Hip-Hop is 50 Years Old, Planète Rap is More Than Half That

Radio fans, you’re going to love reading the story of Fred Musa, a sound and airwaves enthusiast who has been digging records since the late 80s. The American-style « jock » who launches new rap tracks like rockets on the historic Skyrock, except that here the host has replaced the all recorded music with live music in a daily and nightly rhythm. His game is rap! Frederico – as he called himself in the nineties – made a name for himself in a talk show about young people’s sexuality with X-rated actress Tabatha Cash, on the French FM dial just near competitor FUN Radio and their famous « Lovin’ Fun » with Doc and Difool (same as Loveline with Dr. Drew in the US). At the time, the musical programming policy of the show was exclusively made of US Rap, the favorite of the two co-hosts, a deal with the management who had not yet understood the importance of hip-hop for a whole generation of listeners. Musa is a radio DJ from night to morning, so he’s been serving up rap with marathon regularity since 1996 on a national, independent radio station. His show has allowed to dig a hole in the media offer, it is a daily show that the whole French-speaking world of rap follows with assiduity, the name of the segment is « Planète Rap » between 8 and 9 pm. With nearly 200,000 listeners per night, the producer is also the most popular radio personality on networks such as YouTube as well as in downloads and in-house « replays » on the skyrock.fm website. The systematic uploading of video clips from the show is a boon for rap fans. The moments of grace immortalized where the flow ignites, where hundreds of smoky freestyles are unleashed, where the delirium of unbearable guests like Lorenzo turn into a happening with the unwanted presence of the marshals who take advantage of the live show to make an arrest in flag. It’s also a repertoire of performances where the mega vitamin egos of Vald and Sofiane (two true members of the Planète Rap team) take part in the virtuous circle that takes shape every day in the corners of the web. Every social network is peddling its soundbite of Planète Rap, it’s an anti-institutional institution, it’s of course thanks to the rigorous creative radio writers of the show. It’s also the job of the director of antenna and head of music programming Laurent Bouneau, who came up through the French free radio, entered as a fan of new wave in the 80s on the demented « Voix du Lézard », itself a direct descendant of Radio Cité Future and indirectly of Radio Verte. The people who composed Skyrock brought together three elements, a futuristic and poetic vision of our world, cultural anti-conformism and commercial pragmatism. These three components still exist, the anti-conformism being manifested in the permanent gesture of the Skyrock program makers to go and find the people where they are in their cultural diversities and their desire to be heard. It is understandable that some artists feel they have been taken over by a corporate station that makes millions in advertising revenue. But looking back at the cradle of the FM network born in the complexity of the French audiovisual landscape, one can only note that the parents have done an educational work by letting the voices of the countryside and the cities, of the remote valleys and of a typical dormitory town of the big urban areas of Paris, Marseille or Lyon express themselves, and this from the beginning of the evening, whether it is in the form of freestyles in Planète Rap or then in Difool’s Libre Antenne.

Fred Musa (left) hosting the show « Planète Rap » since 1996, here with US R&B singer Aaliyah (photo Skyrock)

If Skyrock has experienced some shocks, like all its musical sisters in France in the audience surveys of these last waves, the station resists well to time and to the listening habits that pass. Without a doubt, Planète Rap has done a lot to keep « Sky » above the other « youth media » in the vast digital ecosystem, the show unearths the barely produced nuggets, spots the hopes of the rap scene that have just been unmolded. Thus the French-speaking hip-hop scene scrolls there and takes pleasure there every evening that Jah makes. Some grumpy people turn away from it, « the sorrowful spirits » that President Macron is probably talking about. No worries. We don’t hold grudges at Planère Rap, the grumpy ones will always be invited back if the latest musical cake has a good taste. A book telling the phenomenon Planet Rap is out. Total success in bookstores. If we talk about it in this new column of Suississimo, it’s not because Fred has family in Switzerland. It’s because, after all, French rap is a « universal » story of words and music that touches Belgians as well as Guyanese, Quebecers as well as Valaisans (Big Up to KT Gorique), it’s above all an art where words are omnipresent, are melodious and also poetic (Youssoupha, Rocé, Oxmo Puccino, Solaar…) And if Fred Musa, known as « Fred de Sky », was loquacious about his career, not verbose, just talkative. Well yes, with the help of music journalist Vincent Brunner, Fred puts to music episodes of his life behind the microphone of Sky or elsewhere or in front of the realistic camera of a popu TV or even of an inspired showrunner named Franck Gambastide (the excellent series Validé which allowed Fred to test himself in the creation of a fictional and realistic series. An artistic life set up like on music paper, with a « 16 measures » tendency, a life that is easily told because of the many anecdotes that abound. But Musa, it’s only a story of sounds, passions and fun, doesn’t Musa mean all that in Italian?

