In order for something to be exotic, there must first be an accepted cultural standard. In the case of the music of MC Solaar (Claude M’Barali), a Senegalese musician who relocated to Paris in 1990 and has since become the best-selling Francophone rapper in the world, the standard is American hip-hop.

Having been feted by Gang Starr’s Guru in his Jazzmatazz project and later showcased on several Stateside hip-hop compilations, Solaar eventually came under the production wing of DJ Jimmy Jay, a pioneer in the jazz-to-rap movement that swept NYC in the early ’90s, but that was mostly played out by the time Solaar was initiated. Consequently, his rep in hip-hop’s own backyard was that of a guy who rapped in a language the homies didn’t get (though his few English tracks prove that his command of rhyme is more instinctual than linguistic), using samples they respected but no longer had much interest in. None of this mattered to his French-speaking fans throughout the world, but for better or worse (worse, probably), real hip-hop is only what goes down in New York or Los Angeles.

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