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French Montana, flush from having just inked the dotted line with P. Diddy’s Bad Boy label, has just stepped out of the Who’s Up Next barbershop in Miami’s South Beach area. But while Bad Boy is plotting something of a resurgence, having also this year snapped up rapid-fire white rap firebrand Machine Gun Kelly, Montana’s spell of being raised in the Bronx has burdened him with that most clichéd challenge of bringing hip-hop back to New York. It’s a millstone Montana says doesn’t bother him—but one he’s determined to live up to.
Montana was raised in Morocco (his family moved to New York when he was aged 13), and his ascent to rolling with Puff has been a street-oriented rise. The early 2000s saw him creating his Cocaine City DVD series, which spread in popularity to the point where he was courted and signed in some form by Akon’s Konvict label. That didn’t work out—and a further blip came when he was passed over for a spot on XXL magazine’s roster of 2011 freshmen, a snub that he went on the radio to vent about. But now Montana is Bad Boy certified and riding high off the success of his single “Shot Caller,” which on the production tip is something of a tribute to Lords Of The Underground’s ’90s anthem “Funky Child.” We caught up with him to talk about being an early part of the new Bad Boy revolution.
When you signed the deal with Bad Boy, how did you celebrate?
Man, I got some rest! I celebrate every day—that’s just me, how I am. So after this deal was wrapped up I just wanted to get some rest.
How long were Bad Boy courting you for?
Since I got hot, like probably about a year ago. It’s been a while.
Were other labels interested? There was talk for a long time that you were going to sign to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group.
Yeah, I mean once the first one kicks in, everyone else follows. That’s just how this industry is. And yeah, MMG was in there, and I’m a fan of Ross, so if Bad Boy wasn’t right I’d have probably gone there. But I’ve got Ross executive producing my album anyway.
Why pick Bad Boy over the other labels?
It was a mixture of things we talked about. It was mainly making sure my business was right and they’d do me right.
What do you remember about Diddy the first time you met him?
Just it was everything that I’d heard about him. You know how you hear about a person and then you get to meet them and you want to meet them for yourself and experience it? That’s how it was with Diddy.
Did he give you any early advice about your career?
Just work. He didn’t really give me specific advice. You don’t want that when you already know it yourself what you want to do. He just told me to work, and I know that.
Do you feel part of a new generation at Bad Boy, with other new signings like Machine Gun Kelly?
Yeah, it’s a new adventure. People might not believe in it or they might believe in it, but people already know about it. That’s important.
Were you worried that signing with Bad Boy might be like signing with Akon’s label all over again where you just sat on the shelf?
Nah, the deal with Akon was a shopping deal, it wasn’t a real record deal. This with Bad Boy is my first real album deal.
There’s been a lot of talk about you bringing New York hip-hop back; on your press release you’re quoted as saying, “I wanted to do this for New York rap, and who better than Diddy to help me bring New York rap back.” Do you feel that strongly about it?
New York is coming back and I’m excited to be a part of that. You know Puff is a man to make that happen with the New York and Harlem thing. Everyone’s talking about bringing New York back and we definitely have that pride that means we want to bring it back. No one really cares about New York at the moment because of the rise of the south. But it’s not just me. Now we just need to produce good music.
Is New York hip-hop really in that bad of a state?
I don’t think so. We have a lot of talent but other places have a lot of talent now too.
Which other New York rappers do you feel are on the same mission?
Meek Mill—I’m talking about the whole east coast here—and Uncle Murda and Fred Da Godson. We got a lot of rappers here.
You said Rick Ross is executive producing your album. Do you think that will help you appeal to both New York rap fans and the south?
Nah, I collaborate with everyone—I work with Waka Flocka, with Bun B, with Juicy J—and it’s just good music. That’s the criteria. Rick Ross don’t even sound like he’s from down south. I just believe in music.
You moved to New York when you were 13 years old. Were you listening to hip-hop before then?
Yeah, like 2Pac, Biggie, Snoop Dogg. It was the old school.
What was the biggest culture change you noticed when you moved to the Bronx?
In the Bronx it was just the change of culture. Me being from African culture, I had to pick up that speed.
What was the most surprising difference you noticed?