Claude M'Barali better known by his stage name MC Solaar (French pronunciation: [ɛm si sɔˈlaʁ] (born March 5, 1969) is a French hip hop and rap artist with Senegalese and Canadian origins. He is one of France's most internationally popular and influential hip hop artists.
MC Solaar is known for his complex lyrics, which rely on word play, lyricism, and inquiry. In the English-speaking world, Solaar was signed by London acid jazz label Talkin' Loud and recorded with British group Urban Species and the late Guru, member of the acclaimed New York duo Gang Starr. He has since released seven studio records and one live album.
Early life and debut
Claude M'Barali was born in Dakar, Senegal, to parents from Chad. When he was six months old, his parents emigrated to France where they settled in the Parisian suburbs; initially in Saint-Denis, subsequently Maisons-Alfort and finally Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. At twelve he went to live with an uncle in Cairo, Egypt for nine months where he discovered the Zulu Nation and became fascinated with the rapping styles of Afrika Bambaataa. Upon his return he passed the baccalauréat. It has been said that his constant support from his mother was one of the reasons that he was able to pass the baccalauréat and still create music. He coined the stage name MC Solaar in his teens from his graffiti tags "SOAR" and "SOLAAR".
He studied languages at the Jussieu university campus and was a post-graduate in philosophy. He released his first single in 1990. MC Solaar went to Paris in the summer of 1991 with his friend Jimmy Jay in hopes of succeeding in the music industry. Success came quickly when his first single, Bouge de là ("Get Out of There"), based on a sample from Cymande's song The Message (1973) became a hit in early 1990s. Many rappers who came out of Africa at the time spoke a lot about slavery and other topics in order to bring the history of their people into light. Nevertheless, the song went platinum in France and ascended to number five on the national charts.
1991–1997: Early success and Prose Combat breakthrough
After the success of Bouge de là, Solaar went on to support the famous American rap group De La Soul when they performed at the Olympia in Paris in September 1991. At the close of 1991 Solaar released Qui Sème le Vent Récolte le Tempo which went on to sell over 400,000 copies in France. With the success of his début album in France, the French rapper embarked upon extensive tours of Poland and Russia. In December 1992 he performed in twelve countries in West Africa, where his French rap style proved extremely popular with African music fans.
MC Solaar returned to the studio in 1994, recording the album Prose Combat. It sold 100,000 copies in the first week of its release and became a bestseller in 20 other countries. He was rewarded for his efforts when in February 1995 he received an award for Best Male Singer of the Year at the 10th edition of the French "Victoires de la Musique" awards. Also in 1994, MC Solaar appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African American community, was heralded as Album of the Year by Time.
Solaar went back to the studio in 1997 with longtime friend and producer Jimmy Jay to record his third album, Paradisiaque. The album was another success, which led to an extensive European tour starting on 9 January 1998 at the Zénith in Paris. His talents led to international interest from places such as Germany in Europe and all the way to Japan and the United States not long after. He was even included as a guest on American rapper Guru's "Jazzmatazz" project and one of his songs was included in the Tommy Boy rap compilation in the States.
Early on in MC Solaar's career it was important for him to share the struggles and the different hardships for Black people that migrated to France and tried to make a living. Most of his music was dedicated to enlightening the population of a specific deeper message that connected to him in his life. "[...] he addresses the conditions under which Black people have migrated to and settled in France. In the piece 'Leve-toi et rap,' he describes his Chadian parents' migration from Senegal to a Parisian suburb, the main stages of his teenage years and how he finally came to discover rap." In an interview MC Solaar described the feeling of making a song and the thought process while just writing any part of lyrics that go into his music. "I write quickly, because of the music, he tells me. It's much easier if you have the music, the rhythm, but I am fast. First, I have taken in "everything". Do you never write before the music? Ah. I used to, he admits. But when I met the music, I changed."
1997–2004: Cinquième As and Mach 6
Solaar's career continued to evolve throughout the late nineties and into the new millennium. He released Cinquième As in 2001 to critical acclaim and Mach 6 in 2003. In the album's third track, "Lève-Toi et Rap", Solaar describes his parents' Chadian emigration as well as his own roots growing up in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges and Cairo. Towards the beginning of the song he says: Puis trip en Egypte, Ecole Française du Caire/ Pour parfaire mon flow et mon vocabulaire/ Là j'ai appris l'humilité, la peur des cartouches/ Pur style de sniper camouflage paw-mouche, which, translated, roughly means he spent time at a French school in Cairo, perfecting his rapping style and learning how to survive a dangerous lifestyle. Critic Dan Gennoe attests to Solaar's "flow et vocabulaire" by noting "the flow of his words is staggering, as are the low-slung grooves that they roll to; deftly vaulting all language barriers."
