I like French Montana a lot. I love that his voice sounds kinda like Bob Dylan. I love that one time his publicist told me the dude actually speaks fluent French. I love that someone decided it was a good idea to make at least one portable electronic hookah featuring French Montana’s name and album cover on it with a light-up diamond on the tip. And I love that I came to work one day to find that a coworker had placed it upon my desk.
What is an “art object?” Loosely, we can define the term as any single, tangible object that can be interpreted as a metaphorical recreation of or reaction to something else. Therefore, a French Montana e-cigarette is an art object in the sense that it’s an interpretation of an actual cigarette, and in the sense that by having French Montana’s name on it, it’s implied to be a metaphor for French Montana.
Now, do not ask me why a French Montana e-cigarette–er, portable electronic hookah–exists, because I couldn’t begin to tell you. Do not ask why Rick Ross rhymes the word “motherfucker” with “motherfucker” twelve times on Excuse My French‘s “Trap House,” because I don’t know that either. And whatever you do, Jadakiss, do not ask why you are even alive, because I definitely don’t know the answer to that one.
Instead, ponder this: Until the sun engulfs the earth, there will always be something inherently goofy about electronic cigarettes. They illustrate one of the great tricks of late-period capitalism, the crushing illusion that is freedom–by going electric and being able to enjoy the myriad perks of nicotine wherever they please, does a smoker assert their agency over a world telling them not to smoke inside, or are they making a tacit admission of personal weakness, acknowledging that nicotine controls them to the point where they need its sweet, fleeting respite even indoors? Everything is in conversation with everything, and we understand nothing. Agency is fluid. Agency is subjective. Agency is fucking bullshit.
Now, apply this same principle to French Montana. He accidentally invented the word “fanute” by slurring the phrase “from the hoopty coupe” beyond recognition, and had a New York Times article written about it for his trouble, and the increased attention helped latecomers realize he was a genius. His environment (aka the “Stay Schemin'” beat) dictated that he say what he wanted to say in a certain way, so he did, and then managed to change the sphere in which he operated.
French’s career has always been indicative of action and reaction, however. After emigrating to the Bronx from Morocco at the age of 13, French learned English in the streets and started hustling in all sorts of legal and extralegal ways, going from celebrated street DVD slinger to Max B creative partner (he was the Art Garfunkel to Max’s Paul Simon, at least) to centerpiece of many a Harry Fraud-produced opulent, frozen-faced coke boy anthem to this weird hybrid New York/Atlanta D-Boy to his current iteration as the world’s most coldly efficient hitmaker. His latest wave started after he and Fraud released “Shot Caller,” probably the fourth-greatest rap song of 2011 after “I’m On One,” “Dance (A$$),” and Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup.”
And that’s when French Montana’s name became synonymous with the word “banger.” He scored another hit last year with “Pop That,” so French decided that his entire album should sound like “Pop That.” If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, y’know? So now, a year later, we have Excuse My French, one of the most gloriously consistent (if somewhat mind-numbing) mainstream hip-hop albums in recent memory, full of songs that seem tailor made for strip clubs and people who may be drunk and nursing a hankering to do that goofy invisible pull-ups dance. Gooey, cheesy, and somewhat juvenile while still being one of the most consistently rewarding rappers working today, French Montana has become the hip-hop equivalent to Mac and Cheese, which uncoincidentally is also the name of one of his better mixtape series. He’s ready to assert his agency over mainstream hip-hop, but by creating a raucous but conservative (and excellent) album that overtly operates within the pre-established template for a modern rap record, has mainstream hip-hop dictated what French had to do for his debut album? The e-cigarette principle can explain French’s entire career, to the point where the snake has eaten its own tail, shitted that tail out, and re-eaten its own self-shit and produced a French Montana e-cigarette, which I subsequently decided to review.
Electronic portable hookah. Always an electronic portable hookah, as it very clearly says on its hilt — along with French Montana’s name, album title, and album release date. Now before we go any further with this very silly review, I need to offer a very serious disclaimer. My grandmother died because she smoked all her life, and if you want a reason not to do something that’s bad for you try having the most beloved figure from your childhood die from doing that thing and see how much motivation you have to do it later in life. As such, I smoke rarely if at all, and gravely understand the health risks involved in smoking an electronic portable hookah even for three days. But just as one cannot review a novel without finishing it, one cannot review a French Montana portable electronic hookah until it is smoked to the point where it cannot be smoked any more. So, that’s what I did.
As an art object, this thing’s main function is pretty clearly mainly to be noticed. It’s shiny, and instead of the fake ember on the tip of many e-cigs, it features a light-up diamond. It is a novelty item, first and foremost, and a dangerous one at that–beyond the whole “nicotine is addictive and will kill you” thing, my main concern when smoking this bad boy was that you’re just supposed to put your mouth on its metal tip when you smoke it. Like, human beings are not supposed to be putting their teeth on metal, are they? Doesn’t biting metal wear your teeth down? And I have to assume that the metal on this e-porta-hookah isn’t the highest quality, either. That’s a strike against it, along with the fact that it’s a promotional object that will (again) kill you dead if you have enough of them.
In the taste department, this thing is to real cigarettes as Buzz Lightyear is to actual astronauts. Even though it’s an electronic portable hookah about French Montana, it honestly seems like it was designed for children. Its flavor is apparently “Mojito,” which in IRL electronic portable hookah terms translates to “that white flavor of Mountain Dew that I’m pretty sure they only sold in my college dining hall.” Which is to say, it was unbelievably delicious and everyone else who tried it agreed.
Its packaging advertised that the French Montana e-cigarette was good “Over 500 Puffs!” and though I didn’t keep exact count during my tenure as an e-porta-hookah aficionado, I’d say that’s probably accurate. What I can vouch for is that this particular electronic portable hookah’s first puff was infinitely more rewarding than its last. When I first started smoking it, I was shocked at the sheer volume of smoke the thing produced. There are few idle activities one can take part in that are more rewarding than sucking on a thing and having a mid-sized cloud subsequently emanate from your face.
I spent three days feeling like an all-powerful man-dragon, gleefully puffing upon my French Montana electronic portable hookah and exhaling enough smoke to annoy everyone in a three-foot radius. Sadly, the smoke clouds (as did my immediate health) slowly but surely deteriorated, the thunderheads turning to wisps and me going from a dude whose chest normally didn’t hurt from accidentally inhaling too much electronic hookah smoke to a dude who chest mildly hurt from inhaling too much electronic hookah smoke. As my time with the e-porta-hookah bore on, I began to detect distinct chemical-y elements to the smoke’s flavor where there had simply been the crisp, refreshing taste of Mountain Dew Code white. Maybe it tasted that way all along. Just as the wind blows and French Montana bellows the word “HANNH,” if you play with (electronic) fire, you’re going to get burned.