewpoint of the broadcaster to one which alternatively promoted the perspective of a wide range of residents.

In a similar manner, especially in Paris, a new generation of photographers 33 and independent publishing houses
34 are encouraging the formation of a non-stereotypical imagery of the suburbs, directing the focus onto the ordinary, mundane aspects of everyday life in the banlieue, in an attempt to counter both stigmatizing discourses, and the commodification and fetishization of urban culture by politics and media.
        The pictures, most often set in the streets of Parisian peripheral districts, such as Saint-Denis, Epinay-Sur-Seine, or Bondy, feature non-judgemental portraits of a wide range of residents and their daily routine 35; a multidimensional visual account of contemporary French (sub)urban society, that could potentially have the same impact photographers such as Cartier-Bresson, Koudelka, Arbus, Klein, or Meyerowitz 36 had in the narration of twentieth-century society.

Along side urban photography, however, zines like PARISREAL II (2015) by Yanis Dadoum reveal also the influence of rap video culture, as also confessed by the same photographer 37 in a recent interview:

I like some stuff from the past like the rap from the 2000s, rap videos also. The video of Mafia K'1 Fry for their track “Pour Ceux38 is bloody amazing. Everything is there. Those guys woke up one morning and said 'let's do a video clip'. All the kids from the blocks came out and they just filmed. Voilà. That's great. Even in the way they are dressed, those guys didn’t force anything. Didn’t play anything. 39 (Yanis Dadoum, 2015)

Indeed, photographic series such as THÉRAPIE
  40 by Marvin Bonheur, to name but one, encompasses a similar iconography employed in early 2000’s French rap videos such as ”Pour Ceux”(2003) or “Les Princes De La Ville41 (1999) by 113; spontaneous or mildly staged portraits of the youth from the banlieues, with the cityscape as a backdrop.
        Rap culture has in fact occupied a majorly influential role in the construction of visual and non-visual records of suburban and peri-urban areas, having had, and still having a privileged relationship with urban peripheries.

We are essentially reporting live from neighborhoods and communities long forgotten, and, in Atlanta, recently torn down 42. It seems as though our city and our people place no importance on our community any longer. These are the places you never visit. These are the places that hip-hop claims to care about. 43 (Pill, 2009)

In the early 1980s, when rap music began to drift away from eclosed spaces and events such as clubs and block parties 44, and gangsterism started taking roots in the culture, bringing a new spacial dimension in it, a new subgenre deeply tied to urban geographies established itself as one of the most influential styles in hip hop music: gangsta rap; a subgenre either made by or about gangsters, promoting both tales of street life and the lifestyle associated with it. And as much as rap music changed and evolved over the years, gangsta rap imagery and its recurring themes remained dominant within the rap landscape, helping to popularize the use of urban settings in rap videos, and characterizing the genre’s aptitude for the narration of urban realities.
        Ice T, for instance, who helped pioneer gangsta rap, already in the late 1980s used to interwoven his music videos
45 with images of Los Angeles, featuring both cinematic scenes worthy of a crime movie and documentary-style shots of the Californian cityscape. And similarly to Ice T, many other artists over the years – both in and out of the North American context – walked the same path; such as Nipsey Hussle in Picture Me Rollin  46(2017), also in Los Angeles, or SCH in Interlude 47(2020) set in Marseille; where both videos mostly avoid studio or indoor settings, preferring instead open air locations, facing local landmarks of their respective cities and neighborhoods.

But it is no coincidence that so many artists over time and across so many different countries have promoted images of their districts; as if in the face of a society that devalues and demeans them
48 one way in which they could have cope with ‘dispossession’ was through the passionate display of the districts to which they belonged, although impoverished, moche 49 [ugly] or dysfunctional.
       Rappers, in fact, seem to respond symbiotically to the ecosystems. A concept well-argued by Jesse Mccarthy in one of his Notes on Trap:

TRAP 50 IS THE ONLY MUSIC that sounds like what living in contemporary America feels like. It is the soundtrack of the dissocialized subject that neoliberalism made. It is the funeral music that the Reagan revolution deserves. 51 (Jesse Mccarthy, 2018)

And despite being a comment on the American society, this concept seemingly applies to many other countries and contexts where living conditions are now majorly dictated by urbanization processes, as defined by Henri Lefebvre. With rap music now potentially becoming the soundtrack of the infinitude of inner borders fragmenting the globe; the soundtrack of policies exacerbating territorial stigmatization in France; the soundtrack of the forthcoming complete urbanization.
       Indeed, rap culture today, especially through the production of visual records, assumes the task of narrating the city and its symbols, in the same way in the 19th-century poets and novelists portrayed the rise of the city as the new totalizing ground to decipher.

