IAM is a French hip hop band from Marseille, created in 1989, and composed of Akhenaton (Philippe Fragione), Shurik'n (Geoffroy Mussard), Freeman (Malek Brahimi), Khéops (Eric Mazel), Imhotep (Pascal Perez), and Kephren (François Mendy). 'IAM' has several meanings, including 'Invasion Arrivée de Mars' ('Invasion from Mars'). 'Mars' is frequently used as a metaphor for Marseille in IAM's songs.
The band was formed in late 1985
by Akhenaton and Khéops, under the name Lively Crew
. Lively Crew became B.Boys Stance
in the summer of 1987
, after which it was joined by Shurik'n, Freeman and Imhotep. In 1989
the group was renamed IAM
, and they produced their first album, IAM Concept
which was released the following year. They signed a contract with Virgin Records
, and went on to publish the album ...de la planète Mars
), which became a major hit in France. In 1993 they released another album titled "Ombre est lumière" that helped the band to grow in popularity. However, IAM's big break did not come until their 1997
album L'école du micro d'argent
, which took only two days to become a gold album
in France and eventually sold over a million copies, becoming a diamond album
. L'école du micro d'argent
also brought the group some international fame. They also performed at the Reading Festival
in England which increased not only their own popularity but that of French Hip Hop in England.
After the massively successful 1997 album, members of the group began to pursue solo careers. Akhenaton had already produced his first solo album, Métèque et mat, in 1995, and he was followed by Shurik'n and Freeman with albums in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Most members of the band now started to work on other projects of their own as well, such as Akhenaton's 2000 film Comme un aimant and two solo albums Sol Invictus (2001) and Soldat de fortune (2006). However, the group remained intact, writing tracks for their album Revoir un printemps, completed in 2003. The group released its brand new album Saison 5, in April 2007.
Africa and Ancient Egypt
One of IAM’s central themes in its songs is Africa. The group is one of the pioneer French rap groups and draws heavily on allusions to Africa, and particularly to ancient Egypt, in its music. Their 1991 song “Les tam-tam de l’Afrique” was one of the first French rap hits and the first song to deal expressly with the issue of slavery. Using a sample of a Stevie Wonder song, “Les tam-tam de l’Afrique” focuses on the “abduction of its inhabitants, the Middle Passage, and the plantation system in the Americas.”
IAM promotes an ideology that is based upon images associated with ancient Egypt, primarily upon the mythical allusions to pharaohs. By 1989 the group developed a unique rap style, mixing French beats and lyrics with Middle Eastern and Egyptian influences. Their stage names are of Egyptian origin; one of the group members, Eric Mazel, goes by the name Kheops, an allusion to the Egyptian pharaoh who built pyramids. This connection with ancient Egypt allows IAM “to assert connections to the contemporary Arab world in an indirect way.”
Indeed, this "'pharaoism,'" as French rap music specialist Andre Prevos calls it, represents an attempt to negotiate and maintain a cultural identity in the context of a social scene rife with racist and discriminatory ideologies. Because of the Islamophobic tendencies of much of white French society, references to Arabic origins and Islamic fundamentalism
are part of a highly socially contested discourse on identity politics in French music. Thus, by employing 'pharaoism' to hide these references to and elicitations of the Arab world, IAM successfully articulates its connections with the "Franco-Maghrebi" cause and establishes an important social space for itself. The pharaoist aspects of IAM'S rap help the group stay in touch with its origins where some some non-white French people have assimilated unquestioningly into the surrounding French culture. Therefore, the group's rap is both politically charged and defiant, as it attempts to subvert notions of racial superiority by "[proposing] multiracial alliance as an alternative to the 'old' [French] politics." Most importantly, rap provides IAM with a place to address social issues and speak out against racial intolerance where the group can actually be heard. In fact, the first single release from their second album, "Le Mia," "went on to prove an enormous hit on the French mainstream," according to French radio station RFI Musique. In this way, the use of 'pharaoism' as a mystical and coded strategy for the injection of Arabic and Egyptian lyrics, ideas, and sentiments into the music is what makes it commercially viable. Otherwise, if the music were any more outright in its references to Arabic origins, white French conservatives might identify it with Islamic Fundamentalism's grips over North African diasporatic communities living in France and try to censor it and impede the cause it stands for.
