By Ana Ninkovic
I first discovered French The Kid only a few months ago on one of my suggested Spotify radio playlists. Usually I absent-mindedly use a playlist as background noise as I go about my business, but when French came on shuffle my head snapped up. I had to see who this guy was.
“Call me French”, he says on a FaceTime call interview - a nickname given to him by his boys in Essex as he lived in rural France, near Toulouse in his teen years. He blew up in 2020 with his viral freestyles on Instagram and has one of the most popular Daily Duppy freestyles ever released. Fluent in French, the bilingual rapper has established himself as one of the most distinctive young UK Rap artists as of late.
“If I’m writing in English, I might start thinking in French. If I’m proper riding the beat with my lyrics then I’ll put a bit of French in it, as a little spice to it. I’m losing it though! I haven’t been back to France since I left… I speak it with no one here, literally no one. But we move.”
I feel like I’m chatting with any boy I could’ve gone to school with (minus the Essex demeanour). I ask him what he thinks he’d be doing now if it wasn’t for music. “Who knows, maybe a painter? French The Painter. Imagine that.” He has a warm yet hardened aura about him which radiates in his music, featuring his emotional, slick flow and his singing voice, soft with a boyish gruffness. He speaks humbly about his success. “My mum’s a musician, so from the beginning she always egged me on. I’ve got a very Irish family. So when I started, it was a bit… Well, they always cheered me on, but they just thought it was a hobby,” he cheekily grins at me through the phone, “but now they see stuff’s proper going on. I invite them to my shows and they’re proper proud.”
There is a stoic nature about him, and one gets the impression that he has seen a lot in his lifetime. His arduous life experiences are poured out in the storytelling of his music, including narrating how his dad was in and out of prison and speaking frankly on issues of poverty, gang crime, and the weight of the cycle of deprivation. In his ‘Only One Freestyle’ he tells the listener, “Mummy told me not to trap, mummy told me to stick to rap. Gypsies and Algerians in France told me to flip a pack”. The rapper grew up closely with the travelling community in Essex and with North Africans in France. Influenced by the popular house & club music scene in Essex to the French Rap & Afrobeats in south-west France accordingly, he combines these diverse roots of musical and cultural influences to mould his sound and music today. He says of the culturally diverse influences: “It all together made me see a bigger picture of music.” Known for his experimental approach and beat selection, he ventures further with this in the new mixtape. “Every track’s an upgrade. It’s just different. I’m not saying it like ‘I’m soo different to everyone else,’ but my music is just different, if you deep it. They’re not too similar - any of them. Except for my freestyles.”
His identity as an artist is crafted through his rich backstory and intensely emotional freestyles and built himself a reputation for his discerning writing and beat selection.
“Producing is what I really want to get involved in. I’ve been making beats on my phone, if you go on your phone you’ve got Garage Band, I’ve been making some bangers! You can make some serious beats on there. I want to do it properly now. Anything to do with music really, I’m game.” French’s eclectic musical influences make up his identity as an artist as well: “My top three… 50 Cent is my first. Second… I don’t know because it’s so ranged. The Black Keys? And third, Jimi Hendrix. It’s a weird one.”
His debut mixtape ‘Never Been Ordinary’ features hazy, dreamy tracks like ‘Remedy’. Reminiscent of 2013-15 A$AP Rocky and Kid Cudi, with a similar dreamy American hip-hop sound with a British/Irish gruffness. “It all comes down to the choice of the beats init. I've been looking for that dreamy type of beat all the time. I adapt my lyrics to the beat... And it comes out like that.” The track ‘Neverland’ is a club tune with a pared-back trap beat, reminiscent of a 2010s club classic. The sound is nostalgic yet the message is present and honest: ‘I don’t really care about fame, where I go my gang will go.’ It’s clear through his songs and our conversation that French values loyalty and family above all else. He knows what’s important to him and he’s here for nothing else. What motivates French every day is, “Music itself. I just love music. That's all I think about. As soon as I get up I want to put my AirPods in and listen to music. Music, music, music literally.”
French The Kid has songs that are sombre tales of his life, that unleash an inner dialogue about his experiences of living on the outskirts of a criminal underworld. He narrates this poetically in the French verse of ‘Make It Out’, translating to “Touch one of my brothers, I'll put money on your head / I promise you the AK47 will send bullets like a letter / And, my beautiful, don't worry, I'm on the street, that's life / She likes gangsters, likes rappers and those beautiful melodies.” He openly processes issues and uses music as a form of therapy. “That’s what music is, init. It’s like a hobby, keeps your mind on just that really. So I like to integrate what I think about on a daily basis into my music.” The heart-breaking new track ‘Conversations’ adopts the style of Eminem’s Stan and unravels a poignant tale about his relationship with alcohol and the war in his mind dealing with mental health. Mental health for men especially is important to him, acknowledging that it’s often difficult for men to put their feelings into words. “I do loads of that. If people relate to it, then it’s easier for them to talk about it. Especially if they see a rapper on YouTube talking about it then they might think ‘oh I can talk about it.’”
He sings to drill beats and raps on club tracks. He’s reworking the UK rap scene with an undercurrent of European flavour and with a sincerity you don’t come across much. French The Kid is emotional, insightful, reflective, slick… and needs to be heard.
The debut mixtape ‘Never Been Ordinary’ is out now.