MHD. Photos by Frederique Menard-Aubin
Earlier this week, hip hop magazine XXL unveiled its annual Freshman Class of soon-to-be rap superstars. Like every year, the ever-ballooning list of blue chip rappers included a mix of current hitmakers and total unknowns. But they all shared one thing in common: they were all Americans.
Other than Aussie Iggy Azalea and the odd-foreign born like French Montana, both of whom have completely tailored their respective looks and sounds to U.S. audiences, XXL’s Freshman Class has yet to take a serious look outside its country of origin since starting in 2007. Unfortunate, since rap music truly is global.
About 15 years ago, acknowledgement down south was something coveted, even if the chances of a non-English act getting any recognition there were slim to nil. Today, rap clusters in foreign markets have forged their own unique styles far removed from the American template: case in point, our very own flourishing Rap Keb scene, which has shown you can have something of a sustainable career catering to a single province.
For a rapper like 22-year-old Frenchman MHD, he recently told the The Guardian he’s not even inspired by American hip hop, so clearly he’s found his niche doing his own thing. Last night’s performance at Metropolis as part of this year’s FrancoFolies had all the bells and whistles of a typical rap show: gun sounds, left-right audience challenges, hype men etc., but the festive nature of the night had more in common with a rowdy soccer game. No surprise, then, the rapper revealed a Drogba Impact jersey for hit song “Champions League.” (He had a Weber Habs shersey earlier in the night.)
The self-proclaimed “Afro trap” rapper is more his Guinean-Senegalese origins than stark Atlanta beats. The Afro-samplings and rhythms throughout the set provided a constant infusion of energy, with a not-sold-out but respectable crowd dancing and singing along to every word. MHD often took out his smartphone to record the audience singing his hooks a cappella. For every “Êtes-vous fatigue?” call to his fans, there was an enthusiastic no in response.
As a performer, MHD can do more than spit bars. He has an easygoing, energetic presence that matches the beats, and has way too much fun mimicking gunshot sounds.
In terms of hip hop, Montreal sometimes gets the short end of the stick, whether it’s a big star bypassing the city or an act getting stopped at the border. But the francophone world has a rapidly expanding rap ecosystem that we get to enjoy and that will continue to be ignored by our Anglophone neighbours. Their loss is our gain. ■
MHD performs at Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E) on Friday, June 16, 9 p.m., $39