Their album Le Monde Chico has rocked the French music industry
Too many French suburbs are characterized by drug dealing, chronic criminality, poverty, youth gangs and unemployment. Out of one particular suburb, however, comes a phenomenon called PNL.
Despite not signing a record deal with a label, despite not doing interviews and refusing to give away information about themselves on social media, French duo PNL have topped the iTunes album charts. Their debut, Le Monde Chico, consists of 14 songs, and has rocked the French music industry. Some have hailed them the biggest music sensation in France (for 2015).
PNL – which stands for Peace and Lové – is two brothers, Tarik (29) and Nabil (27), who were born and raised in a tough housing estate in Corbeil-Essonnes, just south of Paris, an area notorious for crime. Only last month a 19-year old was shot in the head during a gang shootout there.
French music writer Oliver Cachin says this:
“We don’t know who they are, we only have their lyrics to go on. The mystery around them has no previous equivalent in French rap.”
“Their success comes down to the atmosphere they create: a kind of melodic sadness. They deal with familiar themes – drug sales, criminality, the banlieues – but there’s something in their tone, a kind of absence, a hypnotic quality, a solitude, that’s totally different and absolutely their own. Rather than brutality, it’s a sadness that rings out.”
Growing up in the projects, Tarik and Nabil were part of an increasingly marginalized demographic. Their Algerian mother was largely absent, while their father, a Corsican pied-noir (a European who lived in Algeria under French colonial rule) is described in their songs as a gangster. Their lyrics are often peppered with Arabic. As for the rest of their biography, it’s a bit hazy although we do know that the younger brother spent time in prison for drug dealing.
Here’s a clip that received over 10 million views in under six months. Incidentally, it was filmed in the Naples suburb of Scampia (mafia-owned and dangerous.) I’m not sure why they went all the way to Naples. There are plenty of dangerous suburbs and housing projects to choose from in France (especially around Marseilles.)
In their latest album entitled “La Vie est Belle” (Life is Beautiful) we see the two artists in Namibia, Africa. Now wealthy, they have managed to escape the grim housing projects to compose new rap songs and travel the world. As you can see, money has mellowed them. Life is now beautiful and they’ve lost their angry edge. Good for them. They succeeded in channelling their anger (creatively) to build a new life for themselves.