If you are in any doubt about the levels of anticipation out there for Essex rapper French The Kid’s recently-released debut mixtape, ‘Never Been Ordinary’ then take a look at his Daily Duppy freestyle video. The dexterous, six-minute clip – in which he explores his past with refreshing honesty and a captivating flow (“Daddy fucking left, mummy still believed / It’s Lucifer that’s running from the sunlight when the dark proceeds”), has amassed over 17 million views to date, outpacing equivalent efforts by the likes of J Hus, Aitch and Kojo Funds.
French started dropping his own freestyles on Instagram barely three years ago, but he has been immersed in music his entire life, thanks to the eclectic music passions of his mother and older brother. It was his family’s return to living in England in 2018 that precipitated the start of his own creativity, after having spent his teenage years living in the south of France, a period of his life that has now gifted him the ability to sing and rap in both English and French, which has only expanded his capacity to weave and interlock multiple strands of a story simultaneously.
With the release of ‘Never Been Ordinary’, NME spoke to French about his willingness to open up about his mental health in his music, the importance of identity, the difference between talent and hard work, and his recent collaboration with Bad Boy Chiller Crew.
Your Daily Duppy freestyle has had over 17 million views on YouTube. Did you expect it to blow up like that?
“Definitely not. I’d done my ‘Mad About Bars’ [freestyle] and that’s how I kind of blew up. And then the Daily Duppy is very similar, so I thought it was probably going to do as well as that, but I didn’t think it was going to do what it’s doing now. But I’m happy, and I’m grateful that’s the one that’s done numbers, because I properly put work into that one.”
How did growing up around so much music impact you as a kid?
“It’s just good for the ear, isn’t it. I’m way more musically-minded than I would be otherwise. When I’m in a studio with a producer, I want to be making a beat with him. Growing up, it wasn’t just rock or hip-hop, my mum used to play everything, and I think it has played a massive part in my career, to be fair, without realising.”
Your mum is Irish, and you spent a lot of time around the traveller community when you were young. What do those identities mean to you now?
“I always pay homage to Ireland and I always will. I have got a lot of family over there. With Irish blood, they let you know [you have it], so that’s just how I grew up. And with the travellers, I’ve been brought up with them since I was a kid, from France to here in England. They’re completely different travelling communities, but it’s always been the same.”
How does being a bilingual rapper set you apart from your peers?
“I’m just trying to do me, it’s just what I do. That’s my little twist on things. I don’t always do it, it’s not like I make myself do it every time on every track, it just comes. And I get a lot of love for it, which is cool.”
There’s a natural flow to your storytelling – that must have taken some time to get right?
“Of course! I say this often, but I don’t believe in talent at all. Growing up, I was always writing all the time. My first bars, honestly, they were so bad. It was like, ‘Why am I even doing this?’ But I love listening to instrumentals and I naturally just had to write, and that’s how it happened.”
Do you really think there’s no such thing as talent?
“What is talent? You might as well believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in it. Being brought up on music does play a massive part, I do understand that, and then obviously some people have rhythm and some people don’t. But yeah it’s down to hard work, 100%. With everyone in the scene, especially in the UK, it is mostly [down to] hard work.”
“I don’t believe in talent – you might as well believe in ghosts”
On tracks like ‘Remedy’, you sing as much as you rap. How did you learn how to slide between the two styles so easily?
“I’m just moving with the music. Honestly, there’s nothing to it. If I find an instrumental, it could be any type of instrumental, I’m in my mindset and I just do it. Nothing is really on purpose, apart from just staying authentic. It’s just coming naturally with the process of me getting better with music.”
You talk about your mental health on the mixtape, particularly on ‘My Mind’. Were you hesitant about being so open?
“If I try to be someone else and rap about other things, I’ll never get the crowd that I want to listen to my music. So when they listen to it, certain people will relate, as I try not to hide anything whatsoever. I just speak what’s on my mind, there’s no filter to it – honestly, there isn’t. I can’t hide anything, especially when it comes to mental health. Because [my music] might just click with someone; they might just hear it and think, ‘Oh shit, yeah, I actually relate’. Everyone’s doing that now, which is great.”
How has your taste in music changed since you started releasing your own tracks?
“I hardly listen to rap anyway. I’ll listen to just absolutely anything, it just depends what mood I’m in. I’ve got rock, I’ve got house, blues, Motown – there’s a bit of everything on my playlist. When I was 10, I listened to 50 Cent all the time – that was my guy when I was growing up.”
How does it feel to release your debut mixtape?
“It feels mad. Especially because a lot of the tracks on the mixtape I threw out two years ago and now I can finally release them. I do music for music. There have been a lot of times when it’s been, ‘let me jump on this to get to the biggest platform’, but it’s not really about that. I just want to finally get the mixtape out and see the feedback and then just keep releasing after that. I’m happy where I am. The goal is just to get it out there, that to me is the goal. I’m just happy that all my supporters are going to finally hear it, because it’s been a while that I’ve been talking about it.”
You recently featured on Bad Boy Chiller Crew’s ‘BMW’ remix. What was working with those guys like?
“They’re just my type of people. As soon as I heard that tune, before it got big, I messaged them and told them, ‘This is going to be massive’. They’re proper boys. It’s an absolute banger, that tune, to be fair. I said to them, ‘Whenever you want to come down to Essex, we’ll have a proper party.’”
What’s next for French The Kid?
“I always think about [the future]. I have times when I’ll just be writing, and I’ll be thinking, ‘album, album, album’. I’m just waiting for that moment. I’m going to release this [mixtape], and then after that, it will be time.”
French The Kid’s debut mixtape ‘Never Been Ordinary’ is out now