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Combining atmospheric production and hypnotic, introspective rhymes, French alternative hip-hop group PNL ("Peace N' Lovés") is a self-made sensation that captured a zeitgeist to score a number one album without signing to any label or granting a single interview. That album, 2016's Dans la légende, was their third release overall and highest-selling to date, diamond-certified by the time their next chart-topper, Deux frères, landed in 2019. French-Arab Muslim siblings Tarik and Nabil Andrieu, aka Ademo and N.O.S., grew up in the Tarterêts housing project in Corbeil-Essonnes, a southern banlieue of Paris. Intensely secretive, they refused to give interviews, though they'd sometimes allow journalists to shadow them. They surrounded themselves with a large crew of hangers-on and supposedly made most of the money they used to fund their early recordings by dealing drugs. (The group's name stands for "Peace N' Lovés," the latter word a slang term for money.) The harsh reality of poverty, street life, and the immigrant experience informed their music, but there was none of the bluster of gangsta rap; instead, their low-tempo, heavily AutoTuned, sing-speak rap style had a deep, world-weary melancholy that reverberated with a disillusioned generation. Their heavy use of the French slang verlan (analogous to Cockney rhyming slang) and Arabic words meant that even many speakers of standard French could not fully understand their lyrics, adding a further sheen of mystique. PNL formed in 2014 and came to fame with a series of epic music videos released on YouTube, each of which was feverishly anticipated as an event by their fan base. The videos, shot as far apart as Iceland, Namibia, and Japan, were directed by a friend known only as Mess, who claimed to have had only six months' audio-visual training. Working solely with one engineer, Nikola Feve, the brothers approached music-making with an obsessive perfectionism, spending up to 30 hours mixing each track. Their insistence on remaining independent meant they could focus solely on the studio, and they rarely played live. Early in their career, there was some controversy -- eventually settled -- over their uncredited use of so-called "type beats," instrumentals created by little-known producers in the style of famous rappers and licensed for small amounts. Their debut mixtape, Que la famille ("The Family"), was released in 2015 to a muted response, but their popularity surged after their track "Le Monde ou Rien" ("The World or Nothing") became an unofficial anthem of youth-led protests against government austerity measures, going on to rack up a staggering 60 million YouTube views in just a year-and-a-half. Their first official album, Le Monde Chico ("Chico World"), released just months after their first, landed at number two on the official album charts. The following year, their second studio album, Dans la légende ("In the Legend") did even better, debuting at number one not only in France, but in Belgium and Switzerland as well. Album single "Naha" became their highest-charting single to date, rising to number two in France, and the album was soon certified diamond. The success of Legende was matched in 2019 with their third LP Deux frères ("Two Brothers"). The platinum-certified effort topped the charts in France, Belgium, and Switzerland, spawning a trio of platinum number one singles in "A l'ammoniaque," "91's," and "Au DD." These were followed by two non-album singles, the gold-certified "MOWGLI II" and the Top 25-charting "Tahia," released in honor of Algeria's victory in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. PNL released an hour-long tour documentary in July of 2020.
© John D. Buchanan /TiVo
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