The symbolic dimension of the city was discovered by Victor Hugo, its paradigmatic dimension by Baudelaire, and its syntagmatic dimension by many poets who inhabited the city and wrote about their travels: romantics and minor poets, from Gérard de Nerval to Lautrémont and Rimbaud. 52 (Lefebvre, 1970)

Likewise, rap music, better than most music genres, it has been able, and it is still able – at its best – to provide a different understanding of the urban context, quite often fracturing the institutional and postcard-perfect image of the city, by reframing and observing it from unconventional perspectives.
       In this regard, Kodwo Eshun in a short essay entitled Abducted by Audio 53 analyzes how much, already in the mid-1990s, rap music grew used to morph and unsettle reality: 

“So if you go back to 1992 when Cypress Hill started - if you remember, before that, you had hip hop which was very much based in an idea of reality, in an idea of representing your neighbourhood, representing your true class or true group around you- as soon as you had Cypress Hill you had that reality blending, you had reality morphing into a psychogeography, a more unreal state. The first thing you hear is the sound of inhalation, people breathing in, the sound of the hits from the bong. That kind of magnification, that idea of sound microscoping right in close to your ear, that’s what was fascinating about hip hop, and that was, immediately, when you started to realise that reality was starting to morph.” (Eshun, 1997)

An analysis to be understood not as a withdrawal of the genre, and its video culture, from its social and documentary functions, which on the contrary continued to play a major role, but rather as an enhancement of its subjectivity and its analytical potential.
Indeed,thanks to this shift in mindset, multiple voices coexist within the genre today, and the urban context, and all the stories associated with it, can be experienced in a wide range of shades; sometimes fictionalized with cinematic features; sometimes sublimated into myths and legends; sometimes excessively glamorized
       Among this different array of styles, however, fictionalization has been historically predominant, far surpassing the documentary style, which instead remained most often a prerogative of a few
55 – and which only today is seeing a resurgence thanks to a community of creators and curators, like COMPLEX (US) or YARD (FR), producing video tours of influential neighbourhoods within rap culture.
        Since the early days of the genre, in fact, especially with the rise of gangsta rap, rappers have often worked with the movie industry in the production of soundtracks or taking acting roles
56, such as Ice-T in Colors 57(1988) or years later Mobb Deep in In Too Deep 58(1999). And over the years, this phenomenon has done nothing but spread, consolidating the relationship between rap music and film culture; a relationship that kept on influencing rappers’ ambitions and rap videos’ accounts on the urban experience, both in and out of the North American context.

A case in point is Gomorrah
59(2014), an Italian crime TV series narrating the story of two young men making their ways into a Neapolitan crime-syndicate.
        Soon after its release, Scampia
60, a suburb in the far north of Naples, and one of the locations of the TV series, gained among many European rappers a mythical dimension. European (gangsta) rap, in fact, until 10-15 years before, was feeding almost entirely on American biopics and crime movies & TV series, such as Scarface 61(1983), Carlito's Way 62(1993), The Sopranos 63(1999-2007) or Get Rich or Die Tryin' 64(2005), and other cult films about American gangbangers like Boyz n the Hood  65(1991) and Menace II Society  66 La Haine (1995) directed by Mathieu Kassovitz.
       When Europe's film industry eventually started producing crime drama and movies set within EU countries, such as 4 Blocks
67(2017-2019) or Romanzo Criminale  68(2008 -2010), the initiative had a great appeal to local rap scenes, which started leaving behind American icons and instead embrace the European ones.
        Fascinated by Gomorrah storyline and characters, several French rappers, for instance, picked Scampia as additional location for their videos, such as PNL in Le monde ou rien 69 (2015) or SCH in Gomorra
70(2015); as if that neighborhood, however distant from their lives, and encountered only on screen, suddenly epitomized their life stories and ambitions, as much as their hometowns.

