French rapper Oxmo Puccino drew on the street-smart American hip-hop of the Notorious B.I.G. and other icons to document life in Paris’ hardscrabble 19th district. Born Abdoulaye Diarra in Mali in 1974, he arrived in Paris at age five as part of a family that included younger brother Mamoutou Diarra, later a professional basketball player of some international renown. A longtime hip-hop fan, at age 21 Diarra began his collaboration with the fledgling rap collective Time Bomb, honing his craft alongside future superstars like Booba and Diam’s.
He quickly developed into a lyricist with a metaphorical ingenuity far more advanced than his contemporaries, crafting violent yet strangely poetic portraits of urban Paris life. In 1996 Oxmo Puccino made his recorded debut with “Pucc. Fiction,” a contribution to the compilation L432. A series of subsequent mixtape appearances solidified his growing reputation within the French rap underground, and in 1998 he issued his solo debut, Opéra Puccino. Its 2001 follow-up, L’Amour Est Mort, proved Puccino’s creative and commercial breakthrough, while 2004’s Le Cactus de Sibérie confirmed his superstar status. After signing to the venerable jazz label Blue Note, Puccino assembled a new backing group, the Jazzbastards, to record 2006’s Lipopette Bar. by Jason Ankeny