Marseille has always been the fulcrum of a very strong Hip-Hop scene, it has given birth to historical French rap groups such as IAM or Psy-4-de la Rime. Who were your biggest influences in terms of both sound and content?
RELO: “The groups or artists that shook my childhood and inspired my lyrical style were LUNATIC, ARSENIK, FONKY FAMILY, SALIF, NUBI, ILL, TANDEM, PSY 4 De la Rime, CARRE ‘ROUGE and, of course, IAM. Content and form were then intimately linked. I loved their point of view about protesting, as much as their desire to show their emotions through a great technique”.
In your latest album, “La Voix du 13”, you literally want to give voice to your neighbourhood, one of the toughest in town. How fundamental is the Marseille context in your projects? How do you draw inspiration from your city and area?
RELO: “When you are born in Marseille, you have a certain pride in being Marseillese. I see it as the small Gallic village, separated from the rest of France. I have a deep love for my city and its inhabitants. What I show is a different portrait of what the national media and rappers (sometimes even from my own city…) want to present. I like to say that my style is a cross between “postcards and news”.
I have a rather peculiar writing process as I write almost exclusively while driving. So I get a lot of inspiration from what I experience and what I see. Moments of everyday life that may seem trivial, but which are not necessarily so when approached from a certain angle. People say I’m a proximity rapper. I make music for people”.
One of the strengths of your city, according to us, is certainly its multiculturalism and its openness, can you also tell us about your origins and your background, and in your opinion how has this multiculturalism influenced the rap scene?
RELO: “I completely agree with you on this aspect. My city perfectly corroborates the adage “our differences are a wealth”. I am the result of an uncommon mix. My father is of Guadeloupean origins and my mother is Algerian. With my brothers and sisters we have always been immersed in this ethnic mix of different cultures.
Marseille is a city where it is very difficult to be racist when you have a minimum of intelligence. You hang out with so many different ethnicities every day, since childhood, that you can’t have this visceral hatred that politicians or TV channels want to instill in you.
And to answer the second part of your question, French rap comes from the slums, where their multiculturalism determined the development of this music. For me, this is the first real musical movement that has enabled young people from working-class neighborhoods and young people from residential areas to succeed … regardless of color, religion, gender or age.
How did you approach Hip-Hop? Initially, was it a passion that you cultivated alone or did you immediately share it with someone? When did you decide to take rap seriously?
RELO: “I started rapping like many people in the middle school yard. There was a supervisor looking for young people to participate in a rap contest (which by the way never happened) and we got together with a group of friends to do it. In the beginning there were eight, then two and in the end I continued alone.
From the beginning it has always been a passion, that’s why I think I’m still here today, even if I try to be as professional as possible I think that, except for a period of my life, I have never been able to take it completely seriously. And so much the better, too. I mean, otherwise I would have stopped much earlier. When I go to the studio, I go there as if I’m going to play a football match. (Which is another of my passions).
Looking back, what were the fundamental steps of your career? And the most important projects?
RELO: “I think there have been several milestones along my path. The first was my adventure with my life partner Allen Akino, when we scoured all the rap venues in Marseille to do Freestyle and shows. We made some mixtapes called “DE QUOI T’ES CAP?” Mixing debutants and the most established rappers of the southern French scene. Then there was my signature with the NEOCHROME label. I think it was during this time that I became more professional.
Of course there is my participation on the IAM album “YASUKE” which was an honor and a privilege for me and which opened many doors for me afterwards.
Finally there was my return as an independent and the 2 mixtapes with DJ MYST (DJ of Niska, Youssoupha and Keblack) who gave me back crazy feedback and where I found all the “puro” (as they say in Marseille) that I had lost.
Marseille lives the same fate as the Italian city Naples, a beautiful port city with many contradictions but of which often, even today, only the negative and criminal aspect of Marseille is highlighted. Leaving the usual and repetitive clichés, can you tell us about the positives and merits of living in Marseille? And, in your opinion, what were the factors that made Marseille, more than other French cities, fertile ground for this very strong Rap scene?
RELO: “Yes, I think I saw in a study where Marseille was the sunniest city in France, which is not negligible if you know that for many human beings it is a very important aspect for morale. Then there is our sympathy, our good humor, our “chat” that fascinates tourists. The know-how to live that reigns in our city of Marseille, this multiculturalism you were talking about earlier.
There is also the atmosphere of the Stade Vélodrome and the fervor of our fans that transcends you in every OM game, whether you are a fan or not. There is also the fact that it is 3 hours from ITALY or 4 from Spain by car and this is not negligible for holidays 😅. There is the landscape of the inlets which in summer is a paradise and the sea of course”.
How do you see street rap in France in recent years in terms of credibility and originality? In particular, do you think the current Marseille scene can best represent it? Who are the strongest rappers in Marseille today?
RELO: “I don’t know if I’m the most legitimate to talk about “Street rap” because I’m not necessarily in this niche, but in a more global way and if we want to talk only about credibility well… Except in certain cases, we are far from this value. We are mostly in the area of fictional characters and fantasy.
“Marseille is full of talent, to name a few: There are obviously my brothers, REDK, Allen Akino, GINO and ILIES !!! Others that are also super interesting like L’antidote, Hermano, Caccio and Soumeya. Young Zamdane also rocks”.
“For another style we have to count on Kemmler who has been growing in recent months. Little Loay is strong too, and he is only 12 years old. Then there are the cornerstones as IAM, 3e Œil, Carré rouge, North Power, the FF emcees who keep rapping, Keny Arkana and Alonzo who has been in the French top 5 for years in my opinion. After these names that I say are really specific to my musical tastes, there are many others that are very strong, but that have different styles. Soprano and JUL, for example, are incredible success stories ”.
Listening to your tracks you show the desire to stick to classic codes, bringing fresher and more contemporary styles and sounds. How did you come to get this perfect match? In the United States we are witnessing a “revival” of rap with a more classic sound: do you think there is also room in the French market for a certain type of sound?
RELO: “This is a niche that I have been working on for several years but that I have not been able to define as I wanted. Today I find it a little more precise and identifiable. With the beatmakers who accompany me in my creation (the Skenawin collective, Member-k, Fabio or Nef) we really want to bring back the dimension and color of the Marseille rap of the past, with its codes but with the freshness of 2021. I discuss a lot with my guys Isma and Teddy from the Carpe Diem group to maintain this consistency which is important to us.
I think there are a lot more niches today than there were back then and obviously the one you are claiming is one of them and it has a lot of space! Guys like Alpha Wann, Freeze Corleone and more recently Benjamin Epps show that there is an audience that likes this kind of rap.”
Besides Rap, are there other musical genres that you are passionate about? Do they affect your works in any way?
RELO: “You have to know that deep down I’m a fan on French rap. I listen to it a lot! But I’m also an absolute fan of Michael Jackson and Tracy Chapman. These are really artists who, in addition to being geniuses, manage to convey incredible emotions in their songs, be they catchy or more melancholic. I also really like 80s music, I find that in this period we have had an explosion of styles. I don’t know if there is a real impact on my music, but there certainly is. I think there is above all at the level of productions and at times you can feel it”.
As a magazine that also deals with graffiti writing, we would like to ask you how is the graffiti scene in Marseille? Have you ever come into contact with it? And do you have any names to recommend?
RELO: “Then I’m not very into that. But I have people in my entourage who are really strong, like Crostwo, who also curates all my visuals, and the collective D3. ”
Can you give us a preview on your future projects?
RELO: “I can’t say anything about it yet, but what I can say is that I will be even more present than last year and very soon! . Thanks to you for this interview!”