However, whilst acknowledging the usefulness and therapeutic value of using ‘ready-made’ narratives and imageries taken from films and TV series, over the years the use of movie references in rap videos, especially crime drama, has led to a stereotypification and calcification of the genre iconography, which now is flattened more and more by over-banalized images
71 like money, weapons, and drugs.
        On the contrary, less ‘cinematic’ videos, synthesizing their own imagery according to the habits and customs of each neighborhood, kept on constructing ever-evolving scenarios and expressive scenes.
For instance, keeping an eye on Scampia, this time from a different angle, the representation of the area given by Co’ sang in Int'o Rione 72(2006) radically differs from Paky’s depiction of the same in Boss
73(2020); with the latter appearing to be a patchwork of scenes likely scraped from Gomorrah, while the first one, a collection of spontaneous or mildly-staged vignettes inspired by local scenes, offering an autonomous reading of the environment.
        And a similar approach can be found in several French videos today, such as N'tiekar
74 by Dinos (2020), Bienvenue à la Banane 75 by Moha La Squale (2017), or MERCÉ LA ZONE  76 by Hatik (2019), in which the video functions as a map of an internalized landscape, indexing the symbolic units underlying the experiences of the respective ‘communities’, as seen through the eyes of the artists.

Et je pense en fait qu’avec les années, le rap français est vraiment en train de prendre son identité, genre vraiment, c’est le nouvel âge d’or maintenant, je pense vraiment, donc nos codes à nous, de simplicité à nous, nos trucs à nous, sans vraiment forcément copier les autres, tu vois. 77 (Sofiane, 2017)

Actually I think that over the years, French rap is really consolidating its identity, like really. It's the new golden age now, I think, with our own codes, our own simplicity, our stuff, without necessarily copying others, you see.

Rap video culture throughout the years has taken the medium of video and transformed it so it was better suited to describe the [urban landscape] as it understood it 78; starting from an elementary and bi-dimensional representation of the city – as in It's Nasty
79 (1982) by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – and getting today to a multidimensional depiction of the same.
        In addition to this, what really keeps the genre interesting is the emergence of a shared sensibility towards the urban landscape and its periphery.
Indeed, French rap culture81,probably due to the homogeneity of its markets and of suburban and peri-urban areas shown in most videos, is seeing the rise of a shared visual language and iconography, made up by elements taken from the environment; what Lefebvre may define as urban mythology 83.

A prime example are Sofiane’s videos with the hashtag #Jesuispasséchezso
84, a video series set in several neighborhoods visited by the French rapper since 2016.

En tournée, Sofiane passe toujours une tête dans la cité du coin, une proximité qui plaît à son public. «Quand tu en viens, tu sais que c’est les clés d’une ville. Le rap s’est éloigné de sa base. Tu retrouves maintenant les rappeurs dans les clubs et moins dans les cités. Il faut vivre ce qu’on raconte. 85 (Girard, 2017)

On tour, Sofiane always passes by the local city, a proximity that appeals to his audience. "When you go visit, you know you have the keys of the city. Rap music today is distant from its base. You will now find more rappers in clubs than in the neighborhoods. [when instead]You should experience what people claim.

It all started in La Castellane
86, a neighborhood in the 15th arrondissement of Marseille, sharing a similar history to La Villeneuve. After that, the series kept on expanding, incorporating other neighborhoods across France, but almost always maintaining a certain continuity 87.
        The script, in fact, is most often the same: Modernist ensembles as a backdrop, a handful of young men behind him, tracksuits & football shirts, cross-body bags, dogs, no presence of women or other groups of residents, weed & ash, dirt bikes & wheelies, guns, kids, cash, drone shots, middle fingers, road signs, handshakes, boxers, choirs, balaclavas, flags, and occasionally cars speeding off. And this imagery keeps recurring for years now. Of course, he has no exclusive on that, many other rappers in Europe use the same iconography, however, he is using it more solidly than others, remaining consistent even when he crosses the French border to shoot videos in other European countries such as Italy
88, Portugal 89, Germany 90 and the Netherlands 91.
        The list of locations is in fact, extremely coherent and well-curated, giving the impression that the landscape doesn’t change much, except for local landmarks; that daily routines do not change, although seen in different contexts. One homogeneous geography, made of suburbs inhabited only by loud and resentful men sharing the same lifestyle. However, as apocalyptic as it may seem, by acknowledging similarities in different urban contexts, and through a highly selective take on reality, Sofiane is able to bring the European urban periphery and its social divide into focus; and potentially speak to an audience that identifies itself with it, perhaps living in urban areas under the same or transposable conditions depicted in his videos.

