MC Solaar
Name of Album: Cinquieme AS
Ratings: Personal - 5 General - 4
Release Date: March 5, 2002

I 've liked MCSolaar ever since the first time I heard him a the local Virgin listening station. That was in 2000 when he first unleashed Cinquieme upon the French market. Now, two years later (wasn't it 1999 just yesterday?) he's remixed the album with new tracks for the American audience.

The results are equally jolting as his original release. However, I'm not sure for whom those outside the cosmopolitan jet-setters of New York City and their kind in much smaller cities across the US, this album will appeal to. I think most people's appreciation of contemporary French pop-culture begins and ends with Jacqueline Binoche, and even then no one needed an interpreter to understand her performance as a chocolatier. Even with half of America "turning Mexican," the more likely winner in foreign language musical fare, Spanish, has not reached its full acceptance, and hence potential. Stars like Ricky Martin, Selena, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Shakira, and Mark Anthony all still have to translate their songs into English to win recognition for their musical talent. Essentially, they have to work twice as hard as their English-only brethren who may have only half the musical gift these Latin artists possess. Spanish rap artists like Control Machete and Molotov might get a smidgeon of acknowledgement from their soundtrack showcases in art house box-office this like Amores Perros, but even if I regard the talent of the former equivalent to the Beastie Boys or EPMD, their Spanish-only work has no chance of winning over a mono-chromatic American audience.

In that regard, I would expect any French artist to have to work three times as hard to get noticed on a large and significant scale here in the States.

There is one exception on the album, track 15, Playmate, which is Solaar's attempt to rhyme in this land's "native tongue" (certainly that is a misnomer). It is "okay," but it's like Charles Aznavour singing in English, who is one of my all-time favorite French crooners who is on par with Frank Sinatra, God bless his soul, but whose French and Spanish originals far exceeded his English translations. Same went with Nat King Cole and his Spanish work. They might have glided onto the charts with their catchy combination of novelty and kitsch, but critically speaking they lacked true merit. And so the same goes here with MC.

From another angle, Solaar reminds me of a young L.L. Cool J, before he sold out. Both the young LL and MC have intelligent rhymes that do not rely primarily on obscenities and undecipherable vernacular to sell their records. However, that said some of Solaar's raps have little to offer outside of their above-par lyrical sophistication. Practically, every song has the same pattern of rhyme—two lines with the same suffix sound is the endemic pattern. However, these observations are limited to his French only songs.

Although "Hasta La Vista Mi Amor" is phonetically hip and the rhythm makes it hop, the Spanish lyrics when translated are pretty weak. The same goes for his English attempt—Solaar Weeps. Stick with le français monsieur Solaar.

My favorite track from this album remains to be Le Cinquieme As, which I first heard two years ago. The beat is original, the chorus reminds me of Gladiator the movie, which along with its bass beat achieves testosterone-inspired body movement as any good rap song should.

Along with "La. La. La, La," which sounds awfully close to Jay-Z's ""It's A Hard Knock Life" (sampling quite memorably a snippet of some orphans singing in the Broadway show Annie), "Baby Love" also has a peculiar strain of obvious American influence (Baby Love being a rip-off of the 80's hit from Zapp and Roger, Computer Love) The results aren't bad, but the litany of borrowing from American music, especially rap, makes me wonder if the reverse ever happens, that is do American rap artists borrow ideas or samples from other international artists? I doubt it. Granted the U.S. pretty much is the origin of rap as we know and love, I suppose it should come as no surprise that we inversely funnel our influence worldwide.