International Publicist Tatiana Kombo On The French Hip-Hop Landscape, Tips To Get Overseas & More {Interview]

I met France’s Tatiana Kombo at A3C in Atlanta at the Taste Creators house and from the minute we got to talking I was immediately blown away by just how much Tatiana does on a daily let alone yearly basis. Finding her roots in music early and being an artist herself, Tatiana thrives in a number of fields, PR, Artist Development, Journalism, Fashion the list goes on and on. Going on two years in the making, I finally got a chance to sit down with Tatiana to talk about growing up in music, the amount she has on her plate at all times and I even got her to drop some keys and tips for artists looking to make that overseas push.

Ok-Tho: Tatiana, it's about damn time. How are you doing? I feel like I ask you this a ton, but what time is it over there?

Tatiana: I’m based in Paris, so GMT +1!

Ok-Tho: Let's go back in time real quick. How did a young Tatiana get into hip hop?

Tatiana: That’s a really good question! I got into music as a child. My father introduced me to old school classics, everywhere from American to European, to African sounds. I’m deeply grateful for that early exposure - it profoundly shaped the global understanding of music I have today. I also sang for many years myself, which I feel helps with the artist development portion of the work I now do.

In terms of hip hop, I was in elementary school when I attended Bisso Na Bisso’s concert in Paris. Bisso Na Bisso was a French-Congolese collective that mixed Congolese rumba beats with hip hop. I remember every moment of that evening. The energy in the room. The artists’ on-stage presence. The atmosphere. The immaculate fusion of traditional Afro beats with the powerful lyricism that hip hop can breed. In a sense, that was my first live introduction to hip hop, and my first notion of the impact that rap could have on an audience.

Ok-Tho: At what point did you determine that you wanted to get into the PR side of things?

Tatiana: I had a lot of experience in media and communications working in Paris, New York and London, mainly within politics, international relations and fashion. I also loved to write, both in English and in French. Becoming Director of Communications at OFive TV in Paris was my first real step into the hip hop industry. While I was at OFive, I had the chance to work with artists such as Dizzy Wright, and interview the likes of Kid Ink and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie.

After leaving OFive TV, I started working as a publicist at a strategy and development agency specialized in hip hop music, also based out of Paris. There, I handled international press and media relations for artists like Tee Grizzley, OMB Peezy and Famous Dex, all signed to 300 Entertainment, as well as for several established French artists and producers.

I decided to go freelance, full-time. One of my PR clients was KEAKR, a social media platform that is entirely dedicated to hip hop. Artists can record and share their freestyle videos for free, while producers can submit their beats. I loved the fact that the application had a universal concept, and that it allowed artists to organically form relationships with beatmakers, listeners, and other rappers. Working with KEAKR was all about celebrating and fostering urban culture within both a social and digital environment, and I found myself thriving in that space.

Ok-Tho: Some don't always understand this but hip-hop lives vibrantly overseas and specifically in Paris, can you tell me about the feel of hip-hop over there?

Tatiana: It’s important to note that France is the second biggest market for hip hop in the world. Social justice has been a central theme since the inception of hip hop in France, particularly issues of immigration and racism. Modernized by a young and dynamic new generation filled with an innovative spirit, the culture of hip hop in France is in a period of total effervescence and self-sufficiency. French hip hop went from the innately political to being eclectic and diverse, both in terms of content and form. It’s been an incredible journey and one that is far from over.

Ok-Tho: Give me five artists that we should be checking over here in the US?

Tatiana: There are so many! I would definitely say: Booba, Niska, Ninho, Vald and Heuss L’Enfoire. All of them are from different suburbs of Paris. I do want to mention that in France, the “hood” is actually in the suburbs, as opposed to being in the inner city. It’s basically the opposite of how it works in the United States.

In terms of up-and-comers, I really like Zeguerre, a rapper from Lyon, France. He did a series of freestyles which put him on the map out here. He has a great future ahead of him. In terms of producers and beatmakers, I definitely need to shout out Heizenberg and Chapo of Narcos. Rapper & B-boy luXe is also someone to know - musically trained in the Paris area and in the Bronx, he represents what hip hop culture is all about.

There’s an amazing French web-series broadcasted on Youtube called “Rentre dans le Cercle” that was created by a French rapper and entrepreneur called Sofiane (or Fianso.) It showcases rappers of various backgrounds and levels of fame performing freestyles inside a circle of their peers. It’s one of my favorite platforms for talent discovery, and the most popular hip hop show in France. You should definitely check it out - aren’t talent and skill universal, after all?

Ok-Tho: Now every time we talk, I feel like you're doing 600 things. What have you been up to as of late and what does a day in the life of Tatiana look like?

