Skip to content

Does listening to NTM make you want to hit the police?

In the 1990s, three letters put a whole section of the population on edge: NTM. Behind this group name, a sulphurous “Fuck your mother” and two young rappers from Seine-Saint-Denis, JoeyStarr and Kool Shen. Yet today, NTM is synonymous with success: millions of album sales, legendary concerts, a biopic at the cinema and an upcoming series on Arte… In 30 years, the group has become a staple of French rap, a “classic”.

But they had to go through galleys, years of censorship, boycotts, lawsuits, before the two rappers obtained this deserved recognition. Vincent Piolet, co-author of In the fever of the Supreme and author of Look your youth in the eyes, the birth of French hip-hop (both published by Le mot et le reste), looks back on this moral panic which caused some cold sweats.

In what context did NTM arrive in the musical landscape?

In the early 1980s there was HIPHOPthe Sydney show on TF1, with a very good-natured, joyful rap, which was quickly relayed in Croc Holidays, The Dorothy Club… We kind of call it “recreational hip-hop”. Around 1986-1987, the discourse completely changed and the media began to treat hip-hop from an anxiety-provoking angle. This comes in parallel with a hardening of society: the National Front enters the Assembly by proportional representation, the “Pasqua charters” expel immigrants, unemployment explodes… In the suburbs, a new identity appears, that of a second generation of postcolonial immigration. Children born in France, who are French, but whom French society does not really accept because many of their parents came from work immigration, linked to family reunification. It is a generation that does not recognize itself anywhere. Between Sardou on TV and the music of the bled of the parents, they do not find themselves there: they will then embrace American rap, which represents the novelty.

And it was during this period that NTM appeared…

NTM, IAM, Assassin… The American influence is completely assumed. We are no longer in a “gadget” song but on a real cultural phenomenon: French rap, with its own codes and a very virulent discourse. This generation is fed up and wants to rap their daily life with vehemence. Some see it violently, others don’t. “Fuck your mother”, for example, is an interjection in working-class neighborhoods meaning roughly “Fuck off” or “Get off”. The expression is interpreted by a part of society in the proper sense of the term, as a call to incest. We have two worlds that don’t speak the same language at all, that don’t understand each other.

NTM, whose name is the acronym of this expression, did he suffer from these prejudices?

They personally did not suffer from it. The media fell on them, but if we can’t say that it made their publicity, let’s say that it was borderline as an advertising mark. All the trendy Parisians, those who gravitated around Radio Nova for example, found it super cool in quotation marks to shock the bourgeois a little bit like that. It was a transgression that didn’t cost much and it also made a whole fringe of the population laugh a little. Transgression and provocation are accepted. There is a sulphurous side, which also appeals to kids and teenagers at that time.

NTM, despite the success, has suffered boycott calls and lawsuits…

The group really exploded from the third album because before they were censored, they didn’t play on the radio (some thought that their second album, 1993…I pull the trigger, was an incitement to suicide). In 1995, when Fever, it’s a light piece and there it went on the radio. At the time, the quotas of French-speaking music came into play and Skyrock began to broadcast French rap. NTM is then successful. But they continue to suffer the wrath, even of the police because they made a song called Police in which they attack them. On the third album they got into trouble and were sentenced to two months in jail and a fine [et « l’interdiction d’exercer la profession de chanteur de variétés pendant six mois » en première instance]. The fault, once again, with lexical fields which shock a part of the population and not the other. When on stage JoeyStarr says “We raise our finger in the air and we fuck the police”, it is a way of denouncing police violence. But lawyers considered it a contempt. NTM does not write political texts. These are not rockers in the United States fighting for civil rights. We are not in the call to demonstrate, to vote… We are in a social discourse, there is no political ideology.

A demonstration of support for the NTM group in 1996 in Paris. – FACELLY/SIPA

The moral panic did not stop there. When the fourth album, despite being a success, was released, they were still far from unanimous…

At that time, there were demonstrations in the suburbs. What do politicians do? Some said it was rap’s fault: “In rap, it’s violent, so people are violent”. As the suburbs face social problems related to unemployment, difficult family situations, etc. Behind this phenomenon of moral panic, there is also a lot of repressed racism. Seeing black people and Arab people expressing themselves on the cultural scene frightens part of the population.

And the place of the media in all this? What is their share of responsibility?

When you talk about facts of violence, misery, etc., without putting them into perspective, well, that scares people. The NTM were also trapped by politicians, on TV sets, who told them that their texts were violent towards the police and that avoided talking about the substance. The media liked to portray rappers as morons who said “yo yo” with their hats on backwards, who didn’t really know how to express themselves… You also always had to ask rappers to condemn things, to say that violence , it’s not good, to position yourself on this or that – “Are you okay with hitting the police? – but they weren’t being asked interesting questions.

In the end, what were people afraid of with NTM?

There is in particular a piece where they say: “Let’s go to the Elysée to burn the old people” [dans la chanson Qu’est-ce qu’on attend]… I think people got a little scared but it didn’t go any further. Part of the population does not like black people, Arab people or proletarians taking their place in the cultural space. But that’s the problem with rap in general, it’s still considered a culture of children or weaklings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.