It’s been two years since French rapper Mohamed Sylla, aka MHD, shared his debut single, “Afro Trap Part 1 (La Moula)” on YouTube. The freestyle rap quickly amassed so much attention on social media that the artist, then 21 years old, released more videos, recorded an album, and landed a commercial deal with Adidas. Two years and millions of YouTube views later, he’ll kick off his first American tour in New York before performing at U Street Music Hall this Friday, September 15.
MHD’s path to stardom is one that would have been markedly different before the Internet age. The rapper has shaped his own career through savvy self-promotion via his online platforms, attracting the attention of viewers on multiple continents, and even his favorite soccer players (members of PSG, Paris’s soccer team, have been known to sing his hit song, “Fais le Mouv,” in their locker room). “Today, everything or almost everything starts with social media,” the artist told Washingtonian. “You must first be accepted by the public. They are the ones who choose anyway.”
MHD grew up in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, not far from members of other notable hip-hop groups such as Sexion d’Assaut. While hip-hop was picked up early by French rappers and has long had a place in French culture, MHD is best known for bringing a new genre, “Afro-Trap,” to the mainstream.
The style, which draws influence from African music and Atlanta trap beats, was not a far stretch for MHD, whose mother is from Senegal, and father is from Guinea. “I grew in France surrounded by hip-hop and French rap but I was also raised listening to African music, since my parents had an African background. So this style came quite naturally to me,” he says.
While it’s not everyday that a French rapper achieves notoriety in the US, some artists within the French hip-hop scene have said that MHD’s music could translate well to the American market, where trap music is popular. But for now, the young artist doesn’t seem too concerned about becoming the next NTM or MC Solaar–he’s simply focused on his biggest American followers. “I can’t wait to meet my fans in the US,” he says. “I’ve already done a lot of touring in Europe and Africa…it’s a new territory to impress, a new challenge.”
MHD will play at 7 pm at U Street Music Hall on Friday, September 15. Tickets are $30.