Milandou Badila is one of the few people who can say he had a great year in 2016.
The stylish 28-year-old rapper behind the moniker Young Paris moved to New York in March, signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation in July, and his debut album “African Vogue,” which has a heavy Afrobeats influence, also dropped in this year that everyone else can’t wait to end.
But there’s even more on the horizon for Young Paris, who has spent his very artistic life traveling between Congo, Paris and New York, under the influence of his ballet director father and playwright mother. He’s always been infatuated with music, something he chalks up to the Congo’s francophone culture.
“Culturally, we tend to be more tribal on the ground, in the art world and not so business savvy,” he says. “In our culture we embrace music and the arts. I’ve always been attracted to music, it’s always been a part of our lives and I don’t know another option.”
Central to the art of Young Paris, whose music fuses EDM with tribal beats, is the expression of his African identity, which is hard to miss from the face paint he dons primarily for performances.
“My father cofounded the first national ballet in Congo and they had different ways to embellish their culture … we wear different colors for different meanings,” he explains. “I wear white because I lost my father four years ago and this is the marking he gave me when I was very young.”
Blackness and African pride are omnipresent in both the lyrics and music on “African Vogue,” which Badila partially credits to the strong cultural ties that living in Europe afforded his family. This stands as a stark contrast to African-Americans, who have suffered the “worst identity crisis” imaginable because of slavery in the United States.
“In Paris the black people there are essentially Africans. They know where they’re from,” Badila explains. “Black Americans don’t know where they’re from … it’s a melting pot. In (Paris), people go back home very often, it just gives them a whole other sense of connectivity to their continent.”
Badila believes his music and strong sense of identity can appeal to black people in America, which he now calls home.
“One role that I do play with my love of my culture is just to be a piece of Africa for African-Americans,” he says. “We can speak the same language. I’m African but I know American culture.”
Another undeniable facet of Young Paris’ identity is fashion. Growing up around his playwright mother, who also designed costumes for her productions, and observing men’s fashion in the Congo as his elders traipsed about in pricey couture, sowed the seeds for his appreciation of style. It’ll bring him back to Paris in spring for fashion week, where his music will undoubtedly be at home.
As for 2017, Badila has his eyes set on making more content and spreading his love of Afrobeats, and obviously never forgetting where he came from.
“I’m using my story to help people’s lives. Whatever race you are, whatever background you are, share it with the public and export it,” he says. “I think we all have … pieces of us we have to lose to be a part of a scene. But in my life I know who I represent, so I’m trying to give people that story.”