Boycotted by radio shows for being too provocative but piling up hits on Ivory Coast’s social media for nailing facts of life, the young rapper’s latest song has a bite.
Sex, money, social injustice — Bop de Narr tackles head-on any aspect of society that strikes him as in need of comment, but he does so with a subversive turn of mind and rare humour.
His very stage name is provocative for those who remember late French mercenary boss Bob Denard, the manager of several coups in post-colonial Africa who died in 2007.
Feigning ignorance, the 24-year-old rapper says he was known as “Bop” in his teens, while “Narr” is just an abbreviation of the word “narration”, adopted in homage to poetry slam gigs and performances.
In his hit “C’est Payant” (At A Price), he names a number of “actresses” — models or former beauty pageant winners and others — who are targets of allegations that their careers are boosted by their dealings with powerful men.
“We all know that it comes at a price, I’m simply telling the truth / As for he who wants to insult me, I’m going to tell him, ‘You’re as stupid as a nightclub that doesn’t open on Saturday’.”
In “Vilain” (Ugly), De Narr last year set his sights on wealthy men, particularly famous football stars.
“Money, car, house, can a woman tell you you’re ugly? / She’s going to be serious with you even if your looks are a joke.”
Mocking the rich helps to express the frustration of young Ivorians who are penniless and out of work at a time of mass unemployment, when they can barely consider setting up home and family.
“I describe my environment, I sing what there is around me. Sex and money are two themes that are very prominent in Ivorian society. Here, everything is based on money, showing off, bling-bling! I denounce, I criticise,” says De Narr, though he does not consider himself an activist.
– ‘A hybrid artist’ –
“Bop de Narr is unique,” reckons manager, promoter and studio producer Ickx Fontaine, the “grandfather” of hip hop in Ivory Coast.
“His style, his writing are singular. He frequently uses derision to make a social critique (of) an Ivorian society that has a high level of corruption and poverty,” he added.
Sex makes a comeback in “Comment On Soigne Ca” (How You Handle That), which tackles conjugal infidelity and says that money isn’t enough to make a happy couple if love is lacking.
“You’re not there and your lady’s cold / Your neighbour’s ready to become her pullover,” De Narr teases in another tirade, instantly recognisable from his way of twisting language and his nasal intonation.
The rapper has a flair for Ivorian slang known as Nouchi, playing with words to create original expressions often destined to become part of the accepted street vocabulary.
“Bop de Narr, he goes all the way, he takes risks. He’s a hybrid artist, he manages to make songs that are both festive and denunciatory at once. He’s the only one on the Ivorian scene,” declares Ozone, presenter of a hip hop show on television.
The Ivorian club scene has lately been dominated by the percussive Coupe-Decale dance music, initiated a decade ago by Ivorian DJs active in Paris and popular in their homeland.
Apart from turntable wizardry, Coupe-Decale — which essentially means “cut and run” in Nouchi — adopted influences from zouglou, a style that emerged as a youth phenomenon in the 1980s and 1990s, blending Caribbean forms from calypso to reggae with African styles.
– ‘Punchlines are my weapons’ –
In Ivory Coast, hip hop and rap started out as joyous, festive music. However, the forms evolved, becoming tougher over a dozen years for a young generation caught up in a prolonged political and military crisis that split the country in two until Laurent Gbagbo, a president who refused to accept defeat at the polls, was arrested in April 2011.
“Mockery is an escape route that helps one bear a difficult life,” said Ickx Fontaine, with regard to the sardonic edge Ivorian musicians bring to social commentary.
“Punchlines are my weapons,” says De Narr, who makes a living from concerts and night club gigs. “My audience sees me as courageous.”
After a disappointing experience with a record label, he is producing his own work, but he hopes to sign with an international major and “make progress under other skies where there is a real music industry”.