In my limited experience of French hiphop, I've gotten the impression that it's rhythmically rather "square", in the sense that the syncopations or polyrhythms that are common in the corresponding American genres are relatively rare. As a first tentative step in evaluating this (perhaps quite wrong) idea, I analyzed the word-to-beat alignments of MC Solaar's popular 2001 piece Solaar Pleure. Here's the official video on YouTube:
And there's a set of annotated lyrics at genius.com.
As with music of this kind in general, inspection with an audio editor reveals the start of the background beat sequence (in the recording that I made from the YouTube video), and the (metronomic) interval separating beats. This makes it easy to write a program to create (for example) an Audacity label track that aligns with the beat sequence throughout the piece:
9.934470 9.934470 1 10.243700 10.243700 2 10.553000 10.553000 3 10.862300 10.862300 4 11.171600 11.171600 5 11.480800 11.480800 6 11.790100 11.790100 7 12.099400 12.099400 8 12.408700 12.408700 9 12.717900 12.717900 10
Then the syllables can be recorded on a second label track. Thus for the first couplet
Fuck la terre, si je meurs voici mon testament:
Déposez des cendres dans la bouche de tous nos opposants
"Fuck the earth, if I die this is my will:
Put ashes in the mouth of all our enemies"
My practice is to mark beat-aligned syllables at exactly the time of the corresponding beat label, and just to place off-beat syllables somewhere in the interval between the times of beat labels. This is relatively fast and is good enough for the purposes exemplified below.
(I'm sure that there are some errors in my annotation, but it should be generally correct. I don't know of any automatic speech alignment software that's good enough to do an accurate job at this task automatically, alas — maybe someday.)
The resulting labels for the whole piece are here. I wrote a script to turn these labels into an html table — here's the first verse (assuming no bugs in the program):
The whole thing in tabular form is here, without the narrow text-gutter contraint of this blog's WordPress theme.
Beat "positions" in this case are just sequential beat numbers mod 8, with the between-beat position between N and N+1 marked with N+, so that there are 16 "positions" per line in the transcript. If we take the audible beats to be quarter notes (at about MM= 194), then each line is two bars of 4/4 time, with a similar profile of syllable-association strength in each bar.
(It's possible that the audible beats should be notated as eighth notes, so that each line is one bar of 4/4 time at 97 quarter notes per minute — but this doesn't really change the analysis.)
A relevant link is Nicholas Temperley and David Temperley, "Stress-meter alignment in French vocal music", JASA 2013 — about which more later.
Does this first look at one performance confirm my overall impression of the genre? Well, the patterns of syllable placement in this piece tend to confirm my subjective impression that its vocal rhythm is pretty much binary, without much of the polyrhythmic equivocation (e.g. between 2+2+2+ and 3+3) that is prominent in American hiphop/rap. But one of my musically-literate French friends warns me that MC Solaar is not typical. And there are a few metrically-interesting lines in this piece as well . . .
So we'll see.