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Terror in Europe

Kalash Is Loaded: French Gangsta Rap, Before And After Paris Attacks

The killers and victims of the Paris violence are part of the same demographic, though they share different realities. Authorities haven't heard the angst, but rap has been telling us for years how little the two groups share.

French rapper Kaaris
French rapper Kaaris
Marie-Pierre Genecand

PARIS — Young people killing other young people. The horrific violence in Paris represented a fierce clash between two very different populations within the same demographic.

On the one hand were the victims — the liberal, intellectual, secular and somewhat privileged, all gathered under the "Je suis Charlie" banner. Then there were the killers — not-so-privileged, less cultivated, reactionary, who feel so rejected by the system that they were ready to kill and die to exact revenge.

The vast majority of radicalized youth are from the outskirts of urban areas, and are deprived of the kind of professional prospects that their middle-class peers enjoy. They are full of hatred and embrace extremism in large part because there is no opportunity for them.

As evidence of this, consider the particularly distressing account of a Bataclan survivor: While the crowd was lying down in the pit to protect themselves, the terrorists demanded that their victims look them in the eye before being shot, the survivor recalled. As if to to say, "I'm here. I exist in my desperate omnipotence. Do you remember, now that you're going to die?"

The hatred and cruelty is unbearable. Almost as much as the lyrics of 35-year-old French rapper Kaaris, whose hugely successful track "Chargé" ("Loaded") last year goes like this: "I dream of blowing up the ministry, And get blown by the chief of police's widow. This world swallows and digests you, Hear the bullets whistle, from the 93 French department near Paris to Niger."

The chorus then uses common French slang for Kalashnikov: "Kalash is loaded, kalash is loaded, kalash is loaded."

On his Facebook page, Kaaris recently wished "peace to those who lost a relative." That's a bit sheepish, perhaps, even if his lyrical fiction isn't reality. But this type of gangsta or thug rap, enjoyed by millions, is very real and capitalizes on an anger that authorities don't consider thoroughly enough.

Luckily for every Kaaris, there's a Kery James. After calling for armed rebellion in his first tracks, the 37-year-old rapper formerly known as Daddy Kery has been practicing a consciousness-raising, peace-seeking form of rap since his conversion to Islam in the early 2000s. His songs are poetic, forging links between populations of young people that are fundamentally at odds. Listening, one dreams of the day that gap can be bridged.

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