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  1. 1.
    Petit frère
  2. 2.
    Nés sous la même étoile
  3. 3.
    Je danse le Mia
  4. 4.
    L'empire du Côté Obscur
  5. 5.
    La saga
The first French rap group to release an album, IAM have roots in hip-hop's birthplace that date back to the early '80s.
That's when founding member Philippe Fragione (aka Chill, later Akhenaton) started making trips to New York City, during which he networked with several rap artists. The visits culminated in a Fragione's featured spot on Choice MC's 1988 track "This Is the B Side," released on the Idlers label. At that point, Fragione had been active in Marseille with Eric Mazel (DJ Khéops) and Geoffroy Mussard (Jo, later Shurik'n), and when he returned, the trio were eventually joined by producer Pascal Perez (Imhotep) and MCs François Mendy (Kephren) and Malek Brahimi (Freeman). The crew became IAM ("I am"), an acronym for Imperial Asiatic Men, and quickly developed into one of the most significant rap groups in their home country.
In 1989 they recorded -- with no money -- a maxi-single that contained the Egyptian touch that became their trademark, also reflected in the lyrics, which displayed an openness and wider point of view than the usual stick-it-to-the-street perspectives. They garnered considerable attention as they toured with Madonna on her Blonde Ambition Tour and subsequently dropped their first album, ...De la Planète Mars, in 1991. It was the first rap album ever released by a French group, and notably one with the talent to approach different subjects and moods with ease and honesty. The tone was set with street wisdom informed by ancient Eastern philosophy.
Ombre Est Lumière, a double album, was released in 1993. (A single-disc version appeared a year later.) The set included "Le Mia," a track that put IAM on radios and dancefloors across France. The group used their increased exposure -- via press interviews and television appearances -- to express and affirm their political views. After the group received a Victoire de la Musique award, Fragione went solo and collaborated with the new guard of Marseille, the Fonky Family. Shurik'n, Imhotep, and Malek also drifted toward solo projects.
IAM eventually reconvened for the preparation of their third and most successful album. Partially recorded in the U.S., L'Ecole du Micro D'Argent is regarded as a powerful milestone in French rap, an accomplished piece of art that extended beyond the borders of the French language. It topped charts in France and Belgium (and was eventually certified diamond in the former). After the shock wave receded, the members refocused on personal projects, even considering cinema. Akhenaton, for example, co-wrote Comme un Aimant, and assembled music from many of the U.S. singers he had loved in his childhood, including Isaac Hayes, Minnie Riperton, and Marlena Shaw, for the soundtrack.
It would take four years for IAM to return with a new album. Revoir un Printemps would remind listeners of the freshness of the group's sound, contradicting those who asserted that rap was dead in an era when cats wanted to be lions. Despite a newfound maturity, IAM continued to include their share of fun, with Method Man and Redman getting rhymes on "Noble Art," and even Beyoncé and Syleena Johnson taking part in the adventure and adding a little spice to the flavor. Like a number of other rap artists who have emerged in a genre not "monitored" by the music industry, IAM mixed both rage and intelligence, constantly discovering new dimensions for the pleasure of listeners' ears and minds. It can easily be said that this group is one of the few that put French listeners at ease concerning the languages of rap: only talent makes it work, and hip-hop heads in France were reassured that sometimes there is no need to envy the U.S. when a group like IAM can emerge on French shores. ~ Vincent Latz, Rovi



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