Those who had written off JoeyStarr as a jailbird following his recent stint behind bars are about to change their take on the sulphurous French singer
: as well as acting in four films due out over the coming months*, Joey is now releasing his second solo album, Egomaniac, featuring guests like Oxmo Puccino, Nicoletta (yes, you read right) and Fdy Phenomen. Like his solo premiere, Gare Au Jaguarr, it also includes participation from his mate, the far-left postman-cum-politician, Olivier Besancenot. All of which is Joey’s way of showing that he’s anything but the “ex-rapper” that some have labelled him as. We interviewed the Gorgonian jaguar who, at 44, is still one of the most likeable bad boys of French hip hop.
RFI Musique: Joey, your first solo album solo came out in 2006. Why such a big gap until the second, Egomaniac?
JoeyStarr: Actually, I’ve known what I wanted to do for a while and I toured my previous album Gare Au Jaguarr for almost two years. There was no hurry, and I don’t have a record label breathing down my neck. I’ve been doing a lot of sound systems since the tour ended. Now I come to think of it, we’d started to get down to the album with Dadoo (Ed’s note: ex-leader of the group KDD) two years ago for the track Hip-Hop, but it wasn’t very conclusive. It was Kimfu (Ed’s note: DJ and rap producer) who got me back onto it and brought me some different productions. But I can’t tell you what I was doing. You can’t say things like that, you just feel them! Hip hop 90 was my watchword. For me, it’s one of the golden periods of hip hop and that’s how I wanted it to sound. It comes across on tracks like On‘N On. Kimfu came along and blew me away with quite a few things. There were tracks that he’d got me to listen to three years ago, I won’t tell you which ones, but they still work. So I got out of the slammer, started recording one week later, and it took a fortnight. Then everything happened at once: Polisse, Dahan’s film, the Beigbeider and Nuits Blanches (Ed’s note: his cinema projects).
In the intro to Egomaniac, you can hear a sample of a TV presenter still referring to you as “the enfant terrible of rap”.
I like having a laugh, that’s what we always do with NTM, but the serious side comes first. I like it when people have to ask themselves if I’m being serious or taking the piss, which is often the case.
You do a cover version of Mamy Blue in a duet with Nicoletta.
Actually, when we met for the first time, it was just after a funeral, and she’d been doing backing vocals with Hélène Ségara. And of course, I was with some blokes who kept pushing me, “Go for it, go and sing too!” So I did the presenting while she sang Mamy
Blue and it really opened my eyes. I said to myself that there was a whole load of potential in that track. It’s got what I like: a hypnotic edge that really works and everyone knows. Not so long ago, before I got put inside, I got Kimfu to start working on it, and I’d read Virginie Despentes’ book King Kong Theory. I don’t know if you remember the preface, but at the start I wanted to do Mamy Blue by adapting Despentes’ preface. But it turned out that in Fleury-Merogis Prison, they don’t read Virgine Despentes, so there you go. And then I asked the lady, who in between times, had become mates with my Mum. So you’ve got my mother on one side, and Nicoletta on the other, imagine! But she’s a mega-generous chick. I called her and she came right away. She’s still got what it takes, she’s amazing. She was gobsmacked that I was doing a cover of her number, she said to me, “It’s really lovely, I’m going to call your Mum”! Yeah, so then you call her and tell her about it but don’t let me know!
You must realise that a lot of journalists are going to label this as a “mature album”.
I thought about that, about what you’re saying, in relation to Mamy Blue, Mon rôle, I knew I was going to hear crap like that. Hey guys, I’m 44, it had to happen some day!
JoeyStarr Egomaniac (Sony Music) 2011
*He will be appearing on the big screen in Polisse by Maïwenn, L’Amour dure trois ans by Frédéric Beigbeider, Nuit Blanche by Frédéric Jardin andLes Seigneurs by Olivier Dahan.