IAM

Creation date : 1989
Country : France
Language : French
Style of music : Rap
Members : Akhenaton, Imhotep, Kheops, Freeman, Shurik'n

By the early 90’s a number of rap stars such as NTM and MC Solaar had emerged from the Paris suburbs and started making their mark upon the French music scene. Meanwhile the multi-cultural town of Marseilles, in the South of France, was proving to be fertile ground for a second wave of the rap movement, spearheaded by the group IAM.

More info
  • IAM website
  • By the early 90’s a number of rap stars such as NTM and MC Solaar had emerged from the Paris suburbs and started making their mark upon the French music scene. Meanwhile the multi-cultural town of Marseilles, in the South of France, was proving to be fertile ground for a second wave of the rap movement, spearheaded by the group IAM.

    The rappers in the IAM posse all come from housing estates and suburbs scattered around the town of Marseilles. They would launch their individual rapping careers in the mid-80’s. Philippe Fragione, one of the core members of the IAM posse, started out with the group Lively Crew (1984-1985), then hung out on the New York scene for a while in 1986, where he picked up his rap tag Chill. Eric, a fellow member of Lively Crew, would also go on to become a core member of IAM, rapping under the pseudonym Khéops (as in the builder of the Egyptian pyramids!).

    In 1988 Chill and Khéops joined forces with a third rapper Geoffroy Mussard, aka Shurik'n, and began performing locally as the B Boys Stance. The trio soon picked up a fourth member in the orm of Pascal, a former bass-player and drummer who had started to get into sampling. Pascal, newly christened Imhotep, became IAM’s "Architect of Sound" and the following year the posse recruited two hip hop dancers, Malek Sultan and Divin Kephren. Thus by 1989 the six-strong group IAM was up and rapping. The group’s innovative rap style fused distinctive French beats with lyrics inspired by Middle Eastern and Egyptian culture (hence the rappers’ adopted names). IAM's songs were also influenced by the French "Alix" cartoon albums, as well as the more serious works of Cheikh Anta Diop (the renowned Senegalese historian, anthropologist and linguist).

    1989 - Rap from the South of France makes its mark on the Paris music scene

    IAM recorded their début single on a simple ‘four-track’ in a makeshift home studio in Marseilles. Despite the fact that only a limited number of copies of "Concept" were released in cassette form in 1989, the group’s début made its mark on the rap scene, and even attracted a fair amount of attention in Paris. Indeed, the group’s Southern French rap style would so impress talent scouts in Paris that in June 1990 IAM were signed to "Labelle noir" (Virgin’s new label which was specifically designed to launch new acts).

    On July 3 1990 IAM got their first major break when they were invited to support Madonna at the Bercy stadium (the biggest concert venue in the whole of Paris). Following their impressive performance at Bercy, IAM were soon invited to support a wide variety of international stars including James Brown, Public Enemy, Rita Mitsouko and Touré Kunda.

    IAM’s début album, "De la planète Mars", released in 1991, proved to be one of the greatest success stories of the emerging French rap scene. Indeed, "De la planète Mars", would go on to sell over 100,000 copies. It would also produce three major hit singles ("Red Black & Green", "Tam Tam de l'Afrique" and "Planète Mars"). IAM’s mixed cultural origins and the distinctive Southern touch to their lyrics set them apart from their rap cousins on the Paris scene, and the group's innovative sound soon earnt the group a devoted following of fans. IAM’s fresh new style certainly destroyed the popular French cliché that the only good things to come out of Marseille were the singer Fernandel, the game of pétanque and the famous apéritif pastis!

    IAM score a huge hit with "Le Mia"

    Two and a half years after the success of their début album IAM were back at the forefront of the French rap scene with their second opus "Ombre est lumière". This album, which featured no less than forty tracks, was an interesting mix of Egyptian and Middle Eastern mythology, politically committed lyrics and humorous reflections on contemporary society. The first single release was the wonderfully funky "Le Mia". This song - a hilarious send-up of the flashy crowd who strutted their stuff on local dancefloors on a Saturday night - went on to prove an enormous hit on the French mainstream. By this point in their career IAM had established themselves as one of the leading French rap groups, and it came as no surprise to anyone when, in February 1995, IAM were voted Best Group of the Year at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards. Later that year when the hip young French film director Mathieu Kassovitz brought out his cult film "La Haine", IAM were invited to record a track on the album tied in with the film release. Picking up on La Haine’s main themes of police violence and urban decay, IAM recorded the hard-hitting track "La 25ème image".

    Exhausted by a hectic touring schedule to promote their second album, IAM decided to take a short break from the music scene and temporarily went their separate ways. Later in 1995, lead singer Chill (better known to rap fans as Akhénaton) released an accomplished solo album, entitled "Métèque et mat". This highly personal album, which fused witty lyrics with a typically exuberant Southern French sound, was met with general acclaim.

