French Montana has enjoyed a successful rap career since emerging onto the mixtape scene years ago. Last year, the Moroccan-born, Bronx-bred MC scored his highest-charting single to date, “Unforgettable” featuring Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee. If you thought he’d be slowing down after an unforgettable year of his own, think again.
The Jungle Rules rapper was featured as one of Billboard magazine’s August 2018 cover stars, where he divulged on his music, his staying power and what it’s like to be an immigrant living in the U.S.
Read on to see five takeaways from the interview.
When he moved to The Bronx from his birthplace of Morocco in 1996, French didn’t speak a lick of English. However, a nickname from people he knew regarding his heavy accent and inspiration from an iconic film character gave us his rap name. He was called “Bonjour” because of his accent, which eventually became “French.” And the second half, Montana, came later, after the legendary Scarface lead. “Everybody knew I was the No. 1 hustler,” he said.
French’s goal was to be a basketball player, but he was unable to obtain a scholarship due to his green passport. After getting in trouble for selling drugs, he soon faced deportation if he didn’t clean up his act.
“What the f**k am I going to do now? Keep going until I get locked up again?” French says he asked himself after being locked up for two drug offenses. “That’s when I started rapping.”
At 33 years old, French Montana has a fruitful 15-year career under his belt. He attests his longevity in the game to knowing how to play it; he makes sure he’s on each wave as the new trend in visibility begins.
“When the DVD game was poppin’, I was poppin’,” he says. “When the internet took over, I was poppin’ on the internet. When the mixtape game was poppin’, I stayed on top. When I jumped into albums, I was poppin’. I think everybody gets this whole sh*t f**ked up: It’s just about music.”
The story also points out that he was using Caribbean sounds before it became a trend, highlighting that his 2013 Nicki Minaj-assisted “Freaks” sampled Jamaican duo Chaka Demus and Pliers’ 1992 classic, “Murder She Wrote,” before other artists followed suit.
Bad Boy head honcho Diddy says that he knew his signee French had a gift when he listened to his music for the first time.
“And now, to see how far he has come — he’s a major force in hip-hop and a proven hitmaker. But he’s also more than that: He’s an agent for change.”
After years of being involved in a prolonged process, French recently became a U.S. citizen. When prompted by the interviewer if there are still moments where he doesn’t feel accepted or safe, he details that things have changed in those respects. He’s thankful for the opportunities he’s had because of the better life he and his family envisioned.
“Honestly, this country is built by immigrants. So I never feel like that anymore,” he says.
He wonders aloud what life would be like for him if his mother had returned to Morocco with his father. “Who knows where I’d be right now? I’d be in Morocco, selling corn, cameras. In some countries, there’s more opportunity — but I feel like that’s only limited by how many chances you want to take.'”
Read the full cover story here.