"'Les tams-tams de l'Afrique' was one of the first hit of French rap and dealt expressly with slavery. Using a sample of 'Past Time Paradise' by Stevie Wonder, this track focused on the plunder of Africa, the abduction of its inhabitants, the Middle Passage, and the plantation system in the Americas." (Helenon, Veronique. “Africa on Their Mind: Rap, Blackness, and Citizenship in France.” In The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. by Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 151-66. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Pres). A lot of French rap is connected to Africa but IAM made their song a hit unlike others. Even those the connection to Africa is not always expressed so clearly like this song, but still are and will continue to be a popular subject in French Rap
Along with their ties to Egyptian themes and ideologies, Islam is a very important theme in IAM’s music and image. The group uses the promotion of an Islamic image in order to bridge gaps between the multiple cultures they find themselves a part of. They present themselves as particularly Islamic in order to try and make the Islamic and Arabic subculture in France more widely tolerated. They use Arabo-Islamic lyrics, beats, instruments, and slang in hopes of this greater tolerance. In particular, this is a theme for main group member Akhenton. He is trying to use Islam to bridge the gap back to his home of Italy. He hopes that Islamic roots will tie together his heritage of being Italian, Muslim, and French. These connections and this effort can be particularly seen in his solo album cover of Meteque et Mat.
The album cover shows an Italian man with a Pharoah chess piece, in front of the background of an Islamic design around his name and an Arab and Italian looking house. This theme of Islam is not only present in the group’s lyrics and music, but is being used for a greater purpose of cultural acceptance and symbiosis.
Akhenaton criticizes the "home-made" black nationalist Islam of the United States, as being less authentic and orthodox than the Islam present in France. Despite this critique of American religion, the group's musical style closely resembles U.S. hip-hop, but with Oriental themes and a slower beat.
In terms of their political motivations, much of the themes found in IAM's music are reactions to the actions of the political party, Front National
headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen
. One example of this can be heard in their contribution to the rap single "11'30" Contre les Lois Racistes
(Eleven Minutes Thirty Seconds Against Racist Laws)
that focused on raising consciousness in youth regarding what they saw as unjust immigration laws. IAM advocates heavily against racism, both within France and globally. This is the only political issue that the group addresses; otherwise, they assert themselves as being antipolitical.
IAM have a long history of collaborations with the American Hip Hop group, the Wu-Tang Clan
. IAM have sampled an Inspectah Deck
lyric from the Wu-Tang Clan song, “C.R.E.A.M,” which states “Life as a shorty shouldn't be so rough” in their 1998 single, “Petit frère.” Additionally, they have featured a number of Wu-Tang affiliated artists on their 1997 single “La saga” and later members Method Man
on their 2004 single “Noble Art.” These Hip Hop groups have a number of similarities, probably due to the fact that IAM member Akhenaton has listed Wu-Tang as one of his five favorite MC's of all time. One notable example is that both groups have connections to Islam. The Wu-Tang Clan are known members of the Five Percent Nation
and often include Islamic references in their music. On the previously mentioned IAM collaboration, “La saga,” rapper Prodigal Sunn states that “IAM, sunz of man from the royal fam, never ate ham, never gave a damn,” referencing the dietary restrictions that Muslims have to follow. Similarly, French rappers IAM have used their music as an anti-Islamophobic tool. IAM also collaborated with US rapper Lucas
on the song, Spin The Globe, with rappers from 5 different countries spitting in 5 different languages showcasing the universal appeal and voice of hip hop.
Compilations / Lives / Mixtapes
- 1989: Concept (cassette)
- 2004: Anthologie 1991-2004
- 2005: IAM Live au Dôme de Marseille
- 2005: Platinum
- 2007: Official Mixtape
- 2007: Anthologie 1 & 2 + DVD Live au Dôme de Marseille
- 2008: Retour Aux Pyramides
- 2008: L'Intégrale