Massi's music, which prominently features the acoustic guitar, displays Western musical style influences such as rock, country or the Portuguese fado but sometimes incorporates oriental musical influences and oriental instruments like the oud. Massi sings in Algerian Arabic, French, and occasionally English and Kabyle (Berber language), often employing multiple languages in the same song.
Massi was born in Algiers, Algeria to a poor family of seven children. Encouraged by her older brother, she began studying music at a young age, singing and playing guitar. Growing up Massi immersed herself in American country and roots music, musical styles that would later heavily influence her songwriting. At the age of seventeen she joined a flamenco band, but quickly grew bored with the group and left.
In the early 1990s, Massi joined the Algerian political rock band Atakor, who were influenced by Western rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and U2. She recorded and performed with the group for seven years, releasing a successful album and two popular music videos. The band, however, with its political lyrics and growing popularity became a target. Massi disguised herself by cutting her hair and dressing in male clothing, but she nevertheless became the target of a series of death threats. In 1999, she left the band and moved to Paris, France.
In 1999, Massi was invited to perform at the Femmes d'Algerie ("Women from Algeria") festival in Paris, which led to a recording contract with Island Records. In June of 2001, she released her solo debut album Raoui ("Storyteller"), which Allmusic compared to 1960s American folk music. Sung mostly in French and Arabic, the album became a critical and commercial success in France. The following year she was nominated for "Best Newcomer" at the Radio 3 World Music Awards.
In 2003, she released her second album Deb ("Heart-broken"). The album's lyrics were more personal rather than political and it became one of the most successful North African albums worldwide. Three years later, Massi released her third album Mesk Elil ("Honeysuckle"). The album expanded on the themes of love and loss that had been explored on Deb and featured duets with Daby Toure and Rabah Khalfa.