French Montana is having his moment. His song "Pop That" is a certified hit, he's popularized the phrase "fanute," and his debut album, Excuse My French, is supposed to drop before the year is over.
Although his success seems sudden, French didn't just drop a YouTube video that went viral and catch a million dollar check. Instead, his rise comes from years of grinding that started back when he was slanging Cocaine City DVDs in the streets during the early 2000s.
When French recently visited the Complex office to chat, he dropped more than a few gems about why beefing in 2012 makes no sense, his Coke Boys crew, and where he thinks 50 Cent misstepped in his career.
Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
When we were doing your 10 Coke Boy Lessons, I thought it was interesting you said to avoid beef.
Yeah. You can’t beef with people because it’ll scare money away. In the streets you can strong arm people and take money but you can’t do that in the industry.
Right, because in the streets beef is way to expand your territory. Before, like with 50 Cent, beef used to be good for business. But now, beef is bad for business.
That’s why I stay away from it.
Is that why you’re one the few rappers that’s cool with all the big crews?
I used to be enemies with everybody, now I’m just cool with everybody. You have to learn you get more money like that.
Is that why you avoid some of the situations? I look at someone like Pusha saying Lil Wayne’s Dedication 4 isn’t that good. Whereas you, you have Wayne on your songs but you rolled with Kanye before and then you also hang out with Rick Ross. It seems like avoiding beef has been a conscious decision.
Yeah, you have to. I feel like you have to expand. But when you beef, you put negative energy out there and it brings negative energy back. When you put something positive out there, it brings positive energy back. I feel like if you want to beef go to the streets, beef with niggas that really wanna beef. If you have nothing to live for. Beef is not about money.
[With rap] it’s like, you ain’t going to see them people you beefing with. You lying. You got security, you're never at the same events. It’s like you beefing in a smart way if you’re trying to come up. Then it’s like a competition, you know like a battle rap. But if you want to battle rap you might as well call Fight Club, get to battle rapping. Don’t act like you want problems.
You should avoid beef if you trying to make money. People get scared when you try to beef with people. In general, [even in street shit] nobody want to stand next to you if somebody about to shoot you, unless you have a a big lick [Ed. Note—A "lick" means a hustle.] They [used to] do that with 50 because 50 was the bank. They knew he was going to win. People ain’t doing that [anymore].
Pusha T and Lil Wayne's beef ain’t nothing serious. If [Wayne] feels like [it’s real beef] then you know Baby would have got involved. Things like that, it’s good for hip-hop. If nobody got shot, it ain’t beef. Ain’t nothing easier than catching up to someone that puts flyers saying where they’re going to be at.
Because the rap game isn’t built that way anymore.
No, it’s over for that. It’s gone, big time. They’ll get you out so fast.
I feel like with you, you’ve seen the game change the last few years and you’ve found your lane. I think this is the right moment for you. If you were coming out when 10 years ago, they would told you to start beef because that would have been good for your career.
Nah they can’t. That shit don’t help. Shit comes and leaves. It’s like a cycle, now is the peaceful time, but the beef time will come. Most of the people that’s big in the game, that’s from the streets, don’t believe in that. People don’t really handle their beef like that. They handle it a different way.
That reminds me The Godfather. When they’re at war and Clemenza says, “These things gotta happen every five years or so, 10 years. Helps to get rid of the bad blood. Been 10 years since the last one.” The last time we had it was when 50 went to war with everyone.
That was 10 years ago.
It’s getting real close to coming back.
[Laughs.] Well all the seeds have been planted where they are, they just gotta sprout up. Do you think it will come back soon?
I’m thinking, with who? That’s what I’m saying, like and who will have powerful enough music, you feel what I’m saying? Who will have that powerful music to really do it? To really shake the streets up.
Well, when you look at the big rap crews today you have MMG but I think they’ve sort of avoided it. Whereas I think Young Money and G.O.O.D. Music, and like I mention before with Pusha and Wayne, they’ve had that back and forth for like forever, but it never kinda went full fledged.
For some people it’s competition for them. It’s good for hip-hop.
Right. You see that as more straight-up rap shit?
Yeah. Pusha T and Lil Wayne's [beef] ain’t nothing serious. If Wayne feels like [it’s real beef] then you know Baby would have got involved. Things like that, it’s good for hip-hop. If nobody got shot, it ain’t beef.
Well, I hope no one gets shot.
Ain’t nothing easier than catching up to someone that puts up flyers saying where they’re going to be at.
[Laughs.] That’s right.
You could just go on the Internet and find out where he’s going to be at for the next month. Where he’s doing promo, etc. There might just be a banana at the front of the door.
Switching gears, let’s talk about your album. Are you still working on it or is it done?
I’m going to have the best album of the decade. I have Max B talking, then the No Way Out intro with Puff. I got the Weeknd. I have song called “Marble Floors” that’s me, Wayne, and Ross.
I have a song with M.I.A. I have a song with Nicki Minaj. I got Lana Del Rey and Wiz Khalifa on one song. It’s going to be a classic album. I have Mac Miller and Curren$y on one song. I have a song with Movado that’s so crazy. I have a song with Puff, Jeremiah, and Fab. I have Ma$e. Rico Love, Harry Fraud. It’s going to be classical. I have Max B.
Is that new Max B or just over the phone?
Nah, it’s stuff I had that I never put out. I loved it so much, I saved it for my album. I knew this day was coming.
