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Biography


JoeyStarr


JoeyStarr is not only a leading figure in the French hip-hop movement, he has also forged a reputation as one of the nation's most controversial rappers. Love him or hate him, the man who formed half of pioneering French rap outfit NTM, leaves no-one indifferent. Notorious for his bad boy behaviour and various drug habits, Joeystarr comes across as a troubled soul for whom rap has been a therapy as much as a passion.


A difficult childhood


Didier Morville - variously known as JoeyStarr, Jaguarr Gorgone and Double R - was born to Martinican parents living in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on 27 October 1967. Didier had a difficult childhood, growing up amidst the concrete jungle of high-rise housing blocks on a council estate in Seine-Saint-Denis. And his tough formative years were further complicated by violence back home, his father freely dealing out blows to wife and son and separating the pair by force when Didier was just five years old. (Didier would not see his mother again for eighteen years).

Joey came to realise at an early age that he had to break out of this cycle of abuse – and the opportunity came in 1985 when his father suddenly kicked him out of the family home! Joey slept rough over the next year and a half, moving between various squats and the streets, spending most of his days wandering the corridors of the Paris métro or the labyrinthine tunnels of the city's Catacombs. Days and nights were fuelled by drugs and empty time filled with fights and other violent thrills.

A turning-point came in Joey's dead-end life when he bumped into Bruno Lopes - aka Kool Shen. The pair hit it off and became involved in France's nascent hip-hop movement together, first via dance (a domain where Joey excelled), then graffiti. As their involvement in the movement grew, they began writing their own songs in the late '80s, expressing themselves through hip-hop's militant new medium: rap. This, though the pair did not know it at the time, was when the NTM story began.

Topping the charts with NTM


Joeystarr and Kool Shen went on to front the chart-topping rap crew NTM. In a career spanning ten years and four rap-packed albums, NTM made their mark as one of the most groundbreaking acts in French rap history. JoeyStarr's aggressive persona did much to further NTM's reputation on rap's cutting-edge, his imposing physical stature and ogre-like vocals, coupled with various scandals and run-ins with the French justice system, all regularly reported as headline news by the media, established NTM as the bad boys of French rap. As the gold discs for record sales stacked higher and higher, Joeystarr upped the ante, his drugged-up, drunken behaviour even earning him a prison sentence at one point. By the end of 1999, things had reached such a point that relations between Kool Shen and his former best friend reached breaking point. NTM split and the two frontmen went their separate ways.

JoeyStarr's solo career


Joey launched straight into the role of producer, promoting rising new talents on his own label, Boss Of Scandalz Strategyz (B.O.S.S.), which he set up in 1999. Between 1999 and 2004, he released an impressive number of EPs as well as three compilations featuring various members of the B.O.S.S. collective.

Meanwhile, Joey and his B.O.S.S. DJs hosted their own weekly radio show on the FM station Sky B.O., broadcasting live from the basement of Joey's house. The show proved a huge hit, generating strong audience figures. Despite his production work with other artists, Joey seemed reluctant to return to the studio on his own account. Surprisingly, when he finally stepped back in front of the mike in 2002 it was to make "Gaz-L", a single whose syrupy lyrics left fans of NTM's hardcore songs totally perplexed. At this point, more than one critic predicted the imminent demise of JoeyStarr.

Joey went on to launch preparations for his debut solo album, but his 'work in progress' came to an abrupt halt when the police took him in for questioning as part of an investigation into cocaine trafficking. The rapper's notebooks, containing all the lyrics he had written for his album thus far, were confiscated by the police in the course of their enquiries and the rapper was forced to start his album again from scratch.

The Return of the Jaguar


As his personal life calmed down - he became a father in September 2005 - the "Jaguarr" seemed to curb his more aggressive instincts and acquire a new-found maturity. After his son's birth, Joey ditched his gold teeth and got involved with "Devoir de mémoires," an organisation campaigning for young people to register themselves to vote in the 2007 presidential election. As fans eagerly awaited the arrival of Joey's debut album, he released "My Playlist : By Joey Starr" in 2006, a compilation of musical favourites and tracks that had influenced him throughout his career. Then, in collaboration with Philippe Manœuvre, the editor of French music magazine "Rock & Folk", he went on to publish his autobiography entitled "Mauvaise réputation" (Bad Reputation).

Finally, in November 2006, Starr's solo debut arrived in record stores. The album was called "Gare au jaguarr" (Beware of the Jaguar), a reference to Georges Brassens' "Gorille" (Gorilla). The album featured a rap reworking of Brassens' classic together with a cover of Moustaki's "Le métèque." However, the rapper failed to get authorisation for his cover of "Gorille" from the Brassens' estate. The case went to trial and the French courts ordered Starr to withdraw his album from stores two weeks after its release (by which point 20,000 copies had already been sold). A new version of the album was subsequently released without the offending track.

JoeyStarr, now approaching his forties, proved he had lost none of his fighting spirit nor his fierce energy, serving up an explosive (yet at the same time reflective) album that seemed to be made to perform live. The rapper has never been a big fan of recording sessions in the studio, but when it comes to live shows he can literally go wild on stage, giving it all he's got. Famous for his outrageous stage performances with NTM even many years on, Joey took to the stage at the legendary Olympia, in Paris, just a week after the release of his album, his muscular live comeback proving that the Jaguar has lost none of his bite.

January 2007


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