    IAM spearhead the Marseilles rap movement

    Two years later the IAM posse got back together in the recording studio, putting the finishing touches to a new album entitled "l'Ecole du micro d'argent". Originally recorded in New York, then remixed in Paris in collaboration with Prince Charles, the whizz-kid producer from Harlem, the new album proved a phenomenal success (selling 300,000 copies - a major achievement for a French rap album!).

    "L'Ecole du micro d'argent" revealed a slight change in the group's style. The lyrics were now pared down to an absolute minimum, which served to make IAM’s comments on social injustice and urban violence more hard-hitting than ever. The title of the album "l'Ecole du Micro d'argent" ("The School of the Silver Microphone") was a reference to IAM’s role in promoting young up-and-coming groups from the Marseilles region. Using their star status and their own valuable experience on the music scene, IAM have done their utmost to create a veritable ‘school’ of rap in the South of France.

    Throughout their career IAM have also proved themselves to have a strong social conscience and in 1997 the group got involved in an important fund-raising project in 1997. Joining forces with other prominent French rappers such as Assassin, Ménélik, Ministère Amer and Fabe, IAM recorded a compilation album entitled "11 mn 30 contre les lois racistes" ("11 and a Half Minutes Against Racist Laws"). All proceeds from the album were donated to MIB (an association working to improve the harsh conditions in the French suburbs).

    In July 1997 IAM were invited to appear at the famous Francofolies music festival in la Rochelle. As usual IAM took advantage of this opportunity to give lesser-known Marseilles rap groups a helping hand, performing on stage at the festival with a host of unknown Marseilles rappers.

    While IAM's album "L'Ecole du micro d'argent" continued to sell like hotcakes (sales rocketing up past the 500,000 mark), the group travelled up to Paris at the end of 97 to perform a major concert at Le Zenith in Paris on December 2. By this stage in their career IAM had become such popular stars on the French rap scene that tickets for the Zenith concert sold out weeks in advance.

    Following this successful concert, IAM embarked upon a major French tour.

    Solo Ventures

    On February 20 1998 IAM went on to triumph at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards, scooping the award for Best Album of the Year (for "l'Ecole du micro d'argent"). The group then returned to Le Zénith for two more concerts (April 21 and 22). Following the success of Akhénaton's solo album in 1995, two other members of IAM decided to launch solo projects in 1998. Kheops released his solo album "Sad Hill" in March, and then Shurik'n followed suit, releasing his début album "Où je vis" in May. Not to be outdone, Imhotep also went into the studio to begin work on his own solo project. His début album "Blue Print" was released on June 12. All three albums have proved popular with French rap fans, but in terms of record sales Shurik'n is now way ahead of his colleagues - indeed his solo album "Où je vis" shot straight to the top of the French charts just weeks after its release!

    Following the success of their solo efforts, IAM regrouped later that year and released a new single, "Independenza" (a hard-hitting song about 'cultural independence'). The track was included on "l'Ecole du Micro d'argent" when a new series of IAM's best-selling album was pressed later that year. In February '99 Akhenaton and Kheops went on to triumph at the annual 'Victoires de la Musique' awards, carrying off the award for Best Soundtrack of the Year for their work on the film "Taxi".

    Later that same year Malek Sultan (aka "Freeman") also branched out on his own and recorded a solo album entitled "L'Palais de justice", confirming the incredible creative potential of IAM also operated on an individual level.

    Then, in the spring of 2000, Akhenaton came to the fore, producing his first major feature film, "Comme un aimant". The film, which came out on general release on May 31st, depicted day-to-day life in the poorer quarters of Marseilles, but Akhenaton's gritty social realism received mixed reviews from the critics. Akhenaton produced the soundtrack for the film himself, working in close collaboration with the renowned French film-music composer Bruno Coulais.

    Following in the solo footsteps of Freeman and Akhenaton, Kheops went on to release a second solo album entitled "Sad Hill Impact". Then in the autumn of 2000 Akhenaton came rocketing back to the forefront of the French music scene with "Electro Cypher" (on which he experimented with a new musical direction, concocting a catchy mix of electro-funk. Finally, on November 14th, Shurik'n and his brother Faf la Rage made their own music headlines with "La Garde".

    A Spring after the Summer

    Since IAM’s latest album, every band member had released a solo album (about ten of them all in all). These personal ventures having helped them to rebuild their team spirit through increased self-confidence, they eventually joined together again in the studio to record "Revoir Un Printemps" in Marseilles, Paris and New York. Before the release of the album on September 16th 2003, a single entitled "Noble Art" came out, featuring deluxe sets by American rappers Red Man and Methodman.

