“I was born and raised in France. I’ve been a citizen since birth. How much more French can I be?” – Medine, Time Magazine
Medine—they call him—is a pioneer for immigrants living in the banlieues (suburbs in France). Born and raised in the port city of Le Havre, with the name Mehdi Zaouich, Medine grew up in French institutions where he noticed the racial inequalities and issues regarding immigrants residing in the banlieues. These suburban areas are stigmatized with negative connotations, and are looked at as “the ghetto” because of what the space eventually comes to symbolize. It symbolizes a place of excess violence, drug abuse, and troubled delinquents with no motivation to improve their situation. However, it is not their fault that the system does not work in their favor. Similar to a vast majority of French rappers, Medine’s lyrics are politically driven, “a rapper with a conscience”, which means he is not deterred when addressing the issues with identity that most French immigrants must face. Furthermore, he does not hesitate to call out the French state for their hypocrisy when it comes to policies regarding immigrants—especially French Muslim immigrants.
With the name “Medine” (translated Medina), which is the holy city of Islam in Saudi Arabia, he pronounces just how vocal and devoted he is to his religion. He is not shy when denouncing the stigmas surrounding Muslims, and the Islamophobia that has consumed France. His goal, through his rap, is to call for an end in the pronounced chasm between the banlieues and the “accepted” French society. Medine states, “People of my generation are not shy about embracing their heritage, and, far from seeking invisibility, we’re standing up to denounce the prejudice and injustice we face. In my case, Islam is an enormous part of who I am, just as being French is. The two aren’t in opposition or even mutually exclusive. Yet when you hear the debate in France today, you’d swear they must be” (Time Magazine). With his 2008 hit song, “Don’t Panik,” (video below) Medine cleverly insults the mainstream media in France and their depiction of the banlieues—since, of course, the reality is far from what they feed the general public. Medine states:
Boul’éhia* de ta barbe, dis-leur Don’t Panik !!,/ Boul’éhia* by your beard, tell them “Don’t Panik !”
Musulmane de ton voile, dis-leur Don’t Panik !!,/ Muslim by your veil, tell them “Don’t Panik !”
Banlieusard de ta ville, dis-leur Don’t Panik !!,/ Commuters of your city, it’s “Don’t Panik !”
Africain de ta peau, dis-leur Don’t Panik !!,/ Africain de ta peau, dis-leur Don’t Panik !!
*bearded in Arabic
(Translation by Lyrics Translate)
By repeating “Don’t Panik,” Medine is mocking the familiar conversation about how these kinds of people—people with beards or people with a darker shade of skin—are the ones that everyone should watch out for. His lyrics criticize how banlieusards are posed as problem people, when in fact, the reason that they are so conveniently problematic for the state is because of the systematic works of the state; working alongside the media to paint a negative image of people they want to exclude from their society for everyone else to digest.
Medine is also known for his other hit songs: “Ils disent,” “Street Live 2,” and “Rappeur 2 force.” Through his rap, his main goal is to uplift the youth of the banlieusards to never lose faith in themselves, and to project their thoughts into a society that is rightfully theirs.
(This article was written by Mariyann Soulemane as part of the Global Hip Hop Cultures class at Trinity College Fall 2016 semester.)