Clotaire K :: Lebanese
Hardly fifteen seconds into the first track of Clotaire K's Lebanese, and this hypnotic blend of hip-hop beats and Lebanese Tarab string music is already making you groove. And then your ears are served the perfect complement to such an unlikely combination: Clotaire's smooth French vocal stylings.
After spending a couple of years soaking in the hip-hop rhythms of NYC and LA, Clotaire returned to his home in southern France to set about creating his own expression of what hip-hop is: an album in which the braggadocio and formulaic approach of most American commercial hip-hop has been toned down significantly. Flowing effortlessly in French, then English and Arabic over Lebanese loops, Clotaire's signature style is a welcome departure from mainstream French hip-hop.
Before you know it, the CD is already on "Ya Saryan?!" - the fifth track out of seventeen - and you realize that he's flowing in English. Most probably because of his Egyptian, Lebanese and French influences, Clotaire's English rhymes are not exactly on point - in fact much of it doesn't rhyme or flow in the traditional hip-hop sense at all. The smoothness of his voice matches well with French rhyming, but costs him serious street credibility when he switches to English. By the time you get to "Lubnan" (Arabic for "Lebanon"), an earnest attempt to reach Lebanese youth worldwide with a message of non-violence, the urge is almost overwhelming to reach over and forward to the next track because the verses are so badly written. But give the song a chance, because the second half is in Arabic and it flows a lot better with the background vocals and the bass-heavy groove of the beat itself.
By far the best track on the CD is "Le Criminel" (The Criminal), with a street-tested beat that has real commercial viability in the seasoned American hip-hop market, coupled with sharp and intense French rhymes. This is where most French hip-hop fails - and where Clotaire's experience in America will serve him well. Perhaps the song also sticks out a little because it's one of two that contrast with the dark, bass-heavy lounge feel of the rest of the album.
Clotaire's forays into the drum'n'bass sound with "Bif Bam Boom," and more successfully with "Emigrate" are also to be noted. Here his mastery as a musician, producer and emcee come through in a way that perhaps even Clotaire himself hasn't realized completely. Drum'n'bass lends itself very well to the samples and middle-eastern instruments on these two tracks, and Clotaire's smooth rhymes - although mixed a bit too faintly into the songs - take these two joints in an entirely unique and important direction from the rest of his album.
Overall the CD reveals a great deal of promise for Clotaire's career as a musician / producer / songwriter / emcee in the world of international hip-hop. It's a great first-effort and as his skills become more polished, I expect a much greater impact with his next album.