Rapping French Cities in the 1990s

Blurring Marseille and Brightening Paris in Contested Processes of Boundary Making

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Joseph Downing London School of Economics and Political Science, UK

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The scholarship on French rap has thus far paid too little attention to social boundary making. This is important given the long-standing sociological importance of territorial boundaries in creating and reenforcing marginalization, especially for ethnic and racial minorities, in French cities. This article highlights the process of boundary making by presenting an analysis of 364 rap tracks from the 1990s. The results demonstrate stark contrasts: 94 percent of Marseille rappers depict boundaries at the city level, while 68 percent of Paris rappers use districts (arrondissements and suburban départements) as the key signifiers of boundary making. Paris rap follows an established pattern of brightening existing socioeconomic and territorial boundaries through lyrics that focus on alienation and marginalization. Rap from Marseille follows a countervailing logic of blurring socioeconomic and territorial boundaries through lyrics that strive to capture a lived, inclusive multiculturalism in the city.

Contributor Notes

Joseph Downing is a fellow in international migration in the European Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was previously a Marie-Curie fellow at the Laboratoire Méditerranéen de Sociologie at Aix-Marseille Université and the department of politics and international studies, the School of Oriental and African Studies. He received his PhD from the LSE's European Institute in 2014. His thesis, “Between Policy, Recognition and Rioting: Analyzing the Role of Urban Governance, Historical Commemoration and Public Culture in Defining Inclusion in Marseille, Paris and Lyon,” involved significant fieldwork in France. He was awarded the Arts and Humanities Research Council's block grant “European Languages and Culture” scholarship for the 2009–2012 period at the LSE and, he was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (Grant number 703613) in 2016. He has taught security, politics, nationalism, and migration at the LSE.

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