By Ali Yashourouti
At a packed house in a venue named Stereolux, in a city on the west coast of France, called Nantes, thousands of fists are in the air and yelling “Black Privilege” in a predominantly white crowd. I’m wondering if I had stepped in a vortex. This is at the Hip Opsession festival where Napoleon Da Legend was performing in the finale of a week-long event. After a powerful, intense and emotional hour-long set, I sit down with N.D.L. as he enjoys a Pellegrino backstage. “How do you get a room full of white folks to yell “Black Privilege” at the top of their lungs?” I asked. He calmly answers:
“It’s deeper than race, music connects us all and most of us deal with pain, disappointment and struggle. “Black Privilege” goes beyond race. It’s that inner-determination that helps us all tackle obstacles and prevail”.
“It’s important for me to get people to understand and connect with what I say in my music during shows.” Napoleon continues while adjusting his trademark gold African chain. His background and heritage are something he truly values and he even dedicated a full project called “Afrostreet” in its honor, which blends both Afrobeat and Hip-Hop into a mosaic of history, tragedies, love and dance. He reminded the crowd how much of his drive came from his few visits of the Comoros when he was younger. Being born in Paris, France and coming to Washington, DC at the age of 4, he had the chance to experience his Comorian roots in the villages where his mom and dad grew up. He recalls going to get water from a well with his grandmother and collect eggs from the chicken coop in the back. Electricity would periodically cut out at random times and they would gather around talk, sing and entertain themselves in various ways. “I remember most people having a smile on their face though and it struck me because they barely had what we call the basics in western society” Napoleon remarked.
His parents having divorced and both left America by the time he was 16, he chose to stay because he recognized the “privilege” he had being in the U.S. and the opportunity it afforded him. “I try never to take things for granted, being able to perform in front of a foreign crowd feels like everything right now” he said, “I remember rocking locals shows for a hand full of people”. His voice was hoarse and you can tell he left a part of himself on that stage that night. In a Tour de Force of flows, rhythms, techniques, acapellas and storytelling, everybody left motivated and inspired from his show. When I asked him how he felt about the night, he replied “This is my “Hero’s Journey”, I left my comfort zone behind a long time ago in search of my truth. It hasn’t always been easy, but if I can inspire someone along the way, it would have been worth the world to me”.