By now, hip-hop artists have presumably reached close to their potential to push musical boundaries. In America, hip-hop began as an outlet of cultural expression, a forum to battle injustice and promote positive social change and unity. As conditions began to ameliorate, the messages in the tracks began to disintegrate as rappers discovered that their music was more than just an outcry; it was an experimental art form. Rappers began to extrapolate on the raw backbone of hip-hop—the DJ, the cuts, the breaks, the rhymes—and pepper their tracks with the unexpected. Hip-hop inevitably grew into a culture where musical experimentation outweighed the message. In today’s rap climate, for example, songs have become more lauded for their jaunts into musical minimalism and electro-soul than the lyrics on top of them. The genre is still flooded with poeticism and crafty wordplay, but without a progressive musical undercurrent, artists have a hard time hooking the listener.
Subgenres have already become the means to categorize every musical movement within the genre, leaving creativity and originality at a loss for defining the artists who make the music. Hip-hop has evolved into a culture where artists who push cultural boundaries possess the credibility. In France, music is the method to test hip-hop’s limits, where artists experiment with language and, rather than being labeled as a conformant to a certain sound, play with a subgenre’s typicality. The French rap outfit TTC may be fitted into the electronic hip-hop subgenre, but the music is much more than that. The four-member group has discovered that their music thrives even when the listener cannot understand the lyrics, substituting cultural expression for musical experimentation. 36 15 TTC, TTC’s third album, shows that every element is interrelated: the lyrical pace is as important as the finger snaps reminiscent of the kitsch of Serge Gainsbourg; the chorus is balanced by the sardonic tone in which it is chanted. The trio curbs its subgenre’s musical expectations and conveys that hip-hop is as relevant in France as it is in the States, and that it is never inclusive, often spanning the most unexpected gamut of cultures.
The album is based on electronic blips, trance synths, and 808 kicks and handclaps, and is musically driven by its producers’ slow-rolling beats, plodded with rat-tat hi-hats and kick patterns. Para One handles half of the production, but manages to musically relate to the toss of others, including Orgasmic, Tido, and Tacteel, all of who stake out their own territory without stepping on each other’s toes. But where they thrive is in their ability as a collective to make strong electronic sequencing seem effortless, and their music universal enough to even charge a club in the Americas. “Turbo”, a high-tension trance-a-thon produced by Para One, slowly unfolds as TTC stretches the French language across the hypnotic synthesizers, while the big “Ambition” is a swirl of clumpy claps and shadowy noise, with TTC doling out lyrics at a pace that drips in contention with the beat.
While the production is some of the thickest and buzziest in electro-hop, TTC makes the album come to life with their French wordplay and tone modulation. The group delivers its lyrics with an unaffected air, placing sarcastic rolls at the end of their sentences and toying with lyrical structure. On “Travailler”, produced by Tacteel, the threesome trades verses about their love for work and sleep, but where the song succeeds is in their theatrical delivery. The chorus is spun in a bizarre rhythmic form of sing-song, with the lyrics “Ne compte pas sur nous / Pour qu’on remplisse ton emploi du temps et ses trous / T’es dégouté? / Tu fais un drôle de tête / Nous on va jamais en vacances on est des fous”. Each line is delivered with a slight hesitation, culling an anxious sentiment that transmits an emotional intensity to the listener. Elsewhere on the record, the voices become chopped and thrown into the beat, like on the Modeselektor-produced “Une Bande de Mec Sympa”, making the record resonate with a club sentiment, yet injecting it with the foreign element of French language. In this way, TTC uses their voices as more of an instrument than a method of communication, giving the tracks a broader appeal.
The universality of the record shines in other areas as well, taking established facets of American culture and mashing them with French hip-hop. “Frotte Ton Cul Par Terre”, with a stripper-pole beat by Tacteel, features a reinterpretation of “The Hokey Pokey” that could make a kindergarten class shake with excitement. The deep synthesizer chords in “Paris Paris”, produced by Orgasmic, echo the Neptunes’ sharp Korg centerpiece on “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, while the track additionally bulges into down South territory with its chanted chorus and cheesy handclaps. TTC realizes that their music could potentially lack a connection with the audience without these inclusions, as the music is relatable to the average club-goer, but could fall flat outside of a party atmosphere. Fortunately for listeners, 36 15 TTC bumps with musical moments that both shake and simmer, giving the record a pulsating playability in more than just a nighttime locale.
With 36 15 TTC, TTC strive for cultural variability, which is exactly what they achieve. While listeners may feel unaccustomed to hip-hop in a French context, TTC shows that hip-hop is more than just a musical venture; it is about pushing musical boundaries while pressing cultural ones. The group is surely not the first French act to release an album that tests hip-hop’s limits, as MC Solaar and Fonky Family have already done, but none have come as close as TTC in making both the music and the message seem equal in this mission. 36 15 TTC will undoubtedly gain momentum in indie circuits that appreciate experimentation, but if TTC can make hip-hop braggadocio and gangster lyrical substance seem less important than lyrical tone and delivery, they could have a much bigger social impact than their intentions may indicate.
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