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French Rap Legends IAM to Tour the US in April

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IAM’s US tour in April will be far from the legendary French hip-hop group’s first American adventure. “Most people don’t know this but we recorded the majority of our albums in the US,” says rapper Akhenaton — whose real name is Philippe Fragione and who himself lived in New York in the 80s at a time when there was “not one single French person.” But even with their ample US experience, the veteran musicians are anything but blasé. “They day they told us about the tour we went crazy,” says Fragione, “It’s moving to return to the place where rap culture was born.”

After 25 years of collaboration, IAM’s five members are accomplished solo artists in their own right. But when it comes to live performances, each of the members respects a kind of pact to prioritize IAM — an agreement they made when they were just starting out. “The boys are serious about that,” says Fragione, who explains that the story of the group is one of friendship above all else, “a principle that takes priority over success.”

Back in the late 80s when they were just getting started, IAM tried to perform in English because, Fragione explains, “as soon as a rapper gets big he needs to sing in English.” It didn’t last long, though. “We could see right away that others did it better.” Well-known for their high standards in writing and performance, the group stayed true to their roots. “Doing things well means writing well first and foremost and that’s difficult to do in a foreign language.”

IAM is said to stand for Invasion Arrivée de Mars (Invasion arrived from Mars — a reference to Marseille, the group’s hometown) and their latest album is called Arts Martiens (Martian arts). A review in the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles calls it “important if not excellent,” lauding the meticulous construction and technique while lamenting some attempts to apply old ideas to contemporary French life. The reviewer nevertheless says the band is still clearly a beacon of French rap and that the album “shows the difference between [IAM] and average French rap stuck in the dictatorship of rhyme over substance.”

The group spent 3 years on Arts Martiens and envisions another album for release in 2017. That year has another significance for IAM, though: France’s next presidential election. With lyrics that center on racial inequality and countering the ideology of France’s extreme-right, it’s a dreary prospect that the increasingly popular National Front party could have a decent shot at the Elysée. Fragione is already thinking of leaving the country, “when BFM TV (France’s most popular news channel) will be on all the time and witch hunt has started.” But where would he land? “Why not the United States?”

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