ARTICLE PATRIK SANDBERG
PHOTOGRAPHY BJARNE JONASSON
STYLIST TOM VAN DORPE
"It was two days ago. But, you know, my birthday lasts for a week or a month.” French Montana is in Miami, where he’s come to celebrate his twenty-eighth year on earth. But then the musician’s life year-round tends to come across as one epic, neverending party. It was during the last year that Montana “made it” on a mainstream scale, thanks to numerous rap features on songs with Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, Diddy, Waka Flocka Flame, Chief Keef, and A$AP Rocky, among others. His breakout song, “Pop That,” featuring Drake and Lil Wayne, came complete with a hyphy, scream-chanting refrain and an opulent video starring bikini-clad girls poolside at a mansion, both of which helped propel it to number two on the U.S. Rap and R&B charts—no modest achievement for a debut single. In the next few months, the rapper’s headlining prowess will be tested further, when he releases his first official album, the long-anticipated Excuse My French from Maybach Music Group and Bad Boy Records.
“It was just me sitting back and making my situation work for me the best way it can,” French says of the two labels coming together (initially each competed to sign him, but ultimately they came to the unusual decision to share the honor). “I got myself hot to the point where I could demand what I want. It kinda worked like that. If I had been a new artist, there would have been zero percent chance I could have made that happen.” Indeed, despite his sudden rise, the boisterous, Moroccan-born emcee is no rookie, having released 20 mixtapes with his group, Coke Boys, since 2007, and collaborating on dozens of songs with other artists. “I guess they measure you by successes,” he says of the media’s tendency to label him as a new artist. “As soon as you have a success, they say, ‘Oh, this is the new cat.’ You never know all the history that people have.”
It’s no surprise that French’s history was not always bidding wars among labels or mansions in South Beach. Born Karim Kharbouch in Rabat, Morocco, French emigrated to the Bronx at the age of 12. He describes his teenage years there as “the hustler life,” where he made ends meet any way he knew how, in order to support his family. “If you wanna make anything out of yourself, you gotta have a hustle,” he explains. “As soon as you’d come downstairs, there would be people selling this and that, selling T-shirts, people selling…” He trails off, but it’s not difficult to fill in the blank. One fateful day, during some type of deal gone awry, French was shot in the back of the head. Miraculously, the bullet entered and exited through his scalp, and he survived.
Today, he’s inarguably one of the industry’s best-loved personalities, known as much for his humor and positive attitude as for his party-starting verses and trademark Versace scarf ensembles. “I learned something a couple of years ago when I got shot,” he says. “I learned that you’re the only person that can make yourself happy. Nobody’s got control over what happens in life. So I feel like, if you’re not going to make yourself happy, nobody else can.” Wise words from someone who literally pulled himself up off the pavement and came out on top. Of the album, he says, “I feel like it’s a record that will be around for years. It’s going to be the best party record that’s come out in a long time. Nobody is gonna believe what I’m going to do. You know when something comes along and smacks people in the face and they don’t expect it? This record is everything you never thought it was going to be, and that’s what it will be.”
Excuse My French is available March 12th from Bad Boy/Interscope
Hair Roberto Di Cuia (L’Atelier NYC) Grooming Asami Taguchi (L’Atelier NYC) Photo Assistants Joey Trisolini and Stephen Wordie retouching bespoke digital Location Jack Studio