“Blanc-Mesnil, Aulnay, Sevran, Bondy, La Courneuve, tous ces endroits-là, on se connaît, on est dans le même délire”. 93(Sofiane, 2017)

Blanc-Mesnil, Aulnay, Sevran, Bondy, La Courneuve, all these places, we know each other, we are in the same delirium.

Indeed, what he calls “le même délire” is nothing but a reference to the aftermath of a mismanaged urbanization process and its impact on urban communities now living under a regime of formal and informal segregation, impoverishment, and abuse; a condition which on the other hand, has also allowed rap culture to create a sense of community, and which has granted to the genre an influential status in urban contexts; opening up a chance for the genre to become a public platform against a hegemonic conception of France's urban identity.

I think there is a “common” that grows stronger and stronger. We always have to create institutions! But creating institutions also means creating forms of cities, because an institution is not a metaphysical representation or an ideal archetype! It is among other, concrete forms that the city has to be constructed, that the metropolis can constitute the common. And it goes without saying that I am not only speaking here of buildings! There are, of course, buildings, but there is also communication — the lines, the spaces, and so forth. Creating an institution means creating a public space.
        [...] Because we still require a place in which this multitude will exist — not only a network through which it communicates, but also the power to decide its living conditions. This power to decide plays a role in developing a relationship between the multitude and state structures or institutions, and from a negative perspective this means an uproar; from a constructive perspective it means revolution.
95(Negri, 2010)

However, despite the multiethnic French banlieue has become a space from which French rap culture could potentially challenge the representation of Frenchness, interrogate universalist notions of citizenship, encourage discussions on otherness, and open up a possibility of reclaiming the urban space, on the other hand, most videos seem to exist in a social vacuum where there are no actual possibilities of exchange or encounters within segments of the community, unless it's between small, demographically homogeneous circles of people.
        Indeed, Sofiane’s videos, as many others, show us the cité within an extremely narrow framework, presenting it as a self-enclosed world, in which the hyper-masculine focus on the aforementioned elements neglects the off-screen everyday life animating the suburb, reinforcing the gap between the multi-layered reality of the banlieue, and its mythological and catastrophic representation by TV programs
96 and banlieue films 97, repeatedly converging on a narrow set of images, characters, and situations.

Les mecs ils ont l’impression que dans le 93 on marche avec des fusils à pompes, que c’est la guérilla, non! Calmez vous. On s’amuse ici, on fait des barbecues. On met 5€ et on fait un grand barbecue pour tout le monde. On fait tout, on emprunte des camions pour emmener les petits à la piscine l’été…98 (Sofiane, 2017) 

People have the impression that in the 93 [Seine-Saint-Denis] one walks with shotguns, that it is the guerrilla,no! Calm down. We have fun here, we make barbecue. We put 5€ each and we make a big barbecue for everyone. We do everything, we borrow trucks to take the little ones to the pool in summer. 

Paradoxically, even when rap culture claims to counter conservative conceptions of the urban periphery, when it takes on the task of portraying its surroundings, that same hegemonic and catastrophic representation seems to remain in place.
        Indeed, as far as the genre drifted away from American film culture and built its own local imagery, its process of assimilating and understanding the environment seems still to rely on other dominant narratives, ending up recycling and reinforcing – in a different visual style – a deeply ingrained set of images; raising the question of whether rappers have somehow internalized pre-existing media representations, then unconsciously reproduced, or whether their hyper-masculine and universalist claims about banlieue lifestyles are to be intended as a form of legitimization, which attempts to mediate economic, social and political disenfranchisement.

What is certain is that rap video culture has developed the scale and the non-gimmicky potential to heighten public awareness around contemporary urban issues, and become a counterpart to hegemonic discourses about urban outcasts. But in order to do so,the genre needs to stop dealing with dispossession in a one-dimensional way, and break the cycle of canonical rap imageries; starting from getting away from models of exclusion and opening itself to segments of the community long disregarded and often kept outside of the frame, unless it was by accident.
        Fred Moten, quoting Manolo Callahan, argues that we need to learn how to renew our habits of assembly and recognize that we're part of a common project, and this is exactly the only way rap culture can sustainably evolve and have the capacity to be relevant to more than a few listeners; becoming the legitimate soundtrack of contemporary urban peripheries.

