On Sunday 11 June, the viral music sensation MHD descends on Royal Festival Hall as part of M.I.A.’s Meltdown, but who is MHD?
A French rapper of Guinean and Senegalese descent, MHD’s self-labelled Afro Trap sound is inspired by African sounds and crazy danceable beats. But above the heavy drums and layered synthesisers you’ll find the lyrics of France’s modern marginalised youth.
‘It doesn’t talk to me,’ he told French website Clique 18. Instead MHD takes his inspiration from the varied sounds of Africa - from the multi-lingual afropop of Yemi Alade to the Congolese rumba of Fally Ipupa - and the penmanship of fellow French upstarts, like Dosseh.
Sort of. On holiday with friends, listening to African music, MHD began spitting some rhymes over the looping outro of P-Square’s Shekini. He liked it, his friends liked it, so they filmed it and put it on Facebook. Afro Trap was here, and that’s when it went off.
MHD’s Afro Trap series blew up online, clocking over 400 million views in the two and half years since that first upload. A staggering following that’s propelled his music into public conscience, from protesting high school students quoting his choruses to the footballers of Paris St-Germain adopting his dance moves.
‘I would dream of being Piqué’ he raps on Afro Trap 4, ‘but the microphone stuck me up’. So instead MHD lives a football life through his lyrics, he’s ‘untouchable like Verratti or Motta’ and ‘always on the field like Gerrard’, and his track Champions League saw him championed by Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Encapsulating the football hip-hop crossover is Roger Milla, MHD’s homage to the cult dance moves of the legendary Cameroon striker. ‘I wanted to incorporate his dance, and also celebrate a massive African icon,’ MHD told the BBC last year.
Though born in the western French town of La Roche-sur-Yon to a Senegalese mother and a Guinean father, MHD is very much a product of Paris’ 19th Arrondissement where he grew up. Down to earth despite his rapid rise, he’s a want to succeed for himself and his often maligned district, with much of his music videos filmed on the same streets he’s been kicking it on since day one.
Less than two years ago, MHD was delivering pizza around the avenues of his Paris periphery, now he’s serving up his Afro Trap sound across the globe, hitting the stage hard from Canada to Conakry in Guinea, and of course, right here on London’s South Bank.
MHD plays our Royal Festival Hall as part of M.I.A.’s Meltdown on Sunday 11 June, supported by MOBO winner Abra Cadabra and South London’s 67.