I interviewed my brother French Montana for AllHipHop.com. Read it in full below, via AHH!
With New York rap fighting for relevance, very few rappers are truly helping change the reality for the Big Apple. However, the underground scene has bred a handful of potential candidates in recent years, and Konvict Musik‘s French Montana may just be the help that New York needs.
People may only know him from the widely successful Cocaine City DVD series he started back in 2002, but his gritty, street style of rap finally has people paying attention. It caught the ear of Akon, and now French is the next up on the platinum recording artist’s imprint. AllHipHop.com gets the latest from French on everything from growing up in Africa to how he feels about longtime friend and frequent collaborator Max B‘s jail sentence.
AllHipHop.com: Where did the name French Montana originate from?
French Montana: A lot of people don’t realize I come from Morocco in North Africa; born and raised. I was over there until I was 13. France had tried to take over Morocco, not in my time obviously, but there are still influences there from the French culture. So when I came over here, the name French just kind of stuck with me. Then the Montana thing, I just picked it up. There’s the whole cocaine connotation from the name of my DVD series with Tony Montana, plus I kind of bare a resemblance in the skin tone. So I tacked that on to the French part and voila, you got French Montana, the Macaroni With The Cheese!
AllHipHop.com: What were the living conditions that you faced while in Africa?
French Montana: It was horrible. It was a third world country. It was pathetic, honestly. There wasn’t too much to do but to turn to selling drugs and even then it was still tough. It was wild. I don’t want to paint the picture though that I was living with lions and all that. Like any city anywhere, if you have a lot of money, it’s a beautiful place. But for most, that’s not the case. My whole family is over there still. Just me, my mother and my little brother got over here. It’s what you make of it, though. The schools, they were messed up. My mother used to pay the teachers off just to pass me.
AllHipHop.com: So you sure it was the schools and not just you? (laughs)
French Montana: Don’t play with me! (Laughs) The schools was crazy though. Luckily my brother was able to come up through America‘s school system and have it better than I did.
AllHipHop.com: When did you come over here?
French Montana: We made the move in 1996 when I was 13. We chose the Bronx because it just seemed accessible to everything. And the rest is history.
AllHipHop.com: You built an empire of sorts off the Cocaine City DVD series. How did you get started in that lane? What made you want to do that?
French Montana: Being in the Bronx, being in New York in general, you’re bound to always be around someone doing something in music. Just through knowing people and being in the right place at the right times, I had gotten some good footage, and I knew some of my people had gotten some good footage too. I had already been rapping for a couple years just as a hobby, and I thought about it like if I put together a DVD of big name artists that people want to see, I can throw myself in on it too and promote myself at the same time that I’m making money off of the other footage. No hustle makes sense to me unless you’re making money from it. I wasn’t gonna just be a rapper and be stuck all these years battling and all that making no money. The DVD thing looked like a win-win to me. So I had some money saved up just from different things, and I put it all into the first DVD. I called it Cocaine City just because cocaine is worldwide – every city has it, just like they better have my DVD. It did really well so we went for a second round, and next thing you know, I got the hottest DVD in the streets.
AllHipHop.com: You’re approaching Volume 13 now, and still seeing sales rise with each volume. What do you think made yours so successful, especially when the market was at one time so saturated with tons of street DVDs?
French Montana: I think mine did so well because I never followed anybody. I never watched anybody else – just had a plan in my head and did it my way. I’m all about visual. I watched many classic movies growing up, so I used all of my influences and put it toward my work. And it may sound cliché, but I went SO hard. That truly is the key. I drove down to Atlanta multiple times just to get some footage. I talked my way into VIPs at clubs and would just never take no for an answer. I put myself out there and it truly paid off in the end. I didn’t care how impossible it seemed for me to get some of the footage I wanted; where there’s a will there’s a way. Now look.
AllHipHop.com: When did you realize that it was time to take the shift from DVD as a priority, rapping as secondary, to the other way around?
French Montana: Once I saw the demand was there, I knew it was time to really start pushing myself as a rapper. With the first DVD, people gonna be like, ‘Who is this dude?’ Second one, they gonna be like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember him!’ Third one, they gonna be like, ‘Okay, I recognize dude now. I like his stuff.’ Then the fourth, fifth, etc., you drive that home. So by like Volume 8 or 9 with the DVDs as popular as they were, obviously my name was out there too. Cocaine City did everything for me. It opened up so many doors and it still continues to. The defining moment though was booking my first show. That’s when I was like okay, I can turn a profit now strictly from rapping. So I just started going harder than before, in the studio more than ever. I linked with Max and really turned it up. Got the deal with Akon and now I’m about to show the world what I got.
AllHipHop.com: How’d you link with Akon?
French Montana: I’ve known [the President of SRC, Akon‘s label] Gaby for so many years now. I met him right around the same time I started doing the DVDs. He always looked out for me and supported my music. One day he had been playing it around Akon, and ‘Kon heard it like, ‘Yo, who’s that?’ Gaby told him about me, and next thing I know, I’m flying out to Miami to meet with him.
AllHipHop.com: Is the deal official?
French Montana: Yes, it’s official. I’m working on my album now. The first single, the official one because “New York Minute” was kind of like the throwaway single, it drops within the next few weeks. It’s called “Married to the Streets” and it’s featuring Akon, produced by J. Cardim.
AllHipHop.com: There’s been quite a few rappers signed to Konvict, but they haven’t exactly flourished while there. Red Café, for example. How are you so sure Akon will make you a priority?
French Montana: He ain’t got a choice. I’m the hottest n***a in the street! Nah, but look at T-Pain, look at Lady Gaga, look at Kardinal Offishal; they’re all successful and yeah, Red Café isn’t a number one artist, but he still has success in his own right. Like I said earlier, things are what you make of them. I can’t rely on Akon to do everything for me. I gotta push myself too. It’s a blessing to have this opportunity, but I know this isn’t just easy street from here on. They say the hardest work comes after you sign the deal, and I’m fully prepared for it.
AllHipHop.com: In the past two years, rapper Max B was a huge part of almost everything you worked on. How did you feel when he got the guilty verdict?
French Montana: Horrible, man. That’s my n***a. Aside from all the rap stuff, that’s like my brother. It wasn’t even on no rap s**t; I lost a true friend. We’re fighting though. He should be out soon if everything goes right. There’s new evidence and a new lawyer and obviously we can’t speak on it much, but we’re staying positive.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel he was an integral part of your success?
French Montana: Of course. Our chemistry together was just crazy. People would hear me and him and would be like, ‘Yo, y’all gotta be a group!’ He had what I didn’t have and I had what he didn’t, so it just made it complete. It was a great thing for the streets because they ain’t see something like that since like Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang, you know what I mean? We’re just the 2010 version of it.
AllHipHop.com: What’s next for you?
French Montana: Everything! I got a lot of mixtapes dropping soon – Coke Wave 2 with Max B will drop first. It should be within the week or so. Then Cocaine Konvicts with Akon after that, followed by a Gangsta Grillz. Shout out to DJ Drama. Then in the midst of that, Volume 13 of the DVD is dropping too. My French Connection mixtape just hit the streets. As far as the album, I’m going to drop it as soon as I feel the streets are really ready. I really appreciate everybody’s support. I’m just a real n***a doing real things. Free Max B. Keep him in your prayers. And big thanks to AllHipHop for everything!