May, 2020
Design Academy Eindhoven
The Critical Inquiry Lab

Thanks to: 
Saskia van Stein
Patricia Reed
Katia Truijen

Sofia, Matilde, Tasminder, Anna, Zee, Rachel, Mimo, Michael & José
Giulio, Emiliano, Francesco, Alessandro & Agostino


  1. Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, University of Minnesota Press, 1970, 2003, p. 1.
  2. ibid., p. 108.
  3. ibid., p. 109.
  4. “The great cross”: Haussmann's renovation of Paris featured two large avenues forming a cross.
  5. ibid., p. 113.
  6. Loïc Wacquant, Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008), 245.
  7. Metahaven, Europe Sans: History, Politics, and Protocol in the EU Image, e-flux, Journal #05 - April 2009.
  8. Étienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, trans. James Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 3.
  9. Ibid., Metahaven, Europe Sans: History, Politics, and Protocol in the EU Image, e-flux, Journal #05 - April 2009.
  10. A law passed on November 14, 1996 created two area subsets, namely the ZRU (Zones de Redynamisation Urbaine) and the ZFU (Zones Franches Urbaines). The three levels of intervention (ZUS, ZRU and ZFU) are characterized by fiscal and social measures of increasing importance.
  11. Loi n° 96-987 du 14 novembre 1996 relative à la mise en oeuvre du pacte de relance pour la ville. 
  12. Haughton, Graham & Allmendinger, Phil. (2012). Spatial Planning and the New Localism. Planning Practice and Research.
  13. Dikec, M. (2006) Two decades of French urban policy: From social development of neighborhood to the republican penal state, Antipode, 38, p. 59-81.
  14. Interview with Loïc Wacquant May 30th 2013, YouTube, uploaded by SFIvideo, June 3, 2013,
  15. One of many governmental reports on the repercussions of PRV on ZUS residents.
  17. Village Olympique, La Villeneuve : Arlequins, Baladins, PERIMETRE RUE PAR RUE
  18. Village Olympique, La Villeneuve : Arlequins, Baladins, Carte au 1/25000 visée à l'article 1 du décret n° 96-1157 du 26 Décembre 1996
  19. Loïc Wacquant, Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality, 2008 Cambridge, p. 173. Interestingly enough, the same issue is told (2:28-2:42) by Francesco Curia AKA Saga Er Secco, a rapper from Rome, in conversation about his neighborhood, Tor Bella Monaca: “It often happened to us [him and his acquaintances] to go to a job interview and being asked "Where do you live?"and then reply "Well... Torre Gaia..Torre Angela..” so as not to mention Tor Bella Monaca because we were systematically labelled because of that.” 
  20. Quartier Villeneuve - Village-Olympique, Grenoble, France
  21. Jean-François Augoyard was himself a resident of l'Arlequin, an housing complex within La Villeneuve. He conducted a series of in-depth interviews with the inhabitants of the neighborhood, which were later published in Pas à pas : essai sur le cheminement quotidien en milieu urbain(1979).
  22. Medam, Alain. La Ville-Censure. Anthropos, 1971.
  23. Augoyard Jean-François. Step by Step: Everyday Walks in a French Urban Housing Project. Univ. of Minnesota Press, (1979), 2007.
  24. Loïc Wacquant, Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality, 2008 Cambridge, p. 139. The author also suggests Spector and Kltsuse (1987) for a theoretical panorama, and Best (1989) for a varied range of illustrative case studies.
  25. Loïc Wacquant, 2008, p. 144: “Demographer Herve Le Bras (1989) put Europe on guard against the 'American trap' represented by the formation of ethnic 'ghettos', which he claims is already under way in several countries of the continent. Sociologist Alain Touraine (1990) is still more affirmative and urgent in his evocation of what he calls 'the American syndrome'.”
  26. Census Tracts of Chicago, 1934
