“I wouldn't put myself in the rap scene,” says MHD in The FADER’s revealing new documentary La Puissance. “I’m fighting to be in my own category, which is Afro-Trap.” Since the Paris-born artist started posting freestyles to YouTube in 2015, he hasn’t stopped working towards that goal. Each new installment of his “Afro-Trap” series reveals a sharpening of MHD’s skills and expansion of his vision — whether that’s creating a viral dance move, le mouv, in Part 4; toughening up his bars for Part 7; or inflating his head with CGI in Part 9.
A Senegalese-Guinean artist born Mohamed Sylla, MHD’s high-spirited music thrives on the interplay of west African rhythms and American hip-hop. He puts a proudly Parisian twist on these sounds, with determined French-language raps about dreams of moula, and videos dominated by the spirited local kids of his neighborhood, the 19th arrondissement. It only makes sense that MHD’s music exists in its own specific genre — its infectious energy and precise cultural antecedents work together to set it apart.
The FADER’s new documentary follows MHD taking his sound global, from an insane audience reaction in Guinea, to a dream performance in New York. But while his career blooms around the world, MHD’s life is still firmly rooted in Paris. In personal moments of the film, the 23-year-old artist links up with old friends at the pizza shop he used to work at, and visits a local barbershop for a fresh fade.
As he prepares to play his biggest show to date at Paris’s legendary venue, L’Olympia, MHD sincerely reflects on his transformative two years. “We see the margin of progress,” he says. “It really fills me with pride.” Watching his journey, it’s hard not to root for him to keep reaching new heights.
Watch La Puissance above.