Amid the thriving, generally malcontent French rap scene, Alliance Ethnik stood out during the mid- to late '90s with a feel-good, fun-loving style that proved extremely popular. The multicultural collective only released two albums -- Simple & Funky (1995) and Fat Comeback (1999) -- yet each featured numerous hit singles, all of which were later compiled on Best of Alliance Ethnik (2002). The popularity of Alliance Ethnik wasn't exclusive to France, either, for the group's music featured classic funk samples (e.g., Parliament-Funkadelic) and English-language guest features (De La Soul) that were universally appealing. In the end, the collective didn't so much break up as it did disperse, as some of the members went on to enjoy busy and fruitful solo careers.
The core members of Alliance Ethnik include K-Mel, Médard, Gutsy, Crazy B, and Faster J, all of whom were French-born children of immigrant parents. The variety of ethnicities characterizing the members, which include relations to Italy, Algeria, and the Congo, contributed to the idea to call the group Alliance Ethnik (i.e., Ethnic Alliance). Rapper K-Mel is the frontman and consequently the most well-known member. Born Kamel Houairi on September 22, 1972, to Algerian immigrants, he grew up in Creil, a northern suburb of Paris, and musically was influenced by the Arabic cultural interests of his parents as well as the funk records of his brother. Once he came of age, he began exploring musical tastes of his own, which included rai and rap, both popular in his neighborhood. In time, he fell in with the local rap scene and quickly developed a reputation as a skilled MC with a talent for freestyling. He began performing at local rap showcases in 1990 and, encouraged by the positive reception to his performances, he formed a group with singer Médard and beat-maker Gutsy, both close friends. Turntablists Crazy B and Faster J joined the group next, and with the core membership of Alliance Ethnik now in place, the group began performing as a unit and went about recording a demo tape.
Alliance Ethnik's big break came in 1992, when they opened a high-profile concert by popular Marseilles rap group IAM at L'Elysées Montmartre in Paris. In the wake of that performance, which garnered positive media write-ups, Alliance Ethnik were offered a recording contract with Delabel. It took a while, but recording sessions were eventually held in Paris and New York with producer Bob Power, whose résumé included work with A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Deee-Lite, and Main Source. The resulting album, Simple & Funky (1995), was an immediate success, boasting three smash hit singles ("Respect," "Simple et Funky," "Honesty et Jalousie"). Alliance Ethnik supported the release with performances at the Printemps de Bourges and Francofolies festivals that summer, in addition to a record-release show at the venerable Paris venue Le Bataclan on June 13. Alliance Ethnik's music -- characterized by fun-spirited lyrics, a cheerful tone, endless stretches of vibrant funk, and frequent references to English-language hip-hop -- was rapturously received by the French public; for instance, the group sold over 350,000 albums and 700,000 singles by the year's end, and won a Victoires de la Musique award in February 1996 for Best New Group of the Year.
It was a few years before Alliance Ethnik returned with another album, Fat Comeback (1999). In the meantime, rapper K-Mel began performing on a solo basis and found the time to produce some up-and-coming talents. Most notably, he collaborated with rai superstar Cheb Mami on the hit song "Parisien du Nord." Crazy B likewise used the layoff period to pursue his own solo interests, competing in the DMC World DJ Championship contest annually. When the time came for Alliance Ethnik to reassemble and begin work on their follow-up album, they chose to collaborate with journeyman producer "Prince Charles" Alexander, whose career stretched back to the early '80s, when he fronted Prince Charles & the City Beat Band. Alliance Ethnik also collaborated with Jamey Staub on a few tracks and produced several on their own. Clocking in at 20 tracks, Fat Comeback is an ambitious, free-ranging album that features an all-star cast of guests, several of them English-language speakers (Biz Markie, Vinia Mojica, Common, Rahzel, De La Soul). The album is also at times much more socially conscious than Simple & Funky had been, such as on the album-closing collaboration with African superstar Youssou N'Dour, "Un Enfant Doit Vivre." Fat Comeback didn't match the phenomenal popularity of its predecessor; however, it was a major success all the same, spawning a long-lasting string of hit singles ("No Limites," "Fat Come Back," "Jam," "5 Heures du Mat"). After the album and its string of singles ran their course, Delabel issued Best of Alliance Ethnik (2002), which rounded up all the group's singles along with a few mixes, most notably the Prince Paul remix of "Simple et Funky." ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi