By Datwon Thomas
Easy, breezy. That’s the aura you get around one, Karim Kharbouch aka French Montana. The Bronx, NY raised but Moroccan born rap star is about as laid back as it gets. It’s an equally chill out day in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn for DJ Khaled’s video for “They Don’t Love You No More (Remix)”. With Khaled’s crew and the other featured artist, Remy Ma’s hair/make-up/styling/family/friends in attendance, French’s sizable entourage is in tow as well. His seems to be a carefree bunch. The collective rolls under the Coke Boys tag. It’s an take off of French’s long shuttered street DVD series Cocaine City, where he showcased rapper interviews, interspersed with his own music clips as well. Now with Cocaine City Records sitting well in partnership with his artist deal on Rick Ross’ Maybach Music AND Diddy aka Puff’s Bad Boy Records, there’s not much you can tell the money making machine named Montana. Especially since his debut album, 2013’s Excuse My French, spawned the hits “Pop Dat” and “Ain’t Worried Bout Nuttin’”, the frequent feature artist is a mainstay on the collab train…just check his two songs on Jennifer Lopez’s new album, JLo.
Focusing his efforts on releases from his own team in Chicago’s wild cowboy, Lil’ Durk and Far Rockaway, New York’s Chinx, French isn’t phased by the recent rumor mill concerning a certain Kardashian he knows intimately. Still on set, the CBs talk amongst themselves, cracking inside jokes and wait for the director to start the action. Once the clip is done, the close friends roundup and try to figure out where the next spot is to turn up for real: “Hey Chinx, you want to pop some bottles?” says Boss Montana. Before the understudy can respond in full, French announces to all by their rides, “We going to La Marina!” It’s a summertime Sunday in NY, where else would they be going? Haaaan!
New project time, what’s the deal with that energy for the new album? Seems like you are flying around a lot for it, especially to LA.
Yeah, I’m back and forth. Name of the album is Mac With The Cheese. Dropping 4th quarter, like Black Friday or right after. “Don’t Panic” just came out. Working on Lil Durk album, on Chinx album. We got [producer] Harry Fraud, he’s the executive producer on the album.
How’s the approach to this album verses the last?
I just want to do what I was doing as far like the Mac N’ Cheese [mixtape] series. For my fans, my core audience. I feel like when I did the last album, even though it was a classic album, it was my first album. I wanted to touch like everybody. I wanted to do a song for him, a song for him. This one I just want to do what I know how to do.
You seem to have fun on records. It almost sounds like you’re smiling when you rap.
I mean that’s the mood I’m in all the time. It be times when you are going through things in life and you just want to put them out through the music. [But] for the most part, I love making music happy. I love going in there with positive energy.
It’s rare that we see you down or even upset. Like when there were things going down with you and 50, you even kept that light hearted. He’s aggressive to every rapper, it was kind of your turn and you were still upbeat about it.
Definitely, definitely. It’s like a sport. Sometimes you gotta take care of things like you know how. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the music at the same time.
You were a businessman, with selling your Cocaine City DVDs, before you got into the music full time. How did that experience help you when it came time for you to be an artist?
I learned about this game. Putting all the hours in and working on certain parts, but when I realized that the hustle meant 70%…the hustle is the most important part. That has to be in you. When I was coming up, just looking at Master P, looking at Jay, looking at all the entrepreneurs. Even Baby, even Puff, if you look at them it’s like they rap, but they got their business right before anything. That’s what motivated me coming into the game.
Everybody knew you from the DVD business. How hard was it to get them to know you from the music?
I mean, the whole point of me doing DVDs was to do the music. If you look at Cocaine City Vol. 1, I’m right in there right? Then Volumes 2, 3, 4, by the time 5 come on it was like, “Alright, French rapping.” I didn’t do it for no other reason but to get where I want. I had a plan from the start.
During that era, is that when you linked with now incarcerated rapper Max B or was it before that?
How we linked up…I think a friend of mine knew his family and he would tell me about him and this and that. So he was in the studio one day and ever since me and him met, we just clicked. It goes back to just him being happy in the studio. He a funny nigga. You’ll be with him and laugh all day, just coolin’. We just clicked. Started getting money or whatever. You’ve got to surround yourself with positive people sometimes. You don’t want no fuck boys sitting next to you all day. That’s why I click with most people, cus you got to be a positive dude. Like whatever come out your mouth, your energy and everything.
Akon was in your early career, then Diddy and Ross were fighting over who is going to put your album out. It’s rare for an artist that’s not necessarily considered lyrical, to have them fighting over you like that.
Honestly, if you look at from the beginning I used to be battling and doing all this shit. I used to really be into my pen game. After a while, you know how Hov said, “I dumbed down my flow to triple my salary”? [Ed. Note: It’s “I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars.”] See my music is always a lifestyle. Like when you hear Rozay or when you hear, whoever it is that lives that kind of lifestyle and they rap about it. That’s the kind of rap I grew up loving. If you really listen to BIG and really listen to Pac, they never really was saying nothing too crazy, but the swag and lifestyle is what made them legends. If you play Biggie and you play Canibus, ain’t no way you gonna be like, “Biggie is killing Canibus.” Cuz that’s what Canibus do. He gonna tell you how big is the Sun, you know? All that crazy shit.
So you make more lifestyle music, by making joints that feel good rather than only sound like the lyrical miracle type shit.
Exactly. I wanted to be that nigga that niggas woke up and wanted to look like. If you listen to some of these lyrical rappers now that are lyrical and this and that, you never hear anybody say, “I’m wearing this sweater cus this nigga wearing it.” [Laughs]. It’s only music. It stops there. It’s not like a lifestyle with it.
You’ve created a lifestyle with Coke Boys. How’d you come up with that?
I just took Cocaine City and flipped it to Coke Boys and get it as a label. Then put all my niggas on. Rap is just the stepping stool to everything else. Definitely want to spread your wings and get into whatever fits you. I definitely want to get into films. That’s my next thing. I always believed in visuals.
When did you know things were about to change? Was it when you were down with Akon or when “Pop Dat” got busy or when Mac N Cheese [mixtapes] rocked?
When I got my first check.
From the Coke Boys or the rap game?
The rap game, when I got my deal. I was like, “Ok, that’s all I needed.”
I know on the “Hot Nigga” freestyle you say, “Got my first mill’ started tweakin’”.
Ha, I did. When I got up with Puff and he gave me that million dollars, I looked back like, “I’ll see all you niggas later.” God damn it.
What’s the difference in lifestyle with that? You go from coach flights to private strips. It wasn’t always like that. Your Instagram shows the lifestyle.
It’s just growth. When you grind to the top and you come from nothing, no hand out, just build it up…that feeling is more than money. Of course the money makes it better but when you look around at everybody, “you can never make me.” All you can do is help me, help you. That feeling when you do it on your own is a whole other feeling. At the end of the day it’s like, once you elevate, every year you elevate. My thing is as long as I make $10 more than I made last year, I’m good. Ever since I started in the game I’ve gotten better and better every year.
Your associations have jumped up too though. It’s a wild time for you being in People Magazine and TMZ follows you after your relationship with Khloe Kardashian. That’s not rap level attention. What kind of level is that?
It’s just growth. Elevating. Next year is going to be bigger that last and [so on]. Since I dropped my album, that’s my first album, the world started knowing me. After that, everybody been asking me what I’m going to do with the next album. And everything else in between, you know people gossiping and want to know what’s going on in your life…you know, regular industry shit.
How have you dealt with it though. That’s kind of tough for somebody like you who’s been pretty private.
Mad niggas talked about me in the hood all day. I’m used to it. It goes from hood niggas, niggas on the block talking about you, to People Magazine talking about you. There’s no difference. I just keep it moving. I just make sure…you got to make sure your shit is like a motherfucking vault. You don’t let nothing from the outside get in. I mean look, ain’t nothing wrong with making a mistake. You ain’t a boss until you took a loss, but you got to learn how to move sharper. That’s why I keep people like Puff and Ross around me. If it really get crazy I just make that phone call. “Should I do this, should I do that…”, you know what I mean?
Check out the French Montana’s photo-shoot in the Respect Digital app: here.
And be on the look out for the conclusion to the interview shortly.
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