Paris-based 75e Session’s “John Doe” Series Is Pretty Damn Ill.
Lately, a lot of my spare time has gone to researching and absorbing as much foreign rap as possible, specifically French hip-hop. Most of those times, I can barely understand what I’m listening to lyrically but the feeling is no different. Actually, I’ve been finding that what intrigues me the most about French rap is that, although they’ve been absorbing hip-hop culture since the 80′s, they still have a really untapped and raw quality to their music. They have a few exceptions like mega rap star MC Solaar and super successful mainstream emcee Booba, but most of the emcees still have some hunger or an aesthetic that remains credible in the streets of Paris. Over the weekend I was on another search for French rap goods when on Tumblr I stumbled across a video of someone rapping where only their mouth was being shown. It threw me off, but was intriguing enough to go looking for more. Luckily there were 40 other videos just like it on YouTube courtesy of French creative collective 75e Session. They coined the series “John Doe” in which select anonymous French emcees freestyle over a beat of their choosing. They’ve been racking up enough views in France to land a recent partnership with Def Jam France. I hit them up instantly and got to know about their operation a lot more. Peep the convo and some of the John Doe videos below:
What was the vision behind the John Doe: Freestyle Anonyme series when it was first created?
75e Session:It all started from a collective idea. We have a friend named Fa2l who is a talented rhymer ( J.Doe 2 ). He’s been rapping now for about eight or ten years, but didn’t wanted to step up showing his face to the public, for a few relevant reasons. My man Anto (the originator of 75e Session) wanted to shoot a freestyle though, so they made a first test outside, camera on hand, with the framing focused on his mouth. When he showed it to the rest of the crew we liked the idea and decided to make a series out of that, it appeared to us like an evidence. I guess it was meant to work cause we started to drop episodes totally randomly and people directly got hooked up.
What is 75e Session and what are you guys’ contribution to France’s hip-hop culture?
75: 75e Session is a collective based in Paris (area code 75) putting together young musicians, photographers, rappers, filmmakers, sound engineers and events organisers. Most of us are also hip-hop fans. We started 3 years ago, without knowing a damn thing about what we did but we did it, luckily we met good people at a good time, and here we are. We try to be more professional for each project that we release, and why not trying to make a living out of it ? Right now we are working on a few hip-hop and electro music videos, as well as the organization of a big event in Paris reuniting the artists that we support. France is one of the countries where hip-hop culture is the most implanted. Rappers here have made big sales since the early nineties and if you pick five kids anywhere in France you can be sure that three of them are listening to rap or R&B. However, only one national radio station got the game on lock and decides who’s in and who’s not, so it takes people all over the country to promote underground artists and be an alternative to the main system. That’s what we are doing on our scale.
Why do you guys choose to keep the emcees anonymous and to only show their mouths moving?
75:The idea goes totally at the opposite of what’s going on nowadays, in hip-hop and more globally in music and entertainment : every newcomer has a video where he’s selling a lifestyle and an aspect that people will (or won’t) remember; the artistic activity is so frenetic that some people just watch videos and don’t pay attention to songs without a visual aid anymore. We wanted to go back to the essence of the music, and maybe make people love a freestyle that they wouldn’t even have listened to because the mc was not dressed like they would like to, or had a shitty body language. We chose not to mention the names to put every artists on the same level: One may have sold thousands of CD’s, the other hasn’t recorded nothing yet. But at the end of the day you have two John Doe’s with the same numbers of views.
75: Most of the mc’s bring their beat (usually picked on internet, sometimes from their beatmakers or beatmakers we are working with) but we keep a right to inspect and sometimes change it to make the best result. By listening to the freestyles you can tell that the boom-bap revival is very vivid in France, which is nice because it pushes people to know more about the classics, beside all the new styles spread by the medias (that we also appreciate, don’t get it twisted).
I noticed that the latest video was a beatboxer and throughout the series there were two singers. Is that a direction you’re looking to move into—highlighting other artists within the culture that don’t rap?
75: Yes, we chose to put a feminine artist every 10 freestyle cause unfortunately we are not as well connected with singers and female artists than we are with rappers. We also decided to add a few beatboxers to the series, we hope that people will enjoy them as much as rappers. Since the beginning we didn’t wanted to stick to rap, but we had so much guys we wanted to promote that rap became naturally the main style.
How do you see the series changing in the future if it continues?
75: Now we have the opportunity to work with more confirmed artists and make their notoriety a benefit to the rookies. We also would love to work more with foreign artists (we newly had a partnership with Def Jam France), reggae singers, folk singers, opera singers, humorists, buddhist monk, scatman, mute people. Everything is possible, holla at us!
Do the artists commit to remaining anonymous?
75: They play the game. We ask them not to mention their name during the freestyle. As the creators of the series, we keep the secret of the names. But of course their fans or friends usually recognize them pretty fast and it doesn’t take long for you to find the name in the YouTube comments or on Facebook. We also put the names randomly in the key-words, so it can be related to other tracks and videos. Maybe when the series will come to an end we will put all the names of the artists in the titles, instead of numbers…we are still thinking about it. We would like to reach 75 episodes or maybe more so we have the time to consider.
For more videos by 75e Session, visit their YouTube page.