Rim’K: The Algerian Beats of Nostalgia

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'Rim’K’s' history with rap music goes back to the early 1990s, when the Paris-based band Supreme NTM and Marseilles-based group AIM dominated the rap industry. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Said Khatibi

Published Thursday, March 15, 2012

In his upcoming album Family Leader (2012), stinging rapper Rim’K presents a reading into his artistic journey that began over 15 years ago in search of his Algerian roots.

This nostalgia was never actually absent from all the musical works of Abdel Karim Brahmi (his real name).

Rim’K’s last album Maghreb United (2009) held a clear message evident from its title, as it called for uniting the Arab Maghreb.

The album – including some of the most prominent North African rap musicians, such as Zahouania, Rada Talyani, Muhammad Allaoua, and Kadir Gaboni – came under sharp criticism in France.

One French newspaper described Rim’K as a “provocateur,” while the authorities cancelled one of his concerts in the city of Grenoble in 2010.

Two French parliament members from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing Union for Popular Movement party (UMP) described him as “racist against whites and the French in general.”

They justified this by citing one of his songs, which says: “Say it loud: I detest your homeland, I detest the blue police uniform, I’ve hated it since my childhood.”

Rim’K refused to comment on the campaigns against him being carried out by some French music and media circles.

“Although music was made for enjoyment, it is also able to send political messages...I try to present the concerns of the immigrants, especially the North Africans, and I have no way to deliver their voice except through music,” he said.

Rim’K’s history with rap music goes back to the early 1990s, when the Paris-based band Supreme NTM and Marseilles-based group AIM dominated the rap industry.

In 1994, Rim’K collaborated with other rap artists, AP and Mokobe, forming a group named 113 – the name of their neighborhood in a Paris suburb.

“From the beginning, we bet on diversity, as the band members hail from different national origins,” he said. “AP is from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and Mokobe is from Mali. Our close relationship to rap as the music of the time is what brings us together, in addition to France being our common country of residence."

The band’s first album, No Restrictions, No Borders, No Prison Bars (1998) did not attract much of an audience. But one year later, 113 managed to win a place for itself in the French musical map with its City Princes album (2000).

The album, containing 14 songs – including 1001 Nights, Confronting the Police, and Remaining Regret – sold more than 450,000 copies and gave Rim’K and his band a distinct identity in the French hip hop scene.

After this success, the band started to break up. But despite their differing artistic and personal orientations, 113 continued working together from time to time.

They released a number of albums, the most recent being 113 Degrees (2005), before they completely disbanded.

After that date, Rim’K began working solo, joining in duets with some of the most prominent rap artists in France and released four records: Son of the Homeland (2004), Illegitimate Radio (2006), Large Family (2007), and Maghreb United (2009).

These albums represent a mix of nostalgia for home and rage at the current reality, bluntly criticizing the French authorities’ racism and discrimination in dealing with the immigrants.

In 2010, the group reunited and released the album Universel. In a video that the band posted on its website, Algerian-French football star Zeineddine Zidan praised their reunion and album.

Rim’K described the period when his band was apart as “transformational, for each of us engaged in individual experiences that contributed to a part of our journey.”

“I believe it was a very beneficial phase for all of us, and the reunion was very exceptional with the latest album, which was inspired from its diverse content and international roots in its text and rhythm,” he added.

Despite the complexity of his career and his large Algerian fan base, Rim’K’s appearance in music festivals and occasions in his homeland, remains rare. The rap star said this is due to “bad organization.”

Nevertheless, Rim’K is well-known among the Algerian rap audience, and his songs blare out everywhere – thanks to his collaboration with various hip hop stars.

He sang Returning to the Roots with Cheb Khalid, Klando with Cheb Mami, and Rachid System Feat with Cheba Zahouania.

Algerians were first introduced to him in 1999 through a video clip of his song Tonton du Bled (Uncle of the Country) – from his second album, City Princes – which was the first Algerian hip hop video clip.

His loyalty to his original Algerian hometown of Bijaya, 300km east of Algiers, prompted him to embrace many of the young Arab Maghreb singers, as he contributed to promoting them, helped in producing their first songs, and introduced them to the French audience.

“It’s necessary to help the young singers, especially in their first steps on the path of music and art,” Rim’K said.

“I know the difficulties they face, as it is very difficult to penetrate the artistic scene in France. That’s why I try to help the people of my homeland as much as possible to save time and overcome obstacles,” he explained.

Away from the music halls and rap microphones, Rim’K also performed some generic songs for Algerian films, such as Story in the Valley by Jamal bin Salih (2005), and published a comic book titled Ghetto Pursuit (2005), in partnership with French artist Regis Hautiere.

With all this variety, the idea of developing rap still preoccupies Rim’K. He is also preoccupied with his dwindling popularity in this art form.

“We present the best we have. When others listen to us, they either like our songs or they don’t. Nevertheless, I’m not that pessimistic. We move forward step-by-step, and I don’t fear anything now,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rim’K’s fans are eagerly anticipating his new album, which is set to be released on May 28.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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