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Samuel Eto’o, more than a chant

Many artists often refer to Samuel Eto’o, and not just because they are on repeat mode. Eto’o has been a reference for a lot of musicians in Africa as well as for many rappers from all over the world for years. This is due to the musicality of his name, which has become somehow symbolic.

Ten letters, two words, four syllables: this is enough to have rappers Driver and Hopiho, respectively born in Sarcelles (France) and Douala (Cameroon), fly off the handle. “Samuel Eto’o rhymes with ‘ghetto’,” says Hopiho, who wrote a song for the man he calls the “Cameroon’s wonder.” “His name rhymes with ghetto and it suits him perfectly. He is from Newbell, one of Douala’s toughest neighborhoods. He was born in poverty.” Driver often features in the Rap Contenders battles and is also an anchorman for radio OKLM. “It is a simple rhyme but it makes so much sense.” They are not the first rappers to write about that. Before them, French rapper Soprano wrote: “Stop! It’s time we left the ghetto! Time we earned more than Eto’o” in his song Speed, in 2010. In 2008, Salif claimed he was “lethal like Eto’o, I’m up to stay ghetto” in Ténébreux Récital.

Needless to say you can’t skip the double O. “It’s not Eto, it’s Eto’o. This double O is like a gimmick,” says Driver. “It feels like most rappers have explored all the possible rhymes in O. Saying Samuel Eto’o’s name is like adding a new word ending in O.” It’s like opening up the scope of possibilities at the same time: Dontcha made it rhyme with “lever tôt” (“get up early”); Kesto-G, in a rap contest, combined “sur le tas” (“on the job”), “l’État” (“the State”), “Eto’o”, “Et toi ?” (“What about you?”) and “étau” (“vise”); Booba had “potos” (“buddies”) and “Eto’o” rhyming in Caesar Palace. We could also mention French-speaking rappers Sinik, La Fouine, REDK, Mister You, LIM and La Caution, as well as Italian artists Brusco and Surfa, and Spanish singers Kranck T and La Granja. Eto’o even cameoed in Pit Baccardi’s Juste Moi video clip, in 2009. Quite a smart set for such a great man.

Street cred’

This fascination is not only a matter of sounds and rhymes though. “It’s also about his stats, his personality, his astute arrogance,” adds Driver. “By astute, I mean that his results speak for him. It’s like trashtalking for kickboxers during press conferences: in the end, you can say that the loser bragged for nothing.” With all the weight of his two African Cup of Nations titles, his three Champions League titles, his three Liga titles, and his Scudetto, Eto’o seems to have won enough trophies to legitimately clash anyone he wants in interviews. This is what he did in 2014 for instance, when he openly criticized Pep Guardiola on beIN Sports.

All rappers have a massive ego and like shaking things up. Samuel Eto’o is a bit like that too. This is why so many of us write about him,” says Basdam, who saw many artists mention Eto’o during the Rap Contenders battles he hosts. “Plus, he really throws himself in serious matters such as racism or conflicts in Africa. He is a fascinating person.” Football players rarely receive such honors, and Zlatan Ibrahimović only seems to have as much temperament as Eto’o. “The way he speaks, his demeanor… Eto’o would have been a great rapper,” swears Driver.

50 cents? Try 50 millions!

Besides all this, Samuel Eto’o is deeply associated with urban music because he has become one of the major symbols of Africa as well as an ambassador for Cameroon. “No need to be of Cameroon origin to like Samuel Eto’o of course, but this feeling is a hundred times stronger for Cameroonians,” says Driver. The temper of the former Barça and Inter striker has inspired many people. “I have noticed that Samuel Eto’o never doubts. This is why he had such a great career,” says Hopiho, who rubbed shoulders with Eto’o for a few years. “The only time I saw him panic was on the plane, because he had no control over the situation.” He has built his legend on his success, and vice versa.

Eto’o feels like he is on a mission,” says Hopiho. “He is aware that African people think they cannot aim for the top. But Samuel Eto’o is not like that. He keeps showing who he is, he constantly fights so that we appreciate his true value.” Eto’o is an idol admired for his “rebel and revolutionary state of mind”, a man who never shies away nor apologizes. Hopiho thinks the way Eto’o shows off his wealth is part of his popularity: “He has never been scared of showing his wealth. Rappers like that. For instance, there is that video where Usain Bolt is staring at Eto’o’s watch. Samuel takes it off and gives it to Bolt. Things like that have made him even more legendary.”

A matter of tradition

Today, we can barely contest the importance of Samuel Eto’o, but all the musical shout-outs he gets from artists go beyond the songs themselves. “In Ivory Coast, there is something called the Atalakou,” says Hopiho, though he is Cameroonian, grew up in Kenya and now lives in Canada. “When a VIP is in a night club and the DJ knows he is here, he praises him. Usually, the VIP gives him money to thank him. This tradition still lives today and is common everywhere in Africa.” Such tradition also flirts with superstition. “Samuel Eto’o is a magic name, because he is magic himself,” say the members of the Ivorian band Koktel, who praise the Cameroon striker as much as Didier Drogba and Nicolas Pépé. “He has always enhanced his partners’ game, he has always made his mates shine. When we sing about Samuel Eto’o, we want our songs to shine as bright as he does.” The question is: does Samuel Eto’o Fils reciprocally likes urban music? Hopiho, a close friend of Eto’o’s, says he “is not really into rap music” and prefers traditional music. “His favorite artists are Petit Pays, a Cameroonian singer, and Koffi Olomide, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.”