Diaspo # 120 : Benny B, the first French boy band rapper

Abdel Hamid Gharbaoui, commonly known as Benny B, is the first dancer and rapper to introduce the boy band style to the French scene in the mid-1980s. Quickly becoming the darling of talk shows, in Belgium and France, he is proud to defend the fact that «the first French rap is Moroccan».

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Benny B, a Belgian-Moroccan 1980s rapper. / DR

Eighth of a family of nine brothers, Abdel Hamid Gharbaoui, aka Benny B, was born in 1968 in Molenbeek (Belgium), where he shaped his talent as a dancer and singer among his childhood friends, at school and in his neighborhood. With hindsight, he is satisfied today to be able to say that «the first French rap is Moroccan», as he has been a real figurehead of the musical genre since the mid-1980s.

Born to a blue collar dad and a stay-at-home mom, his fascination with Michael Jackson and James Brown first, and then with MC Hammer, led him since his early childhood to shape his talent as an artist. «As far as I recall, I always learned songs by heart, danced at home, in the neighborhood, with school friends, because that's what interested me the most», he says.

Benny B was also influenced by his older brothers, who inspired his musical preferences for soul, funk and disco. His calling was confirmed then as he said he was often bored in class. «I ended up convincing my parents that I would leave school, but they set finding work as a condition», the rapper recalls. Benny B then went on to work in a chocolate factory.

«I was happy to be able to help my parents and give them most of my salary, the rest of it allowed me to hang out with friends and attend clubs where the DJs I was most into performed».

Benny B

From Belgian clubbing star to French TV star

Benny B was not a mere spectator in these clubs : he would always manage to go on stage, to do dance demonstrations and rap performances. He manages discretely to get into a casting, held by radio director Michel Brunelli and producer Olivier Veurhaegen, where he was selected straightaway.

The artist wrote his own lyrics for a song in 1985 and went on to realize the main dream of his life : releasing a rap vinyl, while featuring his childhood friend Perfect and DJ Daddy K.

«The record was published out in 1989, without a cover, just with the expression 'Mais vous êtes fous' («but you're crazy») on a black background», said the rapper who, at the time, could not believe the huge success that the song has enjoyed with Belgian and French radios.

Soon, the record became a cult classic and Benny B was featured on French television, where he made a passage at the invitation of former host Jacques Martin. His performance was considered as a great moment and «created a buzz» even before the social media era.

«Afterwards, we were invited to many French TV shows, we became a phenomenon, in a context where the songs in French were more text-based».

Benny B

«It was the first time people saw young rappers dance and sing in French», Benny B remembers. He then went on to record a music video for his cult song, and a second one for «Qu’est-ce qu’on fait maintenant» («What do we do now») which is actually the first French rap music video to have been shot in the United States.

Indeed, Benny B was indisputably the first singer to have introduced to the French rap scene the features of American shows, with well-studied choreography, choice of dress style and stage performance. «At the time, the other French rappers felt overwhelmed, because they were still only into the underground style of rap, where you sing in a microphone without creating a show», the artist explained.

The rest of the warrior

«We had around three performances a day, in addition to the radio and TV shows. But after three hectic years, we decided to end our band in 1993, because we had wished not to get to the stage where we saturate our audience who would see us so much everywhere to the point of getting tired of us», Benny B recalled.

Following that event, Abdel Hamid Gharbaoui got back to a normal life and even figured out that he «had missed it». «It took me a long time to decide whether I would continue singing or not. I did not go on stage for a few more years, I chose to put my artistic career aside because I considered starting a family and needed time to take care of it», he said while maintaining he has not regretted his decision. Today, his life is «filled with two children that [he] took the time to see them grow».

To provide for his family after having taken a break from his artistic life, Abdel Hamid Gharbaoui worked as a manager in an air campaign. But at some point, his fans wondered what had become of their favorite artist.

«I was contacted by TV channels for which I gave interviews. I found again the way to my first love after having given my kids the tools to go their own way».

Benny B

Thus, Benny B went on tour in 2005, where he had the pleasure of finding his fans who had not forgotten any of his cult songs. After a second tour in 2011, he returned in 2018 as part of the Star 80 music show.

A famous rapper in Morocco too

The artist has no album project for the moment, but mostly goes on tours and posts on YouTube, as he explained he was not looking for fame. During his most active years, he quickly became aware of the success he enjoyed among young people, but he had never imagined having so many fans in Morocco.

Being the first Belgian-Moroccan rapper to tour Morocco, he was happily surprised, and played the first part of the concert of Kool and The Gang, held in 1996 at the Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca.

«I shot in Marrakech, Tangier my hometown, Salé, Rabat, Casablanca, and I was amazed each time I saw that the Moroccan public knew me. It was a very remarkable memory in my career : the pride to say that the first French rap was Moroccan and that the first French rap gold discs were too».

Benny B

In 2013, Benny B returned to Casablanca, where he performed in a show in an orphanage and in correctional facilities.

By the end of 2019, he started a third year of participation in Star 90 in France. «I relive exactly what I experienced 30 years ago, I still dance and sing on stage and it's extraordinary», the rapper said with marvel.

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