Mysterious French "cloud rap" duo PNL are a self-made sensation who captured the zeitgeist to score a number one album without signing to any label or granting a single interview. French-Arab Muslim brothers Tarik and Nabil Andrieu, aka Ademo and N.O.S., grew up in the forbidding Tarterêts housing project in Corbeil-Essonnes, a southern banlieue of Paris. Intensely secretive, they refused to give interviews, though would 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 album, 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 second album, Le Monde Chico ("Chico World"), released just months after their first, went in at number two on the official album charts, and the following year their third, Dans la Légende ("In the Legend") did even better, debuting at number one, not only in France but in Belgium and Switzerland as well. Their biggest hit single came in 2016 with "Naha," which hit number two in France. ~ John D. Buchanan