Hip Hop Music from the French West Indies: The Guadeloupean Clan 

Hip hop culture took root on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe in the 1980s, a former French colony where a sugar plantation economy based on slave labor was established during the 18th century Atlantic slave trade. Slavery ended in 1848 and gave ground to a complex colonial society based on a class-color hierarchy. In 1946, Guadeloupe became an overseas department of France, a status somewhat similar to non-contiguous states in the United States, such as Hawaii. Since then, authors and cultural activists have addressed postcolonial issues such as binary oppositions (good/bad, civilization/barbarism, self/other, white/Black…) and essentialist conceptions of identity. The development of hip hop music and culture in Guadeloupe has built on a desire to address these dominant postcolonial representations, to reclaim historical accounts of the past and to voice alternative narratives rooted in the realm of the political and social context.

The spread of American rap music to Guadeloupe initiated the rise of a local hip hop scene. The broadcast of the French national television show “H.I.P.H.O.P.,” hosted by the Guadeloupean DJ Sidney in 1984, further led to the development of hip hop culture in Guadeloupe. This show was the first French entertainment program dedicated to hip hop culture featuring freestyles, break dancing, graffiti artists and special guests such as Surgarhill Gang, Afrika Bambaataa, Herbie Hancock and Madonna, to name just a few. Many rappers recall the core importance of this program, which showcased dancing and rap music. As Guadeloupean teenagers started to teach themselves to dance and to rhyme to pre-recorded sounds, hip hop became a medium of expression fostering the formation of crews in different neighborhoods of Pointe-à-Pitre, the island’s economic capital. The spread of hip hop culture met the needs and conditions of Guadeloupean communities by engaging in a dialogue with localized experiences. Enriching hip hop culture with their own narratives, Guadeloupean youth created a style of their own and a specific flow grounded in Guadeloupean Patois.

The Guadeloupean hip hop scene developed separately from the one in mainland France. Beside the fact that the rappers rhyme in different languages (Patois vs. French), their experience of socioracial injustice and postcolonial politics is also very different. Furthermore, although Guadeloupe is under French rule and as such is officially part of France, Guadeloupean hip hop records have very rarely been distributed in mainland France and when they have (at the turn of the 21st century), they were found in the “world music” section. Guadeloupean hip hop has remained totally unknown in France, to the point that the large body of work on French hip hop does not mention the Guadeloupean hip hop scene and rappers at all.

This article starts filling this gap by providing an insight into the rise of rap music in Guadeloupe at the turn of the 21st century. The article then provides an overview of the lyrical and musical characteristics of Guadeloupean hip hop. Finally, the article explores the evolution of rhymes and beats, as Atlanta trap and Chicago drill have given Guadeloupean youth new means of expression, spawning an entirely new musical community.


During the 1990s, there was a thriving underground hip hop scene in Guadeloupe. But at that time, the Antillean popular music genre called zouk was receiving full support from the local music industry. Indeed, zouk was dominant on radio stations, zouk music videos were broadcast daily on local television, and the genre was the soundtrack of most nightclubs. Since the Antillean group Kassav found worldwide success in the 1980s, there was a massive production of zouk records on the island with an average of twenty zouk records produced every year (Guilbault 1993:179–185). The late Lebanese-born producer Henri Debs (1932–2013) occupied a central place in this local musical scene. In the 1950s, he founded what was to become one of the greatest French West-Indian labels, “Disques Debs,” which showcased the finest music coming out of the Francophone Caribbean during the second half of the 20th century.

In this context of massive production of zouk records, no real attention was paid to hip hop music, although the underground scene was bubbling. Many youths embodied the hip hop values of the Universal Zulu Nation: Peace, Love, Unity and Having Fun. Graffiti started popping up on city walls. Hip hop collectives were formed in different neighborhoods of Guadeloupe, which reflected the reality of their lives and of the social circumstances in which they found themselves. The bonds between the crew members were tight, so becoming part of one was no easy task – they had to actively participate in hip hop culture and battle their way to earn the trust and nods from peers.

Mix tapes, created by DJs to promote different local rappers, were passed between friends. High quality freestyles recorded over American and/or French rap instrumentals caught the attention of local youths, thus becoming the foundation of a fan base, at first existing only in tiny niches. Several hip hop-focused shows on independent radio stations, such as Radyo Tanbou, became a hub for hip hop music. It aired between 1995 and 1997 and was the first show (“105 Freestyle FM”) dedicated to the underground scene. TV shows provided opportunities for rappers and dancehall artists to display their skills while introducing the audience to new artists and music. Here is an example of a TV show broadcast on Guadeloupean television at the end of the 1990s. This show was produced by the host Brother Jimmy and featured interviews and memorable live performances. The entertainment, freestyles and excitement from the live audience made this show iconic for many Guadeloupeans. On this video the now renowned DJ Moody Mike serves as co-host:


At the turn of the 21st century, Guadeloupean rap music finally reached mainstream recognition, thanks to producer Henri Debs’ son, Riko Debs. His sophisticated recording studio met the emerging street rap and dancehall scene when Riko Debs decided to sign the hip hop group La horde Noire (“The Black Horde”) in 1998 and produce the first rap video that was broadcast on local television:

This song, “Mi la sa ka bay,” was the first Guadeloupean rap song to be commercially released. The video depicts good times, laughter, gathering, and partying. It was a hit in Guadeloupe. It featured young prominent rappers (Dalee, Darkman, Edinyo, Tysmé) and the instrumental was composed by talented beatmaker Exxos, who went on to become the architect of the Guadeloupean Kako music sound. From then on, the hip hop scene went mainstream. Riko Debs remained the only rap producer who played a pivotal role in promoting an impressive roster of rappers and dancehall artists (Fuckly, N’O Clan, wu-Tang Park, Riddla…).

Guadeloupean rappers admired their American counterparts. Their inspiration came from American groups such as Public Enemy, KRS One and the Wu-Tang Clan. These groups – and more generally American hip hop culture – had a direct influence on the development of the Gualdeloupean rap scene. Many Guadeloupean crews presented themselves as “warrior hordes” and styled themselves after the Wu-Tang Clan. For example, rappers from the neighborhood “Grand Camp” chose the name “Wu-Tang Park” to identify their crew. Like American hip hop artists, rappers in Guadeloupe developed strong relationships with their area, from the neighborhood they grew up in, to the island of Guadeloupe as a space perceived from a Caribbean perspective. The names of hip hop crews, albums and song titles were directly inspired by the district from which a given group came from. For instance, a track by the Lauricisque-based rapper Fuckly is called Lauricisque Zoo (1999). In the chorus of this hometown anthem, the rapper connects his neighborhood to the American hip hop map: “If Pointe-à-Pitre was New York / Lauricisque would be Brooklyn.” This track is also a direct reference to the song “Brooklyn Zoo” by American rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard from the album Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995).

The track Lauricisque Zoo starts at 3’28:

The rapper Fuckly is recognized by his peers as one of the most talented artists of his generation, mastering the East coast rapping in the tradition of Public Enemy or KRS-One as well as the G-funk style. Although Guadeloupe is a small island, there were many influential rappers, each of them hailing from different neighborhoods and having their own style and signature sound as displayed in the following video “Welcome to Gwada” released in 2003 on the album of the rapper Darkman featuring Changlee from the N’O Clan, Zébrist from the Wu-Tang Park and Edson X. The chorus is sung by the traditional gwoka music singer Jean-Pierre Coquerel, gwoka being an African-derived dancing, singing and drumming tradition, which, since the 1970s and 1980s has become a symbol of Guadeloupeanness for people of African descent.

Hip hop culture spread across the world, developing distinct characteristics on each territory where it developed. In Guadeloupe, the gwoka tradition as well as popular music trends such as quadrille or biguine were incorporated into the mix, creating a style of rap rooted in local soundscapes and practices.


The first generation of Guadeloupean emcees stayed true to the original rap tradition, using their music as a tool to deliver sharp critiques of prevailing systems of power. As it appears in the track “Awogan” (“Arrogant”) released in 2001 on the album Pur Hip-hop Gwada by the group Gwada Nostra, rappers challenged dominant representations of identity and nationhood through critiques grounded in the unresolved questions of race, slavery, colonialism, and postcolonialism. This track addresses cultural domination practices and narratives, which had led to a class/culture/language division among Black Guadeloupeans. In a postcolonial society, French language was associated with the Black middle-class when Guadeloupean Patois and African-derived traditions were associated with the lower classes. The lines among these two population groups were blurred and re-signified through rap music as in the track Awogan, which celebrates the history and the beauty of Guadeloupean Patois.

In this track, which starts with the verses “Celebrate the Guadeloupean Patois, the language of the plantation Negroes, the language of the uneducated Negroes,” race is confronted and claimed as a primary sign of identity. This track engages in a process of reshaping distorted colonial visions of the past by emphasizing racial pride and cultural empowerment through hybrid narratives. These hybrid narratives do not suppress the colonial discourses but re-insert them in the lyrics where they become part of the process of redefining oneself. As Homi Bhabha states, the lyrics create “a discourse uttered between the lines and as such both against the rules and within them” (1984:130). Blackness is reclaimed from the oppressor’s narratives entangled in colonial racial classifications and postcolonial color blindness ideologies as a positive and conscious choice. In this track, Blackness is constructed as a political category, which underlines bell hooks’s distinction between “that marginality which is imposed by oppressive structures and that marginality one chooses as site of resistance – as location of radical openness and possibility” (hooks 1989:23).

The lyrics and video of the track “Awogan” engage with postcolonial thinking as well as decolonial critique leading to the disclosure of alternative epistemologies grounded in hybrid narratives and “critical border thinking” (Mignolo 2000). Directed by the Guadeloupean filmmaker Janluk Stanislas, the video of the track takes place inside the classroom of a school and reflects a double conscious perspective. On the one hand, the video reproduces a classroom setting in which the mastery of both French language and culture through the national curriculum is presented as the only way out of poverty and upward social mobility. On the other, the video suggests another classroom situation in which Guadeloupean Patois is the medium of instruction as well as the language spoken by the rappers-schoolmates. This second schooling situation also emphasizes different classroom practices. In the third verse of the track [3’00], the school desks have been pushed aside and the circle formed by the schoolmates becomes the new learning space where vernacular culture as a tool for education is emphasized. Indeed, the circle appears as a common ground displaying hip hop and traditional gwoka dancing steps and moves accompanied by drummers and the clapping of those in the circle. The classroom becomes a space where knowledge sits in bodies and local histories.

The classroom is both the locus of enunciation of an abstract Western form of thinking and the locus of enunciation of local non-Western embodied knowledge. The use of this double narrative unveils the border between dominant and subaltern epistemologies and enables the emergence of a decolonial critique. This decolonial critique operates through “border thinking” which brings to light “colonial differences” (Mignolo 2000), here located at the center of the process of knowledge production. The weaving of these two schooling situations reveals a pathway towards alternative canons of thought disconnected from imperial designs and colonial representations produced by the West.

Through his work, the filmmaker Janluk Stanislas contributed to the growth of Guadeloupean hip hop through music videos. He used a cinematic approach and defined ambitious standards for rap videos, perfectly capturing the rappers’ storytelling and the Caribbean landscape that served as a backdrop for the music. While delivering memorable visuals for most of Guadeloupean rappers, Janluk Stanislas contributed to subvert scorned cultural values and affirm fashion representations of Guadeloupean identity.


As stated by Paul Gilroy (1993), hip hop in Guadeloupe became a powerful site of critique where subaltern epistemologies have revealed non- essentialist responses to cultural domination and political subordination. Among these non-essentialist responses was the trailblazing beatmaker Exxos, and the new experimental sound he coined “Kako.” “Kako” is a genre of music entirely endemic to Guadeloupe, which is a fusion/blending of eclectic sampling taken from Guadeloupean traditional folk music and Caribbean popular music genres mixed with international worldwide influences. Kako music is not defined by a specific rhythmic signature or by a particular pace. Kako music is a melting pot of different vibes, styles, rhythms, tempos, building on local Guadeloupean traditions, histories and memories. Inventing such a soundscape was not just a mere fusion of beats and melodies; it was critical and political awareness aiming to move beyond the boundaries of domination and Western canon of thoughts from within. As quoted by Ramon Grosfoguel, Kako music can be understood “as an epistemic point of departure for a radical critique of Eurocentric paradigms and ways of thinking” (2009: 30).

In 2004, Exxos dropped the first Kako music album, which was entitled Pass the Rum Riddim. Directly inspired by Busta Rhymes, P. Diddy, and Pharell Williams’ song “Pass the Courvoisier” (2002), the Pass the Rum Riddim album celebrates underground and homegrown rappers and dancehall artists (Star Jee, Admiral T, Riddla, Krys, Tiwony, Féfé Typical, Flo…).

From there on, hybrid kako compositions have served as instrumentals for rappers and singers, such as Mano d’iShango, Star Jee, Maqhflah, Meemy Nelzy or Flo. These emcees/femcees had an important influence on the styles and trends within the Guadeloupean hip hop music scene, following the path and spirit of the Zulu nation. Beyond the distinctive Kako sound, these emcees/femcees came to be known for their positive-minded, Afrocentric lyrics: they captured the flavor of Guadeloupean life, they addressed postcolonial issues, promoted environmental awareness and envisioned new political futures.

The Kako positive state of mind brought a whole new energy to the hip hop scene that was fun and inclusive on every level. Some of these features are differently displayed in the following videos.

The video of the track “Fwesh” (Patois for the word “fresh”) by rapper Mano d’iShango is rooted in Guadeloupe’s natural environment. In this song, the talented female singer Meemy Nelzy sings the background vocals, bringing beautiful harmonies and dynamics to the track:

The video of the track “Lapwent” (Patois for Pointe-à-Pitre, the economic capital of Guadeloupe) by rapper Star Jee celebrates the Lapwent city’s state of mind:

And last but not least, the track “Kako Ridah” by the Guadeloupean femcee Flo is all about putting the dance floor on fire. Flo now lives in the U.S., gaining popularity in South Florida’s hip hop scene since she took part at the 2007 BET Hip Hop Awards on the rooftop of the Cipher, featuring DJ Premier, Ras Kass, Cassidy and Joell Ortiz. In the track “Kako Ridah” released in 2017, Flo rhymes in English and claims “Kako is the vibe from the West Indies”


Hip hop culture has enabled Guadeloupean rappers to question and redefine categories of identities and senses of belonging in a country marked by colorblind assimilation politics. Using different tools, visuals and soundscape strategies, Guadeloupean rappers have disrupted normative social values and dislodged the perception of racial and ethnic differences grounded in a set of fixed, unchanging essences. They have also recovered ancestral knowledge and cultural practices such as the African-derived gwoka music and dance.

Even though the hip hop sound had originated from the streets, the lyrics of the first generation of rappers did not fully resonate with the younger generation living in low-income communities of Guadeloupe. Atlanta trap and Chicago drill were the musical response to the youth with its explicit lyrics that spoke of marginalized young people in poverty-stricken areas. And, since the 2010s, trap music and drill music have served Guadeloupean youth as a new means of expression, spawning an entire new musical community.

However, if trap and drill have had a blazing success in the French West-Indies like elsewhere, Guadeloupean rappers remained very versatile, performing a wide variety of styles including trap and drill alongside with zouk, dancehall, soca or Dominican bouyon. Among the recent releases, rapper Drexi’s latest album offers a great example.

Drexi is a rapper hailing from the Lauricisque district, a historical landmark for Guadeloupean rap. Drexi is continuing to carry the torch for this neighborhood and has cemented his legacy as a rapper following the path started there in the 2000s by the emcee Fuckly when joining the roster of the producer Riko Debs. Released on January 28, 2022, Drexi’s last album is called 3ème Dimension (“Third Dimension”) and is embedded in Guadeloupean sonic culture with hip hop instrumentals mixing a patchwork of traditional/local/regional rhythmic references as well as jazz/funky chords progressions and melodies. A multitude of genres are incorporated among the fifteen tracks of the album produced by Mister Francky, which starts with a heavy drill beat and ends with a bouyon jump up song. In terms of vocals, Drexi combines poetry and storytelling, mastering the use of rhymes and punchlines within different types of flows. He tackles themes like economic oppression, street life, loyalty, depression and absent fathers. But overall, Drexi’s album is rooted in his locality, which is emphasized as he shows appreciation to the rapper Fuckly by covering one of his famous track named “Boss:”

The rise of trap and drill music has not overshadowed the consciousness of rappers with tracks that mix hyper-real, hyper-violent sounds with highly political content. The track IMB (which refers to “Ile en Mwen Bèl” in Patois and means “My island is beautiful”) by the rapper Keros-N is a masterpiece in that respect. This trap track addresses crucial social postcolonial issues such as inequalities, high levels of youth unemployment, high costs for basic goods, and dysfunctional public services. The video for this song was shot on a barricaded road after a week of protests sparked by Covid-19 restrictions at the end of November 2021:

Today’s Guadeloupean hip hop scene builds on Atlanta trap/Chicago drill music and infuses them with local/Caribbean sonic and cultural references. Delivering lyrics about street life in Guadeloupe, MCs also continue to address critical political issues. In their rendition of these two genres, Guadeloupean hip hop artists have incorporated their own spin to the trends, and their music offers a lens into a potent U.S.-inspired culture that has come alive in Guadeloupe during the past ten years.

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