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MC Solaar is the stage name of Claude M'Barali (born March 5, 1969), a francophone hip hop and rap artist. Solaar is one of the most internationally popular and influential French rappers.,

As a rapper MC Solaar is known for his complexity, which relies on wordplay, lyricism, and philosophical inquiry. The music is based on dance rhythms. In the English-speaking world, Solaar was signed by Londonmarker acid jazz label Talkin' Loud and invited to record with British group Urban Species and Guru, a member of the famous and highly-acclaimed New Yorkmarker group Gang Starr. He has since released seven studio records and one live album and currently lives with his wife, French actress Chloé Bensemoun, and their only son, Roman.


Early life and career debut

Claude M'Barali was born in Dakarmarker, Senegalmarker to parents of Chadianmarker origin. When he was six months old his parents immigrated to Francemarker where they eventually settled in the Parismarker suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. At age twelve he went to Egyptmarker for nine months where he discovered the Zulu Nation and became fascinated with the rapping styles of Afrika Bambaataa. Upon his return he began to focus perhaps more on music but still studied enough to pass the baccalauréat. It has been said that his constant support from his mother was one of the reasons that he was able to pass the baccalauréat and still create music. He coined the stage name "MC Solaar" in his teens from his graffiti tags "SOAR" and "SOLAAR".

He studied languages at the University of Jussieu, and was post-graduate in philosophy. He released his first single in 1990. MC Solaar went to Paris in the summer of 1991 with his friend Jhonny Jay in hopes of succeeding in the music industry. Success came quickly when his first single, Bouge de là ("Take a Hike"), based on a sample from Cymande's song The Message (1973) became a hit in early 1990's. This song was all about brushing people to the side and not having time for them; this is evident in the lyrics, of which an excerpt follows (translated to English):
I went straight over to Lucie's

Who loves dogs, cats and 30 millions d'amis

She says to me 'Do you love animals, my super MC?'

I said 'Yes I love them, with salt and well cooked'

She goes to me "Take a Hike!"

"Take a Hike!"
( 30 Millions d'Amis (trans - 30 million friends) is a French charity for the protection of animals.)

Many rappers who came out of Africa at the time spoke a lot about slavery and other topics in order to bring the history of their people into light. Nevertheless, the song went platinum in France and ascended to number five on the national charts.

1991–1997: Early success and Prose Combat breakthrough

After the success of Bouge de là, Solaar went on to support the famous American rap group De La Soul when they performed at the Olympia in Paris in September 1991. At the close of 1991 Solaar released Qui Sème le Vent Récolte le Tempo which went on to sell over 400,000 copies in France.With the success of his début album in France, the French rapper embarked upon extensive tours of Polandmarker and Russiamarker. In December 1992 he performed in twelve countries in West Africa, where his French rap style proved extremely popular with African music fans.

MC Solaar returned to the studio in 1994, recording Prose Combat. The album sold 100,000 copies in the first week of its release and became a best seller in 20 other countries. He was rewarded for his efforts when in February 1995 he received an award for Best Male Singer of the Year at the 10th edition of the French "Victoires de la Musique" awards. Solaar went back to the studio in 1997 with longtime friend and producer Jimmy Jay to record his third album, Paradisiaque. The album was another success, which led to an extensive European tour starting on January 9 at the Zénithmarker in Paris. His talents led to international interest from places such as Germany in Europe and all the way to Japan and the United States not long after. He was even included as a guest in "Gangstarr's Guru Jazzmatazz" project, and one of his songs was included in the Tommy Boy rap compilation in the States.

Early on in MC Solaar's career it was important for him to share the struggles and the different hardships for Black people that migrated to France and tried to make a living. Most of his music was dedicated to enlightening the population of a specific deeper message that connected to him in his life. "...he addresses the conditions under which Black people have migrated to and settled in France. In the piece 'Leve-toi et rap,' he describes his Chadian parents' migration from Senegal to a Parisian suburb, the main stages of his teenage years and how he finally came to discover rap." (Africa on their Mind: Rap, Blackness, and Citizenship in France by Veronique Helenon)In an interview MC Solaar describes the feeling of making a song and the thought process while just writing any part of lyrics that go into his music. "I write quickly, because of the music, he tells me. It’s much easier if you have the music, the rhythm, but I am fast. First, I have taken in “everything.” Do you never write before the music? Ah. I used to, he admits. But when I met the music, I changed." [27006]