The cover of Cinquieme As depicts Solaar topless, and draws comparisons to captives about to be taken onto a slave ship. However, a look at the inside cover reveals Solaar to be in a wrestler's costume, along with the other men in the picture. As Veronique Helenon discusses in her article concerning the French hip hop scene, references to Africa and "blackness" are a very important part of Solaar's music. Solaar recognizes and pays tribute to the African presence in France by using boxing and wrestling references. Senegalese boxer Battling Siki is referenced in the album's booklet. Although Siki won the light heavyweight boxing championship in 1922, he still faced racism from journalists. This image combined with songs concerning colonial oppression and the migration experience from Africa to France show Solaar's "blackness," something that is extremely important in France's hip hop scene. For example, in his song 'Les Colonies', Solaar discusses the similarities between the oppression of Africans by colonialists to the modern day exploitation of "third world" countries. "Cinquième As" includes lyrics in French, English, and Spanish, which represents his ideals that rap should be inclusive of all people. In early 2004, his 2001 song "La Belle et Le Bad Boy" was featured on the final episode of the popular television series Sex and the City. The MTV series "The Hills" featured the song as well.
2005–Present: Chapitre 7 and international acclaim
"Da Vinci Claude", the first single from Solaar's album Chapitre 7, was launched in March 2007. The album was released 18 June 2007. MC Solaar is best known outside France for his work on Guru's Jazzmatazz project and as a guest rapper on the Missy Elliott track "All N My Grill". Collaboration with Elliot propelled him to higher popularity in the American market. The single "Le Bien, Le Mal" (The Good, The Bad) has been a Hip Hop/Dance crossover hit and has received playtime on MTV, which characterizes his work this way: "His fluid phrasing makes up for his lack of English, and the production on his solo work (by DJ Jimmy Jay and Boom Bass of La Funk Mob) surpasses that of most of his hip-hop contemporaries."
MC Solaar is one of the few French rappers having success in the English-dominated American hip hop culture. MC Solaar has released a few songs which never appeared on albums, including "Comme dans un film" (falsely known as "John Woo") and "Inch'Allah". He has criticized people for illegal downloading and producing altered versions of his albums Mach 6 and Chapitre 7.
On 7 December 2003, MC Solaar married Chloé Bensemoun and on 7 May 2004 she gave birth to the couple's first child, Roman. In 2007, she gave birth to a girl named Bonnie.
- Studio albums
|FR ||AUT||BEL |
|1991||Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo||–||–||–||–||–|
- Live albums
|FR ||BEL |
|1998||Le tour de la question - Album live à L'Olympia||8||19||–|
- Compilation albums
|FR ||BEL |
Maxis and EPs
- Solaar Power EP
- Inch'Allah EP
|FR ||BEL |
|1991||"Bouge de là"||22||–||–||Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo|
|"Victime de la mode"||32||–||–|
|"Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo"||39||–||–|
|1993||"Nouveau western"||4||–||–||Prose Combat|
|1995||"La concubine de l'hémoglobine"||42||–||–|
|"Les temps changent"||13||26||–|
|"Hasta la vista"||1||5||23|
|2002||"La la la, la"||39||2* |
|2004||"Hijo de Africa"||32||–||–||Mach 6|
|"Au pays de Gandhi"||37||–||–|
|2007||"Clic clic"||19||7* |
|2008||"Le rabbi muffin"||20||1||–|
*Did not appear in the official Belgian Ultratop 50 charts, but rather in the bubbling under Ultratip charts.
- Collective singles
|2014||"À quoi ça sert l'amour" (live) |
(Lavoine / Zazie / Mathy / MC Solaar / Ségara / Les Enfoirés / Chœurs du Collège du Kochersberg)
|105||Les Enfoirés album |
- Featured in
|FR ||AUT||BEL |
|1993||"Le bien, le mal" |
(Guru feat. MC Solaar)
(Urban Species feat. MC Solaar)
|1999||"All n My Grill" |
(Missy Misdemeanor Elliott feat. MC Solaar)
- 1991: Pour Kim Song-Man - short film by Costa-Gavras
- 2005: Mort à l'écran as Jonathan - short film by Alexis Ferrebeuf
- 2011: Illegal Love voice over - documentary by Julie Gali
- Le Tour de la Question (2 CD) (1998)