From mutton grease to musical greatness, it has been an unconventional road for rapper Lil'Maaz and his hit anthem "Mange du Kebab" (Eat Kebab).
The 27-year-old Turkish immigrant, whose real name is Yilmaz Karaman, moved to Paris four years ago and took a job in a kebab house where he would sing as he served. "It all started with my interactions with customers, asking them whether they wanted tomatoes, mayonnaise," he explained. "The questions took on their own rhythm and very quickly it became a rap."
It turned out some of his kebab-hungry clientele worked in a recording studio and they decided to help him reach a wider audience.
A clip on the internet site Dailymotion clocked up half a million hits in a month, and caught the eye of big-time record executives. Now Lil'Maaz finds himself in the same stable as the Beatles after EMI released 25,000 copies of the single in France earlier this week.
"I'm in shock. My head's spinning and I keep asking myself if this is all a dream," he said yesterday. "It's just totally exploded."
The video for the hit song was shot in "Chez Diyar", the purple and yellow kebab house where he works in the 18th arrondissement, which Lil'Maaz describes in the song as "the kingdom of grease." He raps to his regulars, as hunks of lamb turn on a spit behind him.
"Behind the counter, I prepare the bread, caressing it between my hands. I am the rapper of the doner kebab. Mayo, ketchup, sauce and lamb. Cooking mutton is a real art, and there's no pork for us. Here, you'll find smells of the Orient that will stay on your clothes," goes one verse.
So what does Lil'Maaz think is the appeal of his off-beat song? "The kebab is universal," he says solemnly, before breaking into giggles. "No really, we live in such a complicated world, and people need to have a laugh. I would laugh and crack jokes when I served people and this song is just an extension of that."
His family, including eight brothers and two sisters, are in south-eastern Turkey, but often call him to tease him and place joke takeaway orders. But given that he arrived in Paris with no French, they are very proud of his hit francophone song.
And his boss is happy, too. Fans are travelling from all over the city to visit the new rap star at his workplace.
All artists that strike gold with their first release worry about being a one-hit wonder, but Lil'Maaz says "Mange du Kebab" is not the last we will hear of him. "There will be a follow-up but I prefer to keep it secret. All I can say is that I don't think one should overdo the same theme, so don't worry, it won't be 'Mange du Hamburger.'"