May 11, 2010

Reader Review: Hocus Pocus - Place 54 (September 27, 2007)

(Well, here's something different. For today's Reader Review, longtime reader FLX provides a write-up for French rap crew Hocus Pocus and what is, apparently, their second album, Place 54. My guess is that most of you two probably have no idea who these guys are, so you should read through the post and leave some comments for FLX below. Who knows, you may discover something new today.)

Before we get into this, let me say that I'm not a native French speaker. In fact, my French is - pardon my French - quite shitty, probably because of my habit of drawing comics in French class all the time. That didn't stop me from passing a foreign semester at Nantes (just south of the Bretagne, near the Atlantic coast - nice city, by the way) and it didn't stop me from loving the country, my time there and Place 54 by Hocus Pocus. (Oh merde, I just gave away the ending of this review!) So, even though I don't understand every word, I can grasp what the artists are talking about, and thats good enough for me: after all, rap music is still very much about a vibe.

Some quick info about the band: Hocus Pocus are from Nantes aussi, they play all their instruments themselves, and they're fucking superbe!  Kind of like Les French Roots, I suppose. The crew is made up of five musicians, with DJ Greem being the most obvious link to a traditional hip hop group, and rapper 20Syl is the ?uestlove of his party, the musical mastermind behind it all. Place 54 is their second album, which I picked up due to my habit of buying a CD from a local artist from everywhere that I go on holidays, so when I returned to France to visit some friends, I listened to Place 54 in the Virgin Megastore on Champs-Elysées in Paris, and I instantly fell in love with this it.

Here is pourquoi:

1. PLACE 54
The album begins with a title track which provides a loose album concept: Hocus Pocus explains that everything in life is a part of a voyage. The beat is one of the jazziest I have ever heard, making this a great way to start things off.

This is the very best French rap song I have ever heard. Actually, it's one of the best rap songs I've ever heard period. This is 20Syl's slightly bitter ode to his homeland, with all of its pros and cons (pun intended: con means "jackass" in French), over a just heavenly beat that is French to the 10th degree. The vocal sample that works as a chorus is just the icing on the gateau. Petit chanson, je t'aime beaucoup! If you haven't listened to this song yet, you should YouTube it.

Not that this is a bad song per sé, but I never liked the idea of sequencing this funky, bouncy, uptempo joint aprês the melancholic, silky pillow that was the previous track. I do like it a lot better when it is played out of context, though.

Fantastic beat, great rap performance and cool use of the vocal samples in the chorus aside, there is actually nothing good about this one. Okay, I'm just messing with you: there isn't anything left that could be bad. Another winner.

A radical changement de tempo after the previous two tracks, this song is all acoustic sweetness and is pretty great, for what it is: rap music to listen to with your girl.

T-Love, an American rapper featured in the next song (that probably nobody except her maman previously heard about) is telling us about her experience with French music and her inability to understand it, despite its dopeness (and vice versa for the French). The underlying beat is one of the weaker ones on the album (although I still kind of liked it), so you should skip it.

A very cool protest against unnecessary profanity (that quite contradicts its own introduction, which includes profanities shouted loudly) in rap music today. Love it; the only downside is that the chorus contains all the bad words they don't want to hear (fuck, shit, motherfucker, etc.) in a very prominent fashion, so most people will only hear those and not the "I don't want that" line (which, granted, is spoken in French) in between. This could lead to some uncomfortable moments with other unsuspecting listeners.

Hocus Pocus spins a tale over another one of those incredibly playful jazzy beats that make you realize that this band consists of actual musicians and not simply a good rapper and a good producer.

This is the song that I always skip past. It isn't bad, but the start/stop beat and the answering machine chorus just doesn't click with me.

And we are back on track! This is one of the best (almost) instrumental hip hop tracks I have ever heard: it can easily be ranked right up there with Dilla, Kno, Flying Lotus and all of the other producers who I'm forgetting at the moment. Merci beaucoup for this one, guys!

20Syl dreams about visiting multiple foreign places (if I understood the song properly, that is). The beat is subsequently dreamy and just simply nice, as is the voice of the female co-star, although she can't really sing all that great.

The title features some clever wordplay: "Je la soule" (which translates to “ I make her dizzy”) sounds exactly the same as the phrase "J ai la soul" (“I got that soul”). This is a great song, complete with a funky jazz break in the middle. Put it on and enjoy. Yeah, that's all I got.

20Syl relates a tale about growing up via the metaphor of watching an old video cassette. This was a great, creative concept, and over a beat which is sweet like crême brulée, you get another album highlight.

