In many ways, the rise of French Montana is the ultimate underdog story.
In 1996, French was a 13-year-old boy who didn’t speak English, having landed in the South Bronx after migrating from Morocco. Fast forward to 2012, and French was lounging in the video for ‘Pop That’ while surrounded by curvaceous butts, numerous bottles of vodka and rap staples like Lil Wayne & Rick Ross. He was also successful enough to acquire a pet monkey named Julius Ceasar. Today, he stands as a New York rapper who owns the best ad-lib in the game, finding prominence along the East Coast, in Southern circles and the world over.
While ‘Pop That’ and its abundance of wet, jiggling strippers is the most excessive evidence of French’s success, his latest single ‘Unforgettable’ is slightly more subdued. The song features dancehall-inspired production and an ethereal hook from Swae Lee, which is a welcome break from the hyperactive, alcohol-soaked chants he champions with Rae Sremmurd. Still, French’s bravado is in full swing, with Jigga-inspired lines like “I pulled out a million cash, told her plank on it.” Lying motionless and face-down on a seven-figure sum of money? Powerful, moving, ambitious.
For the ‘Unforgettable’ video, French returned to Africa to visit the streets of Uganda, with the clip featuring locals dancing with carefree, vivacious energy. In the footage, French also whispers sweet nothings – most likely a seductive ‘HAAAN’ – to a lady at a pool table. This pool match also features blunts and Ciroc – so many distractions! French cites the Uganda visit as one of the most memorable experiences in his 32 years of existence. “I tell people all the time, I feel like it was my first vacation, as far as touching the people and giving people an opportunity that they appreciate… It warmed my heart, it’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” he says.
French’s latest hit has also been propelled by the ‘Unforgettable’ dance challenge sweeping social media, which is operating in a similar way that the mannequin challenge complimented Rae Sremmurd’s omnipresent ‘Black Beatles.’ Memes make the world go round, people. With the real-life implications of online phenomenons now becoming clear for musicians, French says it was only natural for this to take off. “Honestly, we always do that dance and always used to talk about the one thing that we’d be able to make viral, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity,” he says. “It’s got to be organic. I love doing that dance after a couple of shots of Ciroc. It’s real, it’s something that we always do, and people fall in love with stuff like that.”
Now, it’s clear that ‘Unforgettable’ and French’s intoxicated dance moves are finding a home in the most unlikely places. The challenge has even been attempted by a police officer who hopefully hasn’t been fired, with French commenting that “if they do it, you know we made it.” Furthermore, the the track received a Twitter co-sign from WWE Hall of Famer, Ric Flair. French is clearly excited about receiving a nod from the 16-time world champion, unleashing ‘WOO’ after ‘WOO’ over the phone. “Man, that’s so legendary. That was beautiful, because I’m a big Ric Flair fan. He talks that talk, he has the best talk in the game. For him to like the song, I’m going to get in contact for sure… WOO!”
While the prospect of a French Montana and Ric Flair collaboration would be the greatest tag team since The Steiner Brothers in the 90s, it would just be the latest chapter in his remarkably expansive career. French has collaborated with New York street-level heroes including Max B and Remy Ma, as well as the city’s Golden Era legends like Nas and Puff Daddy. But while he hails from the birthplace of hip-hop, French has also found a home in the South, following in the footsteps of Bronx colleagues like Fat Joe. In contrast to more rugged anthems like ‘Shot Caller’ and a plethora of mixtape jams, his debut album Excuse My French is heavy on club-ready trap bangers that encourage irresponsible materialistic purchases, throwing any sense of subtlety straight out the window.
“I took a lot of heat for that, for being able to do a lot of things and not let people put me in a box. I felt like I could’ve chosen to be in that one box, like ‘Oh, he’s a lyrical rapper’ – I wasn’t going to be able to capture the moment of me being a big global artist,” he says. “So I was like, you know what? I’m already from Africa, I lived there for 13 years, I moved to the Bronx, and I had the chance to go and be with Debrah Antney – she was managing Waka Flocka and Gucci Mane at the same time. I got a little bit of everything.”
After adopting a more Southern-centric sound, French answered his critics the best way he knew how – with more heaters. “When you make a hit, all of that goes out the window,” he says. With ‘Unforgettable’ offering a sonic curve ball of sorts from French, it’s setting the stage for a sequel titled ‘No Pressure’ featuring Future, and one hell of an album. “Artists usually say their second album is their first album – you’ve learned the game, and you mould everything that you have learned in the process of the grind and the hustle… you’re more in a comfortable state. I feel like it’s my best work, and I know a lot of people say that, but I really feel like it’s my best work ever,” he says.
And while an Australian tour featuring French, Akon and T.I. was due back in 2013 before being unsurprisingly cancelled, there haven’t been any murmurs since – so when will we be able to yell ‘Ocho Cinco’ in sweaty harmony while surrounded by XL tall tees and upside-down twerking? “Man, I would love to go there, but right now there’s nothing in the plans… I know for a fact, with this global record we just put out, I have to go there… The closest I’ve been to Australia is Iggy Azalea,” he says.
And yes, we can all breathe a sigh of relief – we have confirmation from the man himself that Julius Ceasar will be in attendance at French’s eventual Australian shows, whenever they may be: “He’s always around. He will forever be around. That’s my baby, that’s one of my kids… I’m gonna bring him out with a kangaroo.”