1997–2003: Cinquième As and Mach 6

Solaar's career continued to evolve throughout the late nineties and into the new millennium. He released Cinquième As in 2001 to critical acclaim and Mach 6 in 2003. In the third track on Cinquième As entitled "Lève-Toi et Rap", Solaar describes his parents' Chadian emigration as well as his own roots growing up in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges and Cairomarker. Towards the beginning of the song he says: Puis trip en Egypte, Ecole Française du Caire/ Pour parfaire mon flow et mon vocabulaire/ Là j'ai appris l'humilité, la peur des cartouches/ Pur style de sniper camouflage paw-mouche, which, translated, roughly means he spent time at a French school in Cairo, perfecting his rapping style and learning how to survive a dangerous lifestyle. Critic Dan Gennoe attests to Solaar's "flow et vocabulaire" by noting "the flow of his words is staggering, as are the low-slung grooves that they roll to; deftly vaulting all language barriers."

The cover of "Cinquième As" depicts Solaar topless, and draws comparisons to captives about to be taken onto a slave ship. However, a look at the inside cover reveals Solaar to be in a wrestler's costume, along with the other men in the picture. As Veronique Helenon discusses in her article concerning the French hip hop scene, references to Africa and "blackness" are a very important part of Solaar's music. Minorities are often excluded in French society and the number of immigrants in France has been referred to as a "problem". Solaar recognizes and pays tribute to the African presence in France by using boxing and wrestling references. Senegalese boxer Battling Siki is referenced in the album's booklet. Although Siki won the light heavyweight boxing championship in 1922, he still faced racism from journalists. This image combined with songs concerning colonial oppression and the migration experience from Africa to France show Solaar's "blackness," something that is extremely important in France's hip hop scene. For example, in his song 'Les Colonies', Solaar discusses the similarities between the oppression of Africans by colonialists to the modern day exploitation of "third world" countries. "Cinquième As" includes lyrics in French, English, and Spanish, which represents his ideals that rap should be inclusive of all people.

2004–Present: Chapitre 7 and international acclaim

The first single "Da Vinci Claude" from Solaar's latest album Chapitre 7 launched in March 2007. The album was released on June 18, 2007. MC Solaar increased his fan base in North America in early 2004, when his 2001 song "La Belle et Le Bad Boy" was featured on the final episode of the popular television series Sex and the City. It has reached new popularity when the top MTV series "The Hills" featured the song, creating a new buzz for his 2007 album. MC Solaar remains best-known outside of France for his work on Guru's Jazzmatazz project and as a guest rapper on the Missy Elliott track "All N My Grill". Collaboration with Elliot propelled him to higher popularity, especially in the American market. Out of Guru and Solaar's collaboration, the single "Le Bien, Le Mal" (The Good, The Bad) has been a popular Hip Hop/Dance crossover hit receiving playtime on MTV.
"His fluid phrasing makes up for his lack of English, and the production on his solo work (by DJ Jimmy Jay and Boom Bass of La Funk Mob) surpasses that of most of his hip-hop contemporaries." [27007]

MC Solaar is currently one of the only French rappers able to find success in the English-dominated American Hip Hop culture with his French prose. Solaar has appeared in many Bollywood movies like Hum Tum. MC Solaar has also released a few songs which never appeared on albums, including "Comme dans un film" (falsely known as "John Woo") and "Inch'Allah". He has criticized illegal downloading for producing altered versions of his albums Mach 6 and Chapitre 7.

Personal life

Solaar's personal life became media fodder starting in 1996 when he began dating Ophélie Winter. The couple split up in December 2000. On December 7, 2003, MC Solaar married Chloé Bensemoun and on May 7, 2004, she gave birth to the couple's first child, Roman.

Beginning September 2, 1997, MC Solaar became involved in a legal battle with record label Vivendi for commercially exploiting his first three albums. In 2002, French courts sided with Solaar, but as a result, his older songs are banned from radio, giving him less media exposure.


References and footnotes

  1. Bouge de la (go away) Lyrics from the album Qui seme le vent recolte le tempo by MC Solaar
  2. Helenon, Veronique. “Africa on Their Mind: Rap, Blackness, and Citizenship in France.” In The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. by Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 151-66. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Pres
  3. MC Solaar - biography
  4. Gennoe, Dan. Review. Cinquieme As., accessed March 20, 2008.
  5. Cinquieme As: Fifth Ace: MC Solaar: Music
  6. The Age of MC Solaar | Rattapallax

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