Child of the 93 district

How did this Parisian suburban host catch the wave of hip-hop on the radio? A bit by chance. Even if this young slacker from La Courneuve took the passion for the media very early on, he struggled to take the plunge and overcome his adolescent shyness. After having pushed the door of the Dionysian radio Voltage (at the time independent) to help the animators with subordinate tasks, he will leave the rhythmic station of Rosny-sous-Bois and its playlist oriented towards the funk and the dance to launch himself to the antenna of Radio Enghien where he  » malbouffe  » of the microphone. The inconsistent one has the audacity to make gain vouchers for a McDo of the region on an associative radio. Fired. But the teenager has ambition and resources, he clings to a job as a console technician, paid to play records at night on the pop-rock « superradio » that was Skyrock, falling asleep at three o’clock in the morning one night with too much time difference, leaving a memorable blank… or believing to do the right thing by opening the microphone to tell the time and the blaze of the radio. Wrong. The director of the station will curtly ask him to respect the flight log. We are on Skyrock, everywhere in France, there is certainly stake but the ardour of Musa will be quickly transformed into positive energy for successful career plan.

Valentin Le Dû alias VALD and his guest Sofiane Zermani AKA Fianso on Planète Rap (video from Skyrock.fm)

MC Solaar, IAM, ASSASSIN, NTM, the four great acidulous or downright acid feathers of old-school French rap have all broken through on Skyrock. The programs also existed elsewhere. Rapline on M6, Rapido on Canal + and its memorable video reports in New York, the local Parisian Radio Nova and its magazine Actuel which opened their airwaves and their pages to the whole Parisian scene. A specialized press inspired by American magazines like Rap Mag, L’Affiche or RER. They all understood that they were sitting on a cultural goldmine. The music labels also sensed the potential of Skyrock as a megaphone for their detection work and a profit gas pedal as well. And Fred in all this? His evening rap show seemed to get enough audience points to go further. The show « Planète Rap », born in 1996, is going to take a daily rhythm (for almost 30 years now) and logically turn to events by welcoming the best prospects from France and elsewhere when their latest projects are released (Belgium of course, the Maghreb, the rest of French-speaking Africa by small touches and even Switzerland with Di-Meh or Makala are not left out). Fred and his team let the sometimes very young rappers scrape for mic time like one would scrape for playing time on the Knicks bench. They show off their freestyling skills live, dropping a few raunchy lyrics, turning the show into a platform where anything can happen… all the time like tonight when Lomepal invites Katerine and Alkpote to go wild in their wildly crazy style on a rap from his album « Jeannine ». Fred also « teases » the whole of France with young « kickers » and lets them put their freestyles on the phone (yes, that still exists), the only radio station to open its airwaves so freely and with such a level of distribution power. Even the Americans who invented everything in radio and rap have not succeeded.