  27. In L'Evénement du jeudi, 10-16 May 1990; Politis, 8 February 1990; and Le Figaro, 9 October 1990, respectively.
  28. ibid., p. 140.
  29. Zone interdite, TV Series (1993–present).
  30. Le Rêve Brisé la Villeneuve, Grenoble (38) Partie 1, YouTube, uploaded by Quartiersensibles, April 14, 2014,
  31. Grenoble : Envoyé Spécial en procès, Le Figaro, May 15, 2014.
  32. La Villeneuve, l'utopie malgré tout [utopia despite everything], Vicente Massot & Flore Viénot, 2015.
  33. Yanis Dadoum:
    Patrick Bona: Marvin Bonheur AKA Monsieur Bonheur:
  34. Red Lebanese:
  35. Ma cité va se baigner, Vice, August 24, 2018.
  36. Colin Westerbeck, Bystander : a history of street photography, Bulfinch Press, (1994) 2001.
  37. Ibid., Yanis Dadoum:
  38. Mafia K'1 Fry - Pour ceux (Clip officiel), YouTube, uploaded by mafiaK1fryVEVO, January 10, 2017,
  39. The honest, raw emotion of Paris' banlieues, i-D, December 01, 2015
  40. Marvin Bonheur AKA Monsieur Bonheur, THÉRAPIE, LE VISAGE DES OUBLIÉES, 2017.
  41. 113 - Les Princes De La Ville, YouTube, uploaded by torch035, June 25, 2009,
  42. “DEMOLITION IN CHICAGO, NEW ORLEANS, AND ATLANTA.” New Deal Ruins: Race, Economic Justice, and Public Housing Policy, by Edward G. Goetz, Cornell University Press, ITHACA; LONDON, 2013, pp. 75–110.  
  43. Tyrone Rivers AKA Pill, Pill-"Trap Goin' Ham" music video, June 24, 2009.
  44. A block party is a party that is held outdoors in a street or other public place, often organized by the people living in the local area. With regards to Hip Hop culture, the term refers to parties held originally in New York, specifically in the Bronx. Besides these, rap music was largely played in clubs: The Sugarhill Gang, Rapper's Delight, YouTube, uploaded by Sugarhill Records, Aug 24, 2015,
  45. Ice-T, I'm Your Pusher (1988), Youtube, uploaded by BadBoyKillaH187, December 19, 2010,
  46. Nipsey Hussle, Picture Me Rollin, YouTube, uploaded by Nipsey Hussle, Dec 29, 2017,
  47. SCH, Interlude, Youtube, uploaded by SCH, February 20, 2020,
  48. Beatrice Finauro & Simon Reynolds, A Fantasy Of A Life Without Constraints, Collectible Dry, 2018.
  49. In response to an article on the "ugliness" of the suburbs published by Télérama and titled “Comment la France est devenue moche [How France got ugly]”, Éric Chauvier wrote his 2011 book Contre Télérama [Against Télérama], disapproving the class judgment disguised as an aesthetic one issued by the journalists.
  50. ‘Trap’ is a Hip Hop music subgenre originated in the Southern United States during the late 1990s. Despite sonically and aesthetically breaking with the past, through the inventive use of sonic elements such as 808 drum kicks and heavy-tuned vocals, its structures & subjects are still very similar to rap music produced in mid-late 1980’s, such as gangsta rap.
  51. Jesse Mccarthy, Notes on Trap: A world where everything is always dripping, Nplusonemag, Issue 32, Fall 2018.
  52. Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, University of Minnesota Press, (1970), 2003, p. 108.
  53. Kodwo Eshun, Abducted by Audio, Abstract Culture, Swarm 3, Issue 12 (1997).
  54. One of the core elements of trap music is the exorcization of poverty and social impoverishment through the use of hyperbolic images most often linked to white-privilege and wealthy communities’ lifestyles: Migos, Versace, Youtube, uploaded by Migos ATL, October 1, 2013,
  55. Ashley O'Connor, The Evolution of Conscious Hip-hop, Capital News Service, fall 2018.     
  57. Colors, directed by Dennis Hopper, Orion Pictures, 1988.
  58. In Too Deep, directed by Michael Rymer, Dimension Films, 1999.
  59. Gomorrah, Sky Atlantic, 2014-present.
  61. Scarface, directed by Brian de Palma, performance by Al Pacino, Universal Pictures, 1983.
