Already when she was studying philosophy at Paris-I University, Benjamine Weill quoted rappers in her essays “and it was happening” she adds. In his book At the mic citizen.nes (Puits 23, 2021), the author seeks to analyze how French-speaking hip-hop culture has taken hold of social issues. During her speeches, Benjamine Weill affirms that rap texts are a philosophical subject, in the sense of “the art of asking questions”. On this first day of the baccalaureate test, the author returns to her two passions of rap and philosophy.
What fascinated you in French rap?
Initially, I found the archaic and almost visceral aspect of rap appealing. The texts are interesting, but that is not enough. There is also the rhythm, the BPM [battements par minute], this something that produces an echo in the body, which touches on meaning and even almost on an erotic dimension that I did not find in rock music, for example. Rap, and the hip-hop movement in general, acts as a movement that says “I exist, I don’t want to stay in the place I’ve been assigned”. The rappers claim, without necessarily being “committed” in the political sense.
Who are the rappers who develop interesting philosophical thoughts for you?
You have to be careful not to turn rappers into philosophers, because they don’t develop a thesis. We nevertheless find certain philosophical passages – in the sense of the art of asking questions – in many rappers. Lefa, for example, especially in his song Update, develops the idea of personal questioning. It evokes Stoic thought: do not seek to act on what does not depend on oneself. The only thing you can change is yourself. Rapper Casey asks the question of perception: how are people perceived? She also questions how the environment influences behavior. Damso, meanwhile, interests me in particular for his vulnerability. We sometimes underline his vulgarity but, in reality, if we listen to him carefully, he describes situations where he hates himself.
What evolutions have you observed between the French rap of the 1990s and that of today?
The big difference today is that rap has invaded everything in society. It has become a form of variety and serves a bit of a lull to the masses. The fact that the music industry has completely reclaimed rap has made it more capitalist. In the remarks of the rappers, we can observe a right-wing. But rap is only an epiphenomenon, only a symptom of the system which tends towards more and more sensationalism. We are in the idea that everything is worth, that as long as we generate money we have succeeded.
The rapper is no longer the figure of the young nerd who got away with it. We don’t practice rap anymore for the same reasons. Emancipation is no longer thought of outside the financial aspect, which questions me intellectually and philosophically. In its essence, hip-hop is not the fight of all against all. On the contrary, it is a matter of going up together. There are still a good number of rappers who mention it. Basically, rap is a model of culture that goes against individualism.
Quoting a rapper to support an argument in his copy for the philosophy baccalaureate, how can this be perceived by the teachers who correct?
It is always possible to come across a refractory teacher, but they are still fewer and fewer. Today, quoting a piece of rap in your copy is no longer a problem. But be careful how you quote. The quotation can only come in support of an argument, not become the argument itself.