This song is the epitome of jazziness on Place 54. The beat has a gazillion different details popping up (that's just my conservative estimate). It's a warm, wonderful arrangement of instruments and a million miles away of the normal stereotypique boom bap that is rap music. It's also a tribute to the musicians that influenced Hocus Pocus and their music, from Miles Davis to Dilla, making this a absolument fantastic way to end the album.

(Place 54 ends with a bonus unlisted track.)

Oh attendez! A bonus track! I would like this song much more if it wasn't placed immediately after the best French rap song ever recorded. Also, this remix is a lot less bouncy and more jazzy than the original, so I prefer this alternate take. So this still makes for a très bien way to finish the album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: If you're from the USA, chances are you never actually dived into French rap. Well, this is le best you never heard, and that's saying a lot, since France has some incredible talent with IAM, NTM, Saian Supa Crew, and the rest. Even with that, though, Hocus Pocus and their Place 54 is something special. This is one of the most beautiful, magnifique musical voyages I have taken to date. It's very, well, French in all its charm and quirkiness, like a Citron DS, tasty like la belle cuisine and elegant like prêt-a-porter femmes. It also makes for perfect traveling music, which was the point, after all.

BUY OR BURN: If you ever come to la grande nation and see it in stores, spend some euros on it, as you will not regret it. Even though CDs are ridiculously expensive in France, you'd be a fucking cretin if you didn't, mon dieu!

BEST TRACKS: "Quitte a T'aimer"; "Place 54"; "Recyclé"; "Normal"; "Mr. Tout Le Monde"; "Move On"; "Histoire D' Une VHS"; "Voyage Immobile"; "Smile (Acoustic)"


(Be sure to leave some comments for FLX below. And if you wish to provide running commentary on one of your favorite albums, regardless of the country of origin, hit me at my e-mail in the sidebar, or you can also reach me on Twitter.)


  1. I'll give it a look. I went to a French immersion school for 8 years so I should be able to pick up most of it.

  2. Yo thanks for posting, Max! Did you give it a listen, at least to "Quitte a t' aimer"? :D

    PS: Not to complain, but your editing of my text regarding track 15 kinda fucked up what i tried to say... Its more like "Like i said, i totally prefer this track when its not immediately succeeding the best french rap track etc.."

  3. Eh, I knew what you meant to say. Thanks for clarifying it anyway; I had a hell of a time translating some of the other stuff. Hopefully your review will generate some interest.

    Thanks for submitting!

  4. AnonymousMay 14, 2010

    Max I told you to check Supreme NTM, you'll apreciate it. Then look for Lunatic, La Rumeur, IAM, Busta Flex, etc. there's a lot of good french rap artists

  5. AnonymousMay 20, 2010

    btw max, why havent you reviewed heather b - takin mine from 96?? bangin

  6. AnonymousMay 20, 2010

    hey you, french rap guy, why dont you take your useless review to a place where people actually give a fuck about france and their music. you americans think youre such cultural people when you show an interest in the shitty outcome of france, which in your world is representing europe. newsflash, france is getting old, fact is that every country here in europe hates them because they suck, so stop wasting our time with bullshit french music, i can assure you that no one cares.

  7. Check the artist search function on the side - I have already reviewed the Heather B debut.

  8. AnonymousMay 22, 2010

    Nice review. Never been a huge fan of Hocus Pocus but I'm French and I appreciate your effort to review some French rap even though my first guess when I saw the cover was that very few people would actually be interested.

    I was expecting a lot more negative responses like the one just above Max's latest comment. It's a pity people generalize their hate to a whole nation, but we're kinda used to being the most hated people in the Western Hemisphere, always wondered why though lol.

    As far as nobody caring about French Hip-Hop, I wouldn't be so sure. Method Man, Redman, Sunz of Men, Raekwon, T La Rock, Bizzy Bone, Layzie Bone, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nate Dogg, South Central Cartel, Daz Dillinger, Kurupt, Spice 1, Big Syke, Knoc Turnal, Johnny P., Billy Cook, RBL Posse's Black C they've all collaborated with French rappers at some point. Even Nas jacked an instrumental from a french rap group to reuse it.

    Anyhow if you're looking for French rap with live instruments, maybe you should lend an ear to "French G-Funk". Producers like Aelpeacha, S.O.B., Doggmaster make use of many instruments (bass, guitars, horns, flutes)and the outcome is very impressive. If you want to know more about such artists, check out

    some examples right here :

    Thanks for your time.

  9. I'm really surprised that some of you pay attention to our hip hop. You should check MC Solaar, he's a really good lyricist. Guru made a track with him ("Le Bien, le Mal") on his first Jazzmatazz.