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GEN F: French Montana

photographer Bryan Derballa

French Montana wasn’t at the Bergen County, New Jersey courthouse the day Max B was convicted on nine counts of felony murder, kidnapping, robbery and conspiracy. But in the weeks preceding the verdict, Montana woke up far earlier than he likes to, put on a suit just like the one he wears on the cover of Coke Wave—his breakthrough mixtape with Max and producer Dame Grease—and stood behind Max in what very well may have been his last hours as a free man.

For the past two years, Grease, Max B and French Montana have rarely made music without each other. The result has been a wholly focused resurgence of New York City street life in rap—or maybe more accurately, the other way around. Montana’s delivery is a nasal deadpan over Grease’s dense apocalyptic soul, carrying tales of cocaine calamity like a barge full of trash spinning in the East River. A Bronx native by way of Morocco, Montana also once faced a murder charge, the result of an altercation in which he was shot in the head, and the finality of Max’s case isn’t easy for him to discuss. “That’s a sad situation,” he says, sulking deep into his chair. “All we can do is work hard and keep the wave going.” His voice hardens. “He ain’t dead…so as long as there’s a will there’s a way.”

Before now, the way had been countless hours in home studios, well documented on YouTube, listening to instrumentals, drinking Hennessy, recording verses and making fun of ex-Dipset affiliate Hell Rell. However counterproductive for rising stars, beef is what brought the three together—Montana and Max became fast friends in their mutual distaste for Byrdgang point man Jim Jones. Dame Grease, renowned for his work on DMX’s seminal debut It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, had long soured on the industry politricks of placing beats, but was invigorated by the tandem. Together they make music for standing in front of bodegas for hours on end. “Shit is like a bike,” Montana says of the trio’s working relationship. “One nigga pedaling, one nigga’s the chain, one nigga’s the handle. That’s how shit go.”

Montana, now far removed from the pledges of street life, has made friends within the industry, recently signing with Akon’s Konvict Musik. “One thing, man. You can be Bin Laden out this motherfucker,” he says. “You make one hot song, everybody gonna come and jump on your dick.” After announcing his label deal in late March, Montana released six hot songs in the form of the Laundry Man EP. On the standout single, “New York Minute,” Montana sounds like his raps were filtered through a Yankees fitted. Though proud, “New York Minute” is darker and more threatening than anything on New York radio today, lending credence to Montana’s claims of his inner circle as sole influence. “If we not listening to our [own] shit, we listening to beats, writing,” he says. “I ain't got time to listen to another nigga. We stuck in our own wave.”

Stream: French Montana, French Revolution

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GEN F: French Montana