    Penned between September 11th 2001 and April 2003, the lyrics were strongly influenced by world politics such as the World Trade Centre Attack, the Second Gulf War and the French Presidential Elections. Therefore, Akhenaton, Shurik’n, Kheops and Freeman, who, this time around, took part in the album as MC rather than breakdancer, composed a rather dark album.

    Bruno Coulais who had already worked with Akhenaton on "Comme Un Aimant" brought a new feel to the arrangements with the addition of strings. Beyoncé from Destiny’s Child also collaborated on the album.

    French audiences who had much awaited the coming together again of their favourite Rap band should revel in this new piece.

    In February 2004, the Marseilles posse released a DVD entitled "Au coeur d'IAM : genèse d'un album" (“At the heart of IAM: the genesis of an album.”) The DVD featured a 90-minute documentary with behind-the-scenes footage of recording sessions and preparation of the group’s fifth album. The DVD was designed to keep fans happy until they got to see AKH, Shurik'n, Freeman & co. live on stage again.

     

    IAM finally kicked off their "Stratégie Tour" at the beginning of June 2004, the very moment their new single "Stratégie d'un pion" hit record stores. The tour marked an exceptional moment in the group’s career as this was the first time they had performed on stage together in seven years. Tour dates included appearances at several major music festivals such as Solidays, Les Francofolies de La Rochelle and Les Vieilles Charrues. IAM also exported their feisty Marseilles rap abroad via shows in Canada, Switzerland and Germany.                                      

    2007: "Saison 5"

    The Marseilles crew put their individual projects on hold after this to concentrate on their collective ventures in 2007. Preceding the release of their new album, they brought out the single "Une autre brique dans le mur" in January 2007. Then, they recruited the services of DJ Kheops and Cut Killer to produce an "Official mixtape" of their new songs. The mixtape, which featured contributions from artists such as Faf la Rage (brother of Shurik'n), the group Psy 4 de la Rime, Chien de Paille and Bouga, was designed to whet the appetite of fans in the run-up to the new IAM album, “Saison 5”, released on 2 April 2007.

    “Saison 5” revolved around finely-honed lyrics - the Marseilles outfit’s signature stamp - songs infused with political and social comment and others based on their own experiences in life. "Ça vient de la rue", the second single release from the album, paid tribute to street culture. The album “Saison 5” marked a certain ‘back-to-basics’ approach, the group recording it in just three months and attempting to get a rawer, more direct sound than on their previous super-produced albums.

    Getting back in touch with fans at a grassroots level, IAM hit the road again for an ‘avant-première’, playing a dozen concerts in medium-sized venues across France (13 - 30 March). On 3 April, IAM brought the house down at Le Bataclan, in Paris. The show included a blast of IAM hits from the past including the group’s cult rap chart-topper "Le Mia." 

    On 3 April 2007, the Marseilles crew took to the stage of Le Bataclan, in Paris, for a special one-off performance before taking a short break from the live circuit. IAM resumed touring in December of that year, assuring a hectic schedule of dates in major towns and cities across France. Their tour included two performances at the legendary Olympia, in Paris (5 & 6 December) as well as a series of one-night stop-overs in Geneva, Zurich and Brussels.

    At the end of 2007, IAM - long-time fans of American comics - published their own comic-book album entitled "Imperial Asiatic Man." The comic-book, masterminded by Freeman, set its action in a future version of the city of Marseilles, which had become a totalitarian society. The plot went on to evolve in a parallel world (greatly inspired by the futuristic universe of the group's album "L'Ecole du micro d'argent.")  The scenario was written by Stéphane Durel and accompanied by Daniel Ballin's graffiti-style illustrations.

    2008: Live at the Pyramids

    On 14 March 2008, IAM celebrated the 20th anniversary of their career with a spectacular live show in Cairo, at the foot of the Pyramids. Individual members of the group (who all take their stage names from legendary Pharaohs) had been fascinated by the history of ancient Egypt since their were kids. So the setting for their 20th anniversary show was particularly apt. The French rap stars performed live on stage in sweltering heat, getting the crowd grooving to a run-through of their greatest hits ("Je danse le Mia", "Nés sous la même étoile" and "Petit frère.") The audience, mostly made up of French residents living in Cairo and Alexandria, were also treated to performances by guest stars including the Algerian Rai singer  Khaled, the Tunisian singer and composer Lofti Bouchnaq and the Popular Music Ensemble of Cairo. A documentary ("Encore un printemps") was shot backstage during the show and it was released on DVD, together with a live video of IAM's Pyramid concert, in May 2008.

    April 2008

    © RFI Musique
    Any reproduction of this website - either whole or partial - is strictly prohibited without the agreement of the authors.

    Close