The Weeknd is a very elusive person. How you manage to get him?
You just gotta hang out with me one day. I don’t think he’s elusive to get, I just think he’s real. If he don’t like you or he feels some kinda way, then he don’t want to do nothing with you.
It’s like doing a song with Prince, he ain’t going to do a song with you at all. I know it’s more than just music. When me and Weeknd hang out, we don’t even talk about music. We be kicking it at the crib with each other. People I make music with, I have real relationships with.
What about someone like M.I.A.?
That was the only person that I was a fan and I found the perfect record for. It was just left field. I feel like everybody has the same people on their singles and their songs. Like oh, it’s French Montana and Lil’ Wayne, French Montana and Nicki Minaj. Then I was like, let me do something that’s left field.
Not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I just wanted to do something that would make people sit back like, “What made him do that?” From afar nobody knows who’s who. You look at the game and all these songs that are out, you look at top ten, and nobody knows who’s who, nobody looks different. Except for the artists that’s featuring.
How did you get all these people? You seem to be able to secure a lot of relationships.
I’m the underdog and everybody wants the underdog to win. I feel like people have seen where I come from. When you come around me, it’s not fake, it’s the real. I guess a lot of people you be around, it’s not really them. It’s their man that’s sitting next to them, whispering in his ear every two minutes, telling him what to do.
You know if you follow our history you’ll know it’s like, from when we started until now, we’ve been good. We’re not the hottest, we’re not number one, but guess what? Everyday that goes by, we getting bigger and bigger. So I would rather do that, then come in and have a short run. I’d rather have a Cash Money run. Not to say that in a bad way, but 50 Cent could have been a lot bigger.
Of course. I feel like beef hurt him. I feel like it helped Ross unite people. That’s why Maybach Music is one of the biggest labels. It just makes sense.
Do you think Ross will have a longer run than 50 did?
Of course, Ross is on his fifth album. And like I said, he’s only getting bigger. This is going to be Ross’ first platinum album. He never went platinum. So when 50 came up, 50 sold 10 million. Then after his first album he just kept on going down. You think 50 could come out and sell 10 million now?
No, not really.
See, so it’s not where you start from, it’s where you end up at. You learn a lot about the game when you in it. It helps you pace yourself.
That’s real insight right there. Does that come from being in the game a long time?
I’ve seen it all. From the Cocaine City DVDs, with me just putting the DVDs together, watching everybody before they came or left. I was watching. You watch every rapper come and go and you gotta learn from that. You gotta learn when to strike and what to do.
50 Cent could have been a lot bigger. I feel like beef hurt him. Ross is on his fifth album, he’s only getting bigger. This is going to be Ross’ first platinum album. 50 came up, sold 10 million. Then after his first album he just kept on going down. You think 50 could come out and sell 10 million now?
Speaking of the changes in hip-hop. I feel like rap is very different than it was 10 years ago because it’s much less street oriented. Where do you fit into this now because you make street music in an era where street music isn’t the go-to of hip-hop?
It gotta come from somebody to bring it back. I feel like me, with the Coke Boyz movement that I got going, at least for New York, [I can bring it back]. I feel like if I could wish for one thing, I would wish to shut the whole fucking Internet off the week my album come out. So people that really love music will buy it. Just leave iTunes on.
Just shut the whole fucking Internet off for one week. Just for the first week.
Complex Media Network doesn’t though right?
Nah, no disrespect everybody.
Everybody. I feel like nobody is going to go buy music when you can get it for free. People dropping mixtapes everyday. It’s not an album. Back when it was like a real album, you really had to go get the booklet and look through everything. Now it’s just like Datpiff, LiveMixtapes.
That brings up another thing I wanted to ask. I always like to ask artists this too, the transition from making a mixtape to making an album.
My fingers is itching to just drop a mixtape today.
Yeah I wish I could go smack songs together and here ya go, here’s a mixtape. But I can’t because you give people too much music they don’t want to buy your album. Make people miss you, I feel like that counts.
Is the process of making an album different for you? Are you thinking more, you know I have to make a song that’s radio friendly?
Not really. When I made “Pop That” it wasn’t radio friendly.
But “Pop That” has gotten quite a bit of radio play.
But I didn’t make it as a radio [hit]. When you hear it, it’s just having fun. I’m not going pop. Obviously growing up in New York, it was gangsta music. Everything I ever listened to that came out of New York—Mobb Depp, Fat Joe, Big Pun, Jay-Z, Nas—everybody was gangsta. So I wouldn’t know how to come in a different way.
And that’s where you see yourself going?
Yeah, but it’s just putting your own twist to it. I feel like you get a platform and it’s up to you to do whatever with it. That’s when you know what people’s motivation and passion, you know what it really is. Once you get into a position to say I did this, so I can own the Nets. I did this, I can open up these businesses. I did this, so I could just keep rapping. Some people just want to rap.
What do you want to do? Do you just want to rap or do you want to own businesses?
I just want to do everything I love. That would be the best way I can explain it. If I do everything I love, I’ll just be happy. You know, I love music, so I’m doing music. Maybe I love doing porn, I’ll do whatever the fuck it is. If it makes you happy you just gotta do it. [Laughs.]
Why don’t you ask my publicist she love making me look good? She love doing her job. She love making people look good. As long as everything you do in life is like that, you’ll be a successful person. Don’t be forced to do something you don’t want to do. It’s just momentary. You doing it for now, it’s just a stepping stone for you to get somewhere else.