Tatiana: As a freelance creative consultant and publicist, I am now responsible for the image, development, publicity and PR strategy of my clients. I pursue mentions of a client, product or brand in traditional and digital media and I take the lead on crafting a media campaign’s overarching message, theme and narrative for public consumption. In a nutshell, I come in to help you break through the clutter, and to command the attention and loyalty of an audience in this overcrowded industry.

My days can involve crafting strategies and intense pitching, or meetings with managers, label and brand executives, videographers, stylists, magazine editors, and producers. I have frequent conference calls with international clients and colleagues in different timezones, so I’m really used to working at non-traditional hours. Working in PR, I have to stay engaged in my work at all times.

At the moment, I am handling PR for Pioneer DJ in France. I work on partnerships, press coverage and influencer relations for the brand on a national level. I’m also the Head of International PR at Taste Creators, a Philadelphia-based full service agency dedicated to helping independent artists, labels and brands succeed on their own terms.

On top of that, I am lucky to be in charge of strategy and publicity for France’s top rising hip hop videographer, Felicity Ben Rejeb Price. With a background in styling, photography and art direction, and with music videos totaling hundreds of millions of views, Felicity is truly a force to be reckoned with in the urban music sphere. Thanks to her talent, vision and determination, she is shaping the aesthetics of a new generation, and it’s an honor to be able to use my expertise to help her advance in her career.

I also recently started working with Nightshift Goods, an LA-based contemporary home goods brand inspired by music, art, and streetwear fashion. They’ve done massive collaborations with the likes of A$AP Ferg/Traplord and Midnight Studios, and we are working on some dope international projects and brand partnerships for this coming year.

Another client of mine is emerging Parisian luxury fashion brand Lena Toya. In terms of US artists, the designer has already been worn by the likes of Cardi B, Kid Ink, Zaytoven, and more.

I also write for The Fashion Studies Journal.

Ok-Tho: Hold up, weren't you just in LA for the BET Awards? How the flip was that and what did you take away from your time out there?

Tatiana: Yes! I was in LA for the first time during the BET Awards, mainly to network. I was there with Baloo and his team, who have a dope platform called “French Plug Show.” He’s a French influencer, BET host, and hip hop journalist. We were able to shoot some amazing content and meet awesome artists while OUT in LA.

I also got to link with Zaytoven’s team, who I had first connected with in Atlanta when I was there for A3C Festival, and my friends Vinny Virgo and Goldsmith, two LA-based rappers I met through Taste Creators.

Ok-Tho: What are your keys to networking when you're here? We hear the term networking all the time but being overseas you're always building relationships.

Tatiana: Publicity is about getting maximum exposure and coverage. PR is all about relationships - both creating and nurturing them. It’s about how the public perceives you and your brand, they key messages and chosen narrative. In essence, PR is all about building upon relationships. Networking is therefore crucial to what I do.

In terms of the music and fashion industries, I have spent years organically building relationships with brands, artists, and media across TV, radio and print in France, the US, and the UK. I’ve learned that adapting your language to the people you meet is absolutely key.

Ok-Tho: A ton of artists want to make it to Paris and perform overseas but don't understand what it takes to get there. Are there any tips you can give for artists looking to take that next step?

Tatiana: In all enterprises, it’s critical to research. If you want to show up and take up space, and do that successfully, you should demonstrate some understanding of the market you’re trying to reach, not only of the country, but of the specific region. Why do you want to perform in a specific city? Look into other artists’ paths, learn from their mistakes and their successes. Don’t be afraid to study the game online and reach out to key players, bookers, festival curators who are based abroad. Be daring and entrepreneurial, and know that you have something special to offer. The world is yours, if you do it right! Where there is competition, there is always opportunity.

Ok-Tho: One question I got asked the other day is when is the right time to hire and grab a manager?

Tatiana: I can speak to when to hire a Publicist or PR expert. A lot needs to happen before the right publicist is hired. As an independent artist, for instance, you can build awareness yourself by taking advantage of new technologies. Your social networks need to be on point, and you should already be connecting with your existing fan base. As a publicist, I know that artists crave media exposure, especially up-and-comers. A key point is to remember is that PR and publicity should only come after the foundations have been built, and after an artist has shown creativity, authenticity, and consistency.

Ok-Tho: What's the best show you've been to out there? I've heard the vibe is completely different but still hype as hell.

Tatiana: In terms of French artists, the group Sniper was such a powerful show. For US artists, Schoolboy Q’s concert in Paris a couple of years ago was incredible - that performance will stay with me for a while. Along with Eminem, Tyler the Creator and Kendrick at Stade de France.