Shams Dinn (Ben Bouchta Mohammed) was born in Oudja, Morocco in the ‘60s. His father died before he was born, and he was raised by his grandfather, a Sufi ascetic who awoke a spiritual path within Shams that he has felt connected with his entire life. When he was around 10 years old, he immigrated to Lyon, France with his mother. He grew up enthralled by the burgeoning underground hip hop scene, martial arts, graffiti, and breakdancing. He started as a dancer, laying down cardboard and breaking to artists like Kurtis Blow and Melle Mel with his friends. In his later teens, he began experimenting with rhyme, he wanted to share his culture through song, and would flow in Arabic. He seemed to have a natural talent for the craft, but his friends, doubting that France would ever accept an Arabic rapper, bet him that he wouldn’t be able to go to Paris and find a record deal.
With 500 Francs in his pocket, he went to Paris in search of an avenue to record. Not knowing anyone, he wandered over to Montmartre, where he’d heard of suave night clubs that the best DJs and MCs would be. He witnessed patrons entering through a back door of a venue, and quickly followed them in. Sidney, who had a TV show on French television called Hip Hop, was the DJ that night. He saw Shams dancing, and commented that he had moves. He handed Shams the mic, and Shams began flowing in Arabic, the crowd loved it. Shams’ rap career blossomed as he would join freestyle events around town, where the audience would throw chairs at you if you didn’t deliver. He used the name “Shams Dinn” because of it’s spiritual meaning “Sun Of Faith”, and also, when spoken quickly, it sounds like “James Dean”. He had few instrumental demos like Toutes Ces Femmes and Vieille France that he would spit verses over, but it wasn’t until he linked up with Jemel Dif that he had an opportunity to record his first single.
Dif worked at the same restaurant as Shams, and ran a record label called Hamedi that was an outlet for Arabic artists. Together, they got in the studio and captured “Hedi Bled Noum” (roughly, “You’re asleep, wake up”), which became a hit song in Europe in ‘87. Shams whirled around the continent, playing at fashionable clubs in Germany, Turkey and France. The record was number one at a big radiostation that broadcasted to the cities along the northern Mediterranean sea. Off of the momentum of the single, he formed another group called the Couscous Clan (satirizing the Ku Klux Klan), and continued rapping working on a debut solo album at the end of the ‘80s. He completed seven songs for his album with his producer Jean Soullier, but due to the Gulf War, the big companies didn’t want to market Arabic music. The label he was working with asked Shams to re-record in French, but the idea was too radical for him. The album was shelved and remained unreleased.
With a chance to dig through Shams’ archives, we’ve assembled and eponymous debut LP. Presented are a remastered version of Hedi Bled Noum from the original tapes, songs from his solo album, and a handful of unreleased demos. Limited Smiling C edition comes with a sticker and an inner sleeve containing photos and an interview with Shams. Repress is in an inverted sleeve with a generic inner.