Sayan Ghosh: PNL, part deux

Sunday, April 7, 2019 - 3:56pm

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A couple months ago, I wrote a column about the French rap sensation PNL. While I didn’t anticipate writing another, recent events have made me want to revisit the duo, their music and why they are a national sensation in their home country in a way few artists have ever been.

To recap the essentials of the story, PNL consists of two brothers: Tarik and Nabil Andrieu (Ademo and NOS respectively) hailing from Corbeil-Essonnes, a suburb of Paris. On April 5, they released their third studio album, Deux Frères (Two Brothers), after a period of three years. The level of anticipation was seeminly at unseen heights, with prolific French music journalist Mehdi Maïzi jokingly remarking on Twitter that these levels of national unity were only last seen during the World Cup (in which the French were victorious). The announcement came just a week ago with the release of a new single “Au DD.”

“Au DD,” also the first track of the new album, is classic PNL. Braggadocious, aggressive, with a memorable chorus, it reached more than ten million views in two days and became the first French single to reach the Spotify Global Top 30. The single was accompanied by a truly stunning music video, especially notable for a group that was already known for its ambitious, cinematic videos. The brothers became the first group to film a video on top of the Eiffel Tower, also transforming it into a trap house in the process. The video features several stunning drone shots and the brothers strut around with a sense of victory. The Eiffel Tower, the most iconic of French symbols, showed up often in previous videos such as the one for their 2016 single “DA,” not just as a symbol of their beloved Paris (often referred to as “Paname” as well), but also perhaps a Paris that was far and inaccessible for two Muslim boys from the troubled suburbs. But now, just as they have conquered the French youth spirit, they have conquered La Tour Eiffel. Drake perhaps did it first in Toronto’s CN Tower, but unlike Drake, PNL is one of those rare artists (think Springsteen or Jay Z) that can imbue their music with a convincing sense of grandeur.

Deux Frères as a whole is, just as “Au DD,” a victory lap, but it also offers a more vulnerable and confessional PNL. “A l’ammoniaque” (“With ammonia”), one of the most understated tracks PNL has ever made, deals with a bitter love and general regret for their past life. Ademo sings, “Inch’Allah, Inch’Allah, Inch’Allah/ Que Dieu nous pardonne pardonne pour nos crasses / Pour notre manque de comprehension / Evenrs l’Homme et sa putain d’race” (“Insh’Allah Insh’Allah Insh’allah / May God forgive us for our dirty tricks and our lack of understanding of man and his fucking race”). On the standout conclusion “La Misère est si belle” (“Misery is beautiful”), the brothers reflect on the difficulty of their lives. The pair grew up without their mother and a criminal father who they were close to but was often absent as well. Ademo in particular reflects about his nagging loneliness and difficulty with even sleeping peacefully, referring to himself with his real name as well.

Deux Frères is also the most diverse albums the duo has made up to this point. Songs like “Au DD” are familiar to any PNL fan, but songs like the aforementioned “A L’ammoniaque” and “Hasta la vista” are a distinct departure of the likes of 2016’s “Bené.” The latter has a particular Maghrébien (North African) influence, with some labelling it as “Raïggeton,” refrencing “Raï,” a type of Algerian popular music and the immensely popular Reggaeton of Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam and others. “91’s” is the funkiest and most danceable PNL track to date. The production value and diversity is world class on Deux Frères, which is notable since that is one aspect of their American counterparts that many foreign hip-hop albums rarely reach.

PNL, in a manner similar to their compatriots Daft Punk, have reached a level of popularity in their country without any kind of external marketing, interviews or engagement. As they say, all you need to know about them is in their music. Even now, they remain completely independent, with every aspect of their work, from the writing to the artistic design, being completed by people they have known and trusted for a while. They live their refrain of “Que La Famille,” and I hope that audiences around the world will eventually come to know and love them as much as I do.