In French, rap lyrics offend

June 15, 2006
National Post
By Graeme Hamilton

MONTREAL - When kids in Quebec were bopping along to American rap songs about bitches and hos, nobody got too worked up because few understood the English lyrics. But now that emerging francophone rappers are emulating the misogynistic lyrics of their southern counterparts, parents are taking notice.

Controversy erupted this week after the popular Montreal group Omnikrom performed a free, early evening concert at Montreal's largest French-music festival. The performance featured explicit lyrics, including commands to women to give men oral sex.

A spokesman for the FrancoFolies de Montreal festival acknowledged yesterday that scheduling Omnikrom for a 7 p.m. outdoor concert on Sunday was a mistake. "We have never censored anything at Les Francos," media-relations director Marie-Eve Boisvert said. "However, in my opinion, this particular concert should have been presented a little later. That was an error on our part."

Still, she said the band belonged at the festival. "They are a hot group at the moment. Their album has received good reviews, and in the hip hop world, they are very, very popular," she said.

Omnikrom is simply the most successful of a growing number of Quebec hip hop artists drawing their lyrical inspiration from the gutter. French radio in Quebec has had no qualms about playing obscenity-laced English songs that English radio would never touch without censoring, but the emergence of equally risque French lyrics is relatively new.

Jocelyne Robert, a sex-education expert and author of numerous books, said she was shocked when a mother recently contacted her for advice after finding her 11-year-old daughter listening to Quebec rap group Black Taboo.

The lyrical content is perhaps not far removed from global stars like 50 Cent and Eminem, but the difference is Quebec listeners know exactly what is being said. "This is no longer confined to the United States, or France," Ms. Robert said. "Now it concerns us too. Before, Quebec francophones were not concerned because the children listening to it did not understand English, or did not understand the slang from France. Now it is here, and what are we going to do as a society?"

Black Taboo's songs include God Bless the Topless, in which they rap, "Because I'm the one with the whip and I will not be dominated/ I hear, 'Stop!' It's time to keep going." Ms. Robert considers the rap lyrics "sexual hate propaganda" and worries that, like pornography, they will influence young people's attitudes toward sexuality.

"It is a hateful, violent, misogynistic treatment. The girl has to submit to the male," she said. "They preach male supremacy and sexual violence."

On the late-night Radio-Canada radio program, Bande a part, host Alexandre Courteau plays some songs by Omnikrom but avoids the more vulgar tunes. Black Taboo and a few other groups are completely off-limits.

He said popular music has always upset the older generation, and the new breed of Quebec rappers is no different.

"It's like in the time of the Beatles. Parents thought it was the devil's music," he said in an interview. "Is Omnikrom going to cause kids do stupid things sexually? No, I don't think so."

Still, he is disappointed that the three members of Omnikrom -- Linso Gabbo, Jeanbart and Figure 8 -- have fallen back on cliched lyrical material.

"Quebec hip hop had stagnated a bit, and they arrived with a super-cool sound, a fresh new sound, but the words were more of the same and extremely vulgar. It reflects the society we live in, but it doesn't go any farther than that," he said.

The controversy made the front page of Montreal's La Presse yesterday. Laurent Saulnier, vice-president of programming for the FrancoFolies, told the newspaper he adores Omnikrom. "I love their music. They make me laugh a lot, and they embody perfectly world trends in hip hop," he said.

Louis-Philippe Jeanbart, one of the group's members, told the newspaper people were taking too seriously music that was intended simply as entertainment. "We're just talking about guys' imaginations, what guys often think about," he explained.

On the group's Web site fans wrote to congratulate them on making such a big splash. "Omnikrom, so subversive," wrote one. "Publicity!" said another.