Standing out on the balcony of Apple HQ in Paris, watched over by the city’s grand iron tower, it’s not at all difficult to understand why this destination—at this time of the year—was chosen for their latest project: an expansive, week-long exploration into the musical sounds and styles across the multi-cultured melting pot of the French capital, within its twenty districts.
Whilst outside carried grand architecture of every period from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, inside lay sharp visual contrast with clean, sharp offices and vast expensive corridors. In constant promo mode, without crossing the boundaries of tacky oversell, it’s a balance not many ever get totally right. For Apple, however, there’s not much of anything you’d say they’ve gotten wrong. Breaking into new landscapes, whilst keeping a unique identity intact, isn’t just the story of this building, but of Apple over the last two decades.
Two years ago, Apple announced its venture into the world of music streaming with emphasis on its “human element”, with “real people” compiling authentic and far-reaching playlists. In the process, they roped in three flagship presenters for Beats 1 in Zane Lowe, Julie Adenuga and Ebro Darden, the last of which I’d landed in Paris for the day to speak with.
In Britain, as the recent publish of the BBC’s talent list would expose, there remains pervading discrimination around gender, class and race that help to determine the faces constantly featured across tax-funded programming. In this regard, the focus of Apple Music/Beats 1 was clearly focused on carrying universal appeal. Just past their 2nd anniversary at the station, Zane Lowe has furthered his rep as one of the foremost music broadcasters worldwide (even minus a mythical Frank Ocean interview) and newcomer Adenuga, perhaps the most inspired selection of the bunch, has blossomed into the UK’s brightest face in radio and presenting. Leaving the self-confessed old man, Ebro, who we eventually locate in a makeshift radio station, set up in a meeting room.
PEOPLE’S PALETTES ARE SEASONED FOR THE RIGHT RECORD, AND THERE’S NO REASON IT CAN’T COME FROM HERE, IN FRANCE, OR OUT IN LONDON.
Stepping down from the role of program director at Hot 97, Ebro retained his morning show on the New York station and in-between recording segments, I slid in for conversation. “Technology, man! I’m out here,” he tells me, hidden away in a room on another continent, as he keeps New York City entertained.
On his itinerary in the French capital that week, Ebro’s been tasked with exploring and showcasing some of the French capital’s rising talents, with a chance to drop in on some established names. With us both sharing appreciation for Parisian culture and customs, he tagged Senegalese-born rapper MC Solaar’s ‘90s collaborations with The Roots and Gangstarr as personal watershed moments of realisation. “My existence in and around music is very American-centric; growing up around Caribbean and Spanish communities, you come up with native Spanish or Patois speakers, so the bridge is easier. When you get to French music, the language barrier is obviously a lot more heavier.”
We start off on more popularly known Parisians, as he namedrops Daft Punk, Christine and the Queens and David Guetta as the entry-level standouts of musical exports from the country. Recognising the current political climate and the similarities with his native America, in regards to the rise of populist right-wing leaders, Ebro made obvious his affinity to those within Parisian immigrant communities: “I knew about Disiz la Peste, and the girls, Ibeyi—they’re dope! They grew up here in Paris and they do Yoruba chants across their beats and shit. I don’t even think of them as Parisian.”
Pressed on the persisting issue of America’s viewpoint toward the rest of the world for music, he shared, “New York has the luxury of being so insular because it’s so big, it can be its own planet.” Adapting the situation, I ask if he envisions London’s similar hold on grime music eventually having the same negative effect. “Usually the answer is all the above,” he agrees. “Once you’ve influenced them, people in other regions start to create. Don’t be surprised if they can do it just as well; acknowledge you’ve created a whole movement but now these people wanna express themselves the same way, they wanna tell their story. I had a father that was a three-time felon and activist, in his own way, and my mother was a redhead Jewish feminist,” Ebro explains, as we dig into formative influences. “I’m the type of person that’s accepting of people’s views. I might disagree with you, but I’m more interested in why, and I’ll try to communicate on it. I’m definitely not someone that thinks my way is the only way.”
Which led us into his running ‘feud’ with Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty. Many, myself included, viewed their first interview in New York as overly harsh and, at times, abrasive—highlighting a sharp generational disconnect. “I never really opposed Yachty, per se. I just didn’t think he took the craft as serious,” he says, sounding every bit the old man as the rep would suggest. On pointing this out, he jokes: “Somebody gotta do it! We can’t just be out here accepting anything—that’s when there’s no quality control.” ‘Ebro vs Yachty II’ went down two months later on Beats 1, with Ebro a more relaxed figure, audibly working to offer a more accommodating figure: “I think your fan base thinks I hate you,” said Ebro, to which Yachty replied: “My fans thinks you hate every young star coming up.”
A 10-second scan of Ebro’s Instagram page (@oldmanebro) will always lead you to his three-year-old daughter Izzy, or “Isa”—the little beauty to his bearded beast. ‘Dad-Ebro’ provides a warmer, more relatable figure to the world and has played a role in Darden’s increased online prevalence. Highlighting the way in which Ebro’s used his platform to speak out on social injustices over the last month, perhaps becoming a father has changed his outlook on things in and around his life? “My outlook is the same,” he responds. “What’s changed is the understanding that, globally, in all cultures, you have the haves and the have-nots and people either want to participate in the system as it is, or they want to fight to change the system.”
Two years in the role now is surely a good time to reflect, I propose. “Highlight? The whole thing’s been a highlight: music discovery, going to London or Tokyo and connecting with people, and now we’re in Paris. It’s all been a highlight, man.” Clearly, the words of a man thoroughly enjoying his job. In spite of the interview-whilst-recording-a-radio-show-whilst-recording-an-online-programme situation, it’s all in a day’s work for Ebro.
Before we parted ways, Darden expressed a desire to get to Africa and also tipped Nigerian rapper Burna Boy as having potential for “huge things.” On Skepta’s headline slot at NATIVELAND in Lagos last year, he shared: “We all wanna be out there, so hopefully this year I get the chance.” Perhaps the next deep-dive into music and culture on foreign soil, grants Ebro’s wish and takes him to the Motherland.
With Beats 1 broadcasting 24/7, to more than 100 countries, it’s become an international outpost, requiring its host to be up on sounds from across the globe. “We’re seeing a resurgence of Caribbean music. Look at the ‘Despacito’ record—it’s Spanish-Caribbean and obviously has a Reggaeton influence; we’ve had Drake’s ‘One Dance’. People’s palettes are seasoned for the right record, and there’s no reason it can’t come from here, in France, or out in London.”
Watch ‘Ebro In Paris’ on Apple Music from Friday 8th September.