  62. Carlito's Way, directed by Brian de Palma, performance by Al Pacino, Epic Productions, 1993
  63. The Sopranos, HBO, 1999-2007
  64. Get Rich or Die Tryin', directed by Jim Sheridan, performance by Curtis Jackson AKA 50 Cent, Interscope/Shady/Aftermath Films, 2005.
  65. Boyz n the Hood, directed by John Singleton, performance by Cuba Gooding Jr. & Ice Cube, Columbia Pictures, 1991.
  66. Menace II Society, directed by the Hughes Brothers, New Line Cinema, 1993.
  67. 4 Blocks, TNT Serie, 2017-2019.
  68. Romanzo Criminale, Sky Cinema, 2008-2010.
  69. PNL, Le monde ou rien, YouTube, uploaded by PNL, June 12, 2015,
  70. SCH, Gomorra, YouTube, uploaded by SCH, October 15, 2015,
  71. Rim'K, Valise, feat. Koba LaD, SCH, YouTube, uploaded by Rim'K, March 6, 2020,
  72. Cosang, Int'o Rione, YouTube, uploaded by cosang, March 31, 2006,
  73. Paky, Boss, YouTube, uploaded by Paky Glory, January 23, 2020,
  74. Dinos, N'tiekar, YouTube, uploaded by Dinos, February 5, 2020,
  75. Moha La Squale, Bienvenue à la Banane, YouTube, uploaded by Moha La Squale, September 24, 2017, 
  76. Hatik, MERCÉ LA ZONE (Chaise Pliante Part. 7), YouTube, uploaded by Hatik, May 10, 2019,
  77. Clique x Sofiane, YouTube, uploaded by Clique TV, February 3, 2017,
  78. The Ecstatic Message: Talking Music and Moving Image Art with Artists Ja'Tovia Gary and Arthur Jafa, YouTube, uploaded by Smithsonian American Art Museum, Oct 12, 2019, 21:40-22:00,
  79. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, It's Nasty, YouTube, uploaded by Sugarhill Records, August 24, 2015,
  80. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, The Message, YouTube, uploaded by IzzyG82, December 1, 2014,
  81. Billboard, 5 August, 2000, p. 30; The French (Hip-Hop) Revolution, DJBOOTH, June 28, 2019.
  82. Non-institutional because not subjected to the constraints of law and institutions; non-ideological because it doesn’t justify or refute any institutions but tends to ignore them; an attitude that for years has defined the limits of the genre (finance, visibility, validation etc.) but which has also made a great appeal on the audience.
  83. Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, University of Minnesota Press, (1970), 2003, p. 105
  84. #Jesuispasséchezso, YouTube, 2016-present,
  85. Quentin Girard, SOFIANE : LA VOIX DÉSARME, Libération, February 17 2017,
  86. Sofiane, #Jesuispasséchezso : Episode 1, YouTube, uploaded by Sofiane, April 11, 2016,
  87. Except for Episode 2 being a parody on the alienation of rappers merely seeking success.
  88. Tedua - Fashion Week Rmx ft. Sofiane, YouTube, uploaded by Tedua Tedua, July 2, 2018,
  89. Sofiane, Des Malades, YouTube, uploaded by Sofiane Officiel, February 20, 2020,
  90. Sofiane, Remontada Ft. Azet, YouTube, uploaded by Sofiane Officiel, March 16, 2020,
  91. Sofiane, #Jesuispasséchezso: Episode 12, YouTube, uploaded by Sofiane, Jan 23, 2020,
  92. Sofiane, Mon instru va craquer, YouTube, uploaded by Floky Neuf Trois, February 24, 2018,
  93. Ibid.
  94. Over the years he collaborated with several film productions and directors, such as Aleyezonit, Neetch_art, Suther Kane Films, or Shems Cameron, however he seems to script his own videos.
  95. Hans Ulrich Obrist, In Conversation with Antonio Negri, e-flux, Journal #18, September 2010.
  96. Marie-Claude Taranger, Constructions télévisuelles et stéréotype. Sur quelques procédures usuelles d'élaboration des reportages télévisés propres à favoriser les schématisations, Langage & société, 1997, n° 81, pp. 17-33.
  97. Ginette Vincendeau, La Haine: French Film Guide, I.B. Tauris, 2005.
  98. Clique x Sofiane, YouTube, uploaded by Clique TV, February 3, 2017, 22:10 -22:55