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Ok, here is a great list for discovering French hip-hop, or at least its golden age (around 96-98 mainly).
It is not a critics list since it is based on the vote of 700 bloggers, but the results is very interesting, revolving a lot around IAM (as a band, there must be 6 or 7 songs from L'Ecole du Micro D'argent, probably the best French hip-hop album ever, and with Shurik'n and Akhenaton solo projects), NTM, Lunatic (and Booba solo output) and Oxmo Puccino, probably one of French top lyricist ever, all genres included.
Their number one is my favorite French song ever and other personal favorites can be found in the list (I would recommand especially the 2 greatest achievements of Shurik'n : Lettre, a tear-jerker letter to a dying grand-father to his not born yet grandson and Samurai)
Some songs must have low interest if you don't understand French, but the top 5 is a must hear :
10. Oxmo Puccino ft Lino - La Loi du Point Final
9. Supreme NTM - That's My People (very emblematic song, based on a very simple Chopin sample)
8. Oxmo Puccino ft Booba - Pucc Fiction
7. Oxmo Puccino - J'ai Mal au Mic
6. Lunatic - Pas l'temps pour les Regrets
5. Ideal J - Hardcore
4. Oxmo Puccino - L'enfant seul
3. X-Men - Retour aux Pyramides
2. Lunatic - Le Crime Paie (Lunatic and Booba really represent the most "gangsta" part of the French hip-hop, not always the most intelligent side... but sometimes surprisingly witty)
1. IAM - Demain c'est Loin
This really is poetry in motion. French hip-hop mostly comes from the poorest suburbs and their artists have a tendency to either be pretty violent against any form of authority or be very indulgent with the behaviour of the youth. IAM were not, this song is a fantastic panorama of any French "banlieue", realistic with both the best and the worst that comes out of there. The images are very strong and meaningful,the style is wonderful (the first half, sung by Shurik'n, has each verse starting with the word that ended the previous).
They have developed through all their songs very deep message, raised important topics, helped people understand what goes through the brains of France's poorest youth without indulging any of their worst behaviours. Here they top it all (at least lyrically, they have some catchier songs)... frankly, this is the "Like a Rolling Stone" of French hip-hop, an anthem for a big part of my generation.
"On ne pense pas à demain, parce que demain c'est loin" ("we don't think about tomorrow, because tomorrow is a long way off")