If If you’re not a Francophone or a fan of rap or urban music, odds are you’ve never heard of GIMS. He’s not a global household name (yet) but he is holding his own in Europe, in particular in his adoptive home of France.
I first heard GIMS through his duet with Vitaa, a French singer that I’ve come to love over the years. I’m not a fan of rap or urban music but during their duet “Game Over”, I could tell that the rapper had a very unique sound. His vibrato and the way he controls his voice stood out. But more than that, what caught my attention was his vibe. To say he has good vibes would be an understatement. Right off the bat, you could feel that he probably has one of the best positive vibes you’ve ever encountered in your life. So much sincerity, openness exudes from him. He is the kind of guy you can strike a conversation with while waiting for your coffee order and then instantly become best friends. This is something very rare indeed, especially in today’s world, coming from a rap singer. Imagine my surprise when a few weeks back I was chilling and watching Netflix and boom, right there on my screen, popped up a new featured program “GIMS on the Record”. I just had to watch it. And just like his voice. It did not disappoint.
GIMS was born in Congo, his parents moved to France and brought him along at a very young age. Their life in France was better than in Congo, not significantly much but an improvement. This all changed however when his parents divorced in 1995, leaving his mother to raise GIMS and his younger brother and sisters on her own. They had to move out of their comfortable apartment to sharing a house where they all lived in one room and had no access to running water. The area in which he grew up was filled with drug addicts. Having relived this painful memory with him, I can’t help but think what a strong man he is, despite growing up in a very challenging neighborhood, he stayed true to himself and didn’t let his surroundings get the best of him. You would think that this was enough hardship for one lifetime. But wait….it gets worst….one day, out of the blue, the police came and evicted them, which resulted in the separation of their family. This would be the turning point in GIMS’ life. He became as he put it “Un enfant de la rue 100%” roughly translated to a child of the street 100%. While living on the streets, he met 3 friends with whom he later formed the group Sexion d’Assaut in 2001. They would spend their days together and rehearse their music. However, despite spending so much time in each other’s company, even his closest friends were not aware of his living conditions. GIMS shared that whenever they were done rehearsing, he would tell them “Ok, I’m going home” when in fact he would just walk the streets of Paris aimlessly while he daydreamed.
In today’s reality filled world, where every single second of someone’s life is documented, it is refreshing to hear that there are still people who can use their imagination and just dream of possibilities. This is what inspired me the most about GIMS, even in his hardest moments, he was still able to visualize who he wanted to be and what he wanted to achieve. In today’s reality cluttered world, everyone is so filled with negativity, and an overload of social media feed which often leads people to covet the lives of strangers they see online. GIMS did the exact opposite of this. He worked hard, focused, and dreamed his reality into existence.
Not only do I admire him for his drive and determination, I also admire him for his unique voice which enables him to sing opera notes as well as urban rap. Even Sting highlighted this in the documentary. Last year they did a duet on a song called “Reste”. And according to Sting when you hear GIMS’s voice, you can recognize it straight away and that is what makes him unique. GIMS’ voice is so powerful he could be a full soprano classical singer if he wanted to. This is raw talent. But you still have to work at it and GIMS did just that.
GIMS didn’t have a PR person, a brand strategist, or a manager when he started. He found his persona early on his own. One of his trademarks would have to be his signature black sunglasses, which he never takes off. This trademark actually came about by accident. In the beginning, he was freestyling, and he put on a pair of sunglasses. The session was recorded and put online but there was no name and nobody knew who he was. So they started calling him “L‘homme aux lunettes” (the man with the sunglasses). Soon, everyone wanted to do freestyle battles with the man with the sunglasses and he bought a pair of tourist sunglasses in Montmartre for people to recognize him. Throughout his career, GIMS has proven time and time again that he is a master of his craft. He is aware of his niche and who his target audience is. He brought rap back into the European music scene and then he did what Cardi B did in America, he found a way to make music that everyone would listen to and succeeded. GIMS built his fan base one performance at a time, one fan at a time. From the street corners in Paris to touring small cities in France. His fans are not fans, they are devout followers. Whether they are young and old, French, or foreigners, everyone can relate to his backstory. We are all transported to another world by his magical sound and his addictive melody. Today he is the first Urban singer to have held a concert at Le Stade de France which is monumental. Such was the breadth and weight of this achievement that he shed tears of joy and humility on the stage during his performance, remembering everything that he had gone through to get to where he is today.
His story makes us, and especially me, believe in happy endings. It gives us hope for the future. If GIMS was able to build an empire from himself out of nothing, then surely the rest of us can as well. As long as we keep moving forward, keep doing our best, and keep visualizing who we want to be. I’ve never met GIMS and probably never will, but can I be honest? from the bottom of my heart, I wish him success and a lifetime of happiness, he has earned and deserved it. But most of all, I would like to thank GIMS, for inspiring all of us, by showing us that anyone can rise through the ashes and we should. Thank you GIMS for sharing with us your story, you are truly an inspiration…