“There are no gangsters in the studios, only big mouths!”
It all started when I spotted a job listing with clearly approximate spelling on the entre2piges website. Spelling, syntax—it’s a problem for rappers and “guys working in rap.” I’ve always believed it’s a “social marker.” When you speak another language at home, when your parents are more focused on filling your fridge than managing your studies, and when school is just a local daycare, spelling takes a backseat. JUL, the first of his name, a hype creator from Marseille, released an album with a terrible mistake: “JE TROUVE PAS LE SOMMEIL” (I CAN’T FIND SLEEP). He forgot the negation. And it went platinum. As Stendhal once said, “Spelling does not make a genius.” I applied, and here I am in the hallway of La GP. The hairs on my ass are tingling. After gangster, rapper was my other dream at 14, as I roamed around the middle school wearing a white tracksuit, standing at my 1.50 meters.
The master of the place was not there. Thierry, the sound engineer, was coming and going in the studio like a ghost in the Louvre. The studio was desperately empty. Every half-hour, he would return to the hallway to offer me coffee or say something reassuring. And he really drank a lot of coffee. His “coffee” looked more like oil. I thought that the coffee budget at La GP was a significant liability in the company’s budget.
Finally, JR arrived a few hours later. The Dragon, the Black Dragon, a prominent member of a politicized gang that expelled the Skins from Paris in the 80s, was a muscle monster. The “Golgoth 13” (IAM – “Elle donne son corps avant son nom”) of La GP, already in his forties, was enough to deter many with his hundred kilograms and his 1.95 meters. His favorite sport: boxing, of course. Sometimes, caricature surpasses reality and even fiction.
JR briefly questioned me. He was won over by my modest salary expectations, not by my talent. He immediately hired me into his “Mafia.” No! Don’t get me wrong! We were not selling drugs. But La GP was run like a local mafia.
As in any aspiring but somewhat outdated rap label, it’s almost a pleonasm, the casting was quite heterogeneous. There was a communication manager, Justine, talented but too “normal” to work in Rap. She initially rejoiced in her position at La GP. Justine’s thing was to watch “Les Experts…” (CSI…) during her lunch break. It’s typical of the series industry or the film industry in general. They spot the gold mine; here, “Les Experts” or in other words, “Forensic Police.” Then, like a good “art dealer,” they exploit the gold mine as much as possible. After “Les Experts” in New York and Miami, we’re eagerly awaiting “Les Experts” in Baghdad, who will surely come to analyze bloodied eyebrows of tortured individuals in Abu Ghraib Prison to determine whether it was the Texan soldier or the Californian Mexican soldier who had the bright idea of introducing torture into the daily lives of prisoners.
There was Saïd, a friendly Moroccan developer, but who had no idea of the ordeal he was getting into. As an Algerian, freshly arrived from the homeland, he discovered with enthusiasm and “gaouterie” (excitement) the world of the colonizer. Like all of us, he was disappointed.
Then there was Florence, a trendy and very young graphic designer, as well as Jy, an Asian student who never looked up from his computer, myself, and Thierry.
Thierry is indefinable, passionate, and in love with music, but he never got the chance to make music at La GP. It’s quite unfortunate for a sound engineer. From what I can recall as an employee, I have never seen anyone in the GP Studio. He has always been on technical unemployment. Poor Thierry was torn between secretly listening to music, creating productions, or being assigned tasks that had nothing to do with his role. His employment contract was accompanied by the clause “jack-of-all-trades.” In the absence of tasks related to his sound engineer position, he could be assigned “to any tasks.” One day, Colin, JR’s associate, asked him to clean the toilets. Musicians don’t make good janitors.
Regardless, almost no one or very few people were paid by JR on a monthly basis. And it would be unfair to solely blame JR for the situation. Because in these kinds of young labels, finances, money, that’s the real problem, even if the lack of resources is usually hidden behind the “startek poto” (Sofiane – “Lettre à un jeune rapeur”).
Before resigning after two months, Florence had to wait outside Colin’s office, JR’s associate and the manager of Hell.Com. Every day, he would tirelessly repeat the same sentence: “The payment has been sent today.” The payment never went through; we even wondered if Colin actually had a bank. This indebted graphic design student had just enough time to give him the middle finger and leave.
On the other hand, Justine also lasted two months. But she experienced a depression in a situation that she clearly didn’t recognize. Having Justine in a Rap label is like putting a former nun in Gomorrah. And not everyone has the talent of Donnie Brasco.
