18. French Montana
Label: Coke Boys/Bad Boy/Maybach Music Group/Interscope
From: The Bronx, New York
Active Since: 2002
Latest Release: Excuse My French
Recent Single: "Freaks" f/ Nicki Minaj
French went from "that guy from the Cocaine City DVDs" to "Max's sidekick" to a star in his own right by following a tortoise-style path: Slow and steady. And his rise from New York underground artist to the toast of his native Bronx wasn't entirely predictable, either; the rapper's distinctive slur has given him national appeal at a time when many NYC rappers play to hometown crowds alone.
French has had a bevy of successful hits over the course of the last couple years, from the street anthem "Chopper Down" to the wheelhouse throwback sound of "Shot Caller" with producer Harry Fraud to the strip club anthem "Pop That." His sense for melody gives his gravelly choruses extra dramatic heft. And, when he wants to, the rapper has bars, despite all arguments to the contrary; witness his verse on 2012's "Headquarters," 2011's Casino Life outro, or 2010's "Money, Weed, Blow."
He's also got a major-label LP released, which is more than many of the other rappers on this list can say. What doesn't he have? A successful one, so far. French's first week sales were nominal, particularly for an artist with guests of the Nicki Minaj caliber.
French Montana indisputably belongs on this list; he just headlined Summer Jam and remains New York's biggest contemporary artist not named A$AP. But his recent LP, which felt like something of a concession to mainstream club sounds, feels more anonymous than a French Montana album should. —David Drake
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