Better Than: Keeping track of when Excuse My French is finally coming out.
French Montana has three glittering chains around his neck (one of which is a jewel-studded Pillsbury Doughboy), a pinkie ring so large and sparkly I consider whether it’s been wholly carved out of a giant diamond, and fresh Ray Bans he leaves on most of the time to guard from the glare of the camera flashes popping incessantly whenever there’s an open shot. It’s very obvious that he is a person whose life is vastly different than yours or mine. But there’s another accoutrement that humanizes him, oddly enough: A black e-cigarette with a glowing blue tip, the kind you can buy for just under $15 at any bodega, which he surreptitiously takes drags from every now and then in consideration of the club’s no-smoking rule.
In that e-cigarette puff, French is like anyone else hanging out at HiLo on a Tuesday night, a guy just trying to have a regular night out with his boys. Only his consists of spandex clad waitresses lining up to fill his cup with assorted bottles of Ciroc, and there’s an entire club full of people staring at him over a partition like he’s trapped in a department store display. He’s the man of the hour, feted in celebration of the impending release of his long gestating debut album, Excuse My French, which has been pushed back for months and months until finally settling on an absolutely-happening-no-buts-about-it date of May 21.
A related story that functions as an epigraph for rap game bureaucracy: In between interviewing him in January, when he said Excuse would be coming out in March, and the interview going up a week later, I was informed by his publicist that the release date had moved to April. (It changed again, obviously.) In case we doubt it’s coming given all the delays, there are copies of the CD circling around the club’s high level patrons, one of which makes its way into French’s back pocket. After a brief delay due to a problem with the sound system, French takes the mic to thank everyone for coming. “I see a lot of faces in here that watched me rise from the bottom to the top,” he says before introducing the first song, “Once in a While,” which features incarcerated buddy Max B via crackling prison phone recording.
Cracks were made on Twitter when an early track list was leaked showing only a few guest appearances out of 18 tracks, because who could listen to French rap solo for that long? (A subsequent listing revealed guests like Rick Ross, The Weeknd, Drake, Raekwon and Nicki Minaj, among others, and the number of tracks was cut down to 13.) I can make out literally almost none of the lyrics to “Once in a While” outside of the hook because the waveform coming out of the speakers is more or less a solid brick but the music sounds cinematic in its grandiosity. One of the songs, “Paranoid,” is produced by Chief Keef collaborator Young Chop, the beat such a monolithic head rattler that French beckons the DJ to play it twice. Another, “Ballin’ Out,” pulls Jeremih from the pile of R&B singers for an affecting hook. Pop That” is buried toward the end, even though it came out 11 months ago, and garners the largest response from the crowd. There are tracks of all kinds on the record, which if received well will announce him as more than a guy who coined a fake word, whose most popular song is a silly stripper anthem.
French ad libs an introduction before every track, weaving the song’s lyrics into each explanatory monologue in an endearing way that recalls the moment in any James Bond movie where they not-so-casually speak the movie title in the dialogue. (Example: “A lot of blogs were saying French Montana can’t rap by himself, so I called up Earl & E to send me a beat. They sent me a beat, and I wasn’t worried about nothin'” feeds into “Ain’t Worried About Nothin’.”) The crowd continues to swell around the VIP section–I spot a few people furiously inputting hashtags like #cokeboyz and #excusemyfrench on the Instagrams they’re taking–until the area is so dense with bodies that he feels comfortable enough to take off his shades, since no camera flashes are getting through the thicket.
Surrounded by an entourage that knows all the words to all his songs and is clearly stoked to belt them out in a live setting, French holds court above all who come to visit–a gesticulating publicist, the rapper Eve who poses for photos through one and a half songs–as the sound system continues to flicker on and off. His ad libs get boozier and boozier as the night wears on, until he’s dropping his trademark “HAAN!” in most of his sentences. “That shit blow the mother fucking speakers out or what?” he asks after the second time the music shuts off. “Please don’t tell me–aiiiiiight,” he says when the speakers die out a third time before immediately starting back up again. (There’s a metaphor there about how we’re having to wait even longer to hear the album.) He’s having fun like a normal person might, despite all the pageantry, which is enough to make the evening more about the party than the listening.
Critical Bias: French was thoughtful enough to ask me whether I wanted a sandwich during the interview we were conducting. (I declined.)
Random Notebook Dump: FutureShirt/LoudSounds (while marveling at someone wearing a hybrid leopard print/acid wash button-down with spikes on the shoulder)