Ninho, JUL, Niska, Vald, Sofiane and the others

Radio Nova and many local radio stations such as Alpa in Le Mans, Béton in Tours or Canal B in Rennes had understood the interest of giving time to the actors of hip-hop music live, and this in the 90’s, nobody else was doing it in the region. Today, Planète Rap is the number one music radio station at 8 p.m. and Fred plays the role of « great passer » free of charge. His show is a lab for multiple hip-hop expressions – from all over the French-speaking world – or a sort of incubator for rap talent, like on an association radio station, but with ultra-powerful sound and social network support. In his book, Fred recounts his proximity to a « dumpling » who crushed everything during his brief decade of activity: Diam’s. Melanie is a rapper from Paris at the top of her form. He tells the story behind the scenes of his second album because Fred was shooting a video documentary backstage at the time of its creation. He talks in the book about Diam’s hesitations about certain musical settings of her lyrics, her loneliness, then her about-face in friendship, everything is there, disarming truth and sadness of an unexplained distance. We feel sorrow for these two friends who are brutally distancing themselves while they made the history of rap in France. More light-hearted – at least in theory – are Fred’s encounters with Eminem and the late Aaliyah, two great US rap stars who swept everything in their path at the end of the 1990s and 2000s. They told their stories to the microphone of France’s first urban radio station, the US understands the strength of the Skyrock network and their on-air « talents ». But what distinguishes Planète Rap from other radio shows on small hip-hop stations such as Générations, Ado or Mouv’, is that the entire world of French rap has been on the show, either as a featured artist, as a background guest or as a « special guest » for the week. In this sense, Planète Rap is a kind of Mecca of the rap scene, everyone looks to it. And it will remain so, considering the clever way Fred and his team have done it, the relocations with SCH (live this Friday 24 February at the MAD Club in Lausanne) in Marseille, JUL in Moscow, Orelsan in Caen… and so on. All the clashes started and cleared on the networks and in very – even too – oriented freestyles. Booba, La Fouine, Rohff, Kaaris and dozens of others have served up « Sky don’t play us » or other more or less lunar slurs while coming to confess in Fred’s studio as soon as an invitation is received, the rap-game is a huge vanity fair. Make no mistake, generations of rappers still come and go and Fred collects revealing projo shots on projects that he and Skyrock have chosen to highlight, often long before the artist has been able to break anything in the singles or album sales charts. The archives of the show do not lie.

For the record, Skyrock – thanks to its founder Pierre Bellanger – had the wrong idea, by betting on rap in the mid-90s. Fred Musa grew up with this culture that was literally exploding without moving from the radio. He put IAM into orbit (although Akhenaton seems to have a short memory, as evidenced by his critical messages about the so-called intellectually dishonest medium and its commercial Sky « radio operators » who program syrupy hip-hop pop during the day). Booba also had several live red carpets, solo, but also with Lunatik or for his prospects, and this before the rapper from Boulogne-Billancourt sent everything to hell by estimating with a bit of malice that Skyrock ghosted him in his playlist. This is not true, but the expatriate rapper has capitalized on this pseudo-adversity. He built a radio called OKLM, which was supposed to put the rap church back in the middle of the media village. But his radio station was forever KLMed. It’s a complicated job where money doesn’t come in so easily.

Even Rachida Dati comes to Planète Rap

In this bible of rap on the radio that is « Ma Planète Rap », we appreciate a lot the freedom of tone and the not always shiny side of the culture of the urban, of the deviations of Fred in his life of passion (notably on television). He gives his opinion on the regular hypocrisies of the politicians of all the camps as well as the true side of certain voices of right-hand side however not a priori really pro popular class. We learn, for example, that Sarkozy’s ex-protege Rachida Dati played the interview-cash game on the issue of prisons and the impossible conditions of detention of convicts, the then Minister of Justice will go so far as to readjust the regulations on being able to keep from one prison to another what an inmate has cantinated, at Fred’s request. Today, the animator seeks to improve the future reintegration of prisoners by leading workshops with distinguished guests, often from the world of rap or culture. He believes in second chances and stays away from a sanctimonious Republic that does not care for the broken ones of life. We can only welcome this attitude.

From young listeners to not-so-old guests

This week of February 2023, we hear Fred inviting Bigflo and Oli from Toulouse once again, four years before their seminal album « La Cour des Grands », he was receiving emails from the brothers when they were only 14-15 years old. History is often written long before the first live performances, it is touching. The duo from the south-west of Argentina (by the father) feels at home in Paris when they take up residence in the studio on rue Grenetta near the gay district of the Marais and a few meters from rue Saint-Denis. And we feel in phase with them. A good radio would say Laurent Bouneau, the man who spent all his professional life at Skyrock and before that at La Voix du Lézard, the ancestor of Sky, has nurtured his in-house « Talents » by giving them a maximum of responsibility. « Ma Planète Rap » is a must-read like « Passeur » by JD Beauvallet or « Le Rap est la musique préférée des Français » by Laurent Bouneau. Undeniably in the Top 3 books on music released in recent months. Fred Musa also hosts, every Friday night from midnight to 2am, La Nocturne, a 100% French rap show. We can’t advise you to go and listen to the replay of Planète Rap and dive into a musical universe with New York roots that has spread in France thanks to Skyrock.

David Glaser

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