You have to understand Rap. While Maître Gims is making millions and Jul releases a new album every month, achieving Gold or Platinum status, the story begins here. Yes, everything starts in these small labels where nobody pays anyone. Most young artists start in these labels before signing with major labels and becoming who they are. Unpaid money issues in these labels are as common as rappers. And there are 3 or 4 rappers in every neighborhood.
JR is far from being a bad guy. As for me, I try to have conversations with him. He pays me on the fly whenever he feels like it, often in bizarre situations. It’s strange, but sometimes it feels like we’re fighting for the fate of a doomed company. Personally, I didn’t expect much from GP.
I was there for a one-month “work evaluation.” It’s an arrangement I found through the employment center to do a “midlife internship.” I still remember my first and last appointment at ANPE 2K. After reading my cover letter, the counselor exclaimed, “Ah, you know how to write?” I wanted to reply that between two slaughtered sheep and a ride through the Sahara, I had managed not to end up illiterate. Yes, I went to high school too.
In the end, at the end of my evaluation, I managed to convince the boss to hire me by “putting on paper” his grand project, “B TV.” This journalist’s dream is to provide a media outlet for the suburbs.
In the press, there is no place for the outskirts. The only articles that concern Sevran, Montfermeil, and the others are snippets from Le Parisien, and it’s not often to sing our praises. I remember that journalists from France 2, a channel not known for being far-right, turned a neighborhood bar into an Islamist resistance spot in a report on the 8 p.m. news.
After protests from the people of Sevran, the journalists admitted they had gone too far. Nevertheless, B TV was meant to avoid such shortcuts. When JR saw the work I had done, he didn’t flinch, he hired me… It was the paradox of this man, or rather, his predicament. JR always did everything by the book, from running legitimate companies to paperwork and hard work. But the illicit clings to him. And institutions usually reduce him to his condition, that of a black man in France. He has great ideas, but no one will help him bring them to life. On the other hand, his employees are also sacrificed with him on the pyre of vanities, or rather, on the coals of stereotypes.
Le premier projet que we “didn’t” carry out at GP was “Génération Rap Français,” a compilation intended to bring together artists from the old and new generations. Once again, a brilliant idea. Creating an Office document with the artists’ contacts and a color code took us three weeks. Clearly, Florence was the only one working since she already had all the visuals in hand. While Thierry and Justine tried to find the artists’ contacts, Saïd on his part prepared the final version of Hip Hop Trend, JR’s grand “celebrity and Hip Hop” website. When it comes to concepts, the Dragon was always on top. And he sensed the shift with the rise of clashes. Hip Hop was becoming more celebrity-oriented.
It’s often in the execution that things get stuck. Well, while most websites run on efficient and user-friendly platforms like WordPress.org, poor Saïd had to build a website from scratch using HTML. That’s the problem with the old-timers in Rap. They don’t just think “Rap was better back in the day.” They’re also convinced they’re always right.
JR, allergic to WordPress, pushes Saïd into a monomaniacal crisis. He becomes an alchemist embarking on “The Gold Rush.” To create this kind of website, you need an entire team. The Moroccan guy pounds away on his computer with the help of Fy and, in the end, Victoire, attempting the impossible and ultimately not succeeding. Heroes only exist on television, bro.
JR comes to the studio once a week. The BD seems to have some serious issues. He can’t understand why things aren’t moving faster. So he also assigns me the task of taking care of the compilation. I will always remember the first phone call I made to IAM’s manager. In the first few seconds, everything went well, and he gave his preliminary approval. Then he asked me to provide a proposal for the distribution of royalties.
Là, it was a total mess. At that time, I knew absolutely nothing about it. So I gracefully dodged the question with the legendary line, “I will get back to you by email on that.” Then I asked around. Nobody in the company hierarchy had really thought about it. That’s the “On Again” side of Rap, and more specifically, of GP. First, “We do things,” “We promise,” we give our word, and then “we’ll see.” The only problem is that IAM is one of the biggest Rap groups, and more broadly, music groups in France, and they won’t embark on a GP project without some kind of guarantee.
We got some preliminary agreements, and we still didn’t move forward. So we drank coffee, lots of coffee (we called it “mazout”), and we discussed Rap with the arrival of a certain Kendrick Lamar in 2014. I wrote some articles for the old version of Hip Hop Trend (still online) with an ergonomic design inspired by a 16-bit version of Mario Bros. Anyway, nobody was reading us, so I tried out some outrageous figures of speech.
For now, it’s just a family affair.