The Parisian six-man Saian Supa Crew is bouncing around the stage like an amphetamine-charged boy band. As they stomp through perfectly synchronized b-boy routines–tent-sized t-shirts flapping behind them–they belt out exhilarating multi-layered flows, insane beat-boxing, carnival-jump-up-style hooks, and pitch-perfect harmonies. Despite not having a freaking clue what they’re rapping about, I’m immediately swept up in their vibe. Along with the rest of the enthused crowd, I rock, bop, and punch the air like a kid at her first concert, vowing to love these guys for, like, ever.
That was the first time I saw Saian Supa Crew perform at The French Embassy in London, back in 1999. Since then I’ve been fortunate to somehow see Sir Samuel, Sly the Mic Buddha, Feniksi, Vicelow, Leeroy, and Specta (the latter two are no longer part of the crew) perform another four times, the group always as breathtaking as it was at that first magical show. Their prowess lies in their genuine skills, not the fronting. They don’t have the nasty bag of lyrics prevalent in so much of today’s hip hop, but rather the kind of mad-sick ability across the board of hip-hop’s core disciplines (rap, b-boying, beat-boxing) that leaves audiences stupefied.
If I could understand the lyrics of their albums–1999’s KLR, 2001’s X-Raisons, and 2005’s Hold-Up–I’m convinced I’d be even more blown away. My French connections tell me Saian’s style is not just socially biting and hilariously madcap but that they rap in a type of Paris street slang that flips the syllables of a word around to pronounce it back to front. It’s the West’s limited patience with non-English-language music that has kept them off the radar, and from becoming the world-renowned hip-hop royalty their talent merits.
And I’m as guilty as the next head for keeping it that way. I inexplicably forget about them just a few months after watching them in concert. I rarely play their albums, never check for them on YouTube, and never discuss them with friends. Why? Maybe it’s because no matter how much I love the flow, intonation, and beats, I can’t sing along, reassess the lyrical meaning, or empathize with the story of each album. But when I watch them perform I feel them as much, if not more, than I do the vast majority of English-speaking rappers–and fall in love with them all over again.