French Montana is entering his veteran phase. Instead of shouting threats, he now rhymes from the perspective of an OG who has seen every kind of rap beef, street drama, and industry vultures, but has persisted because of his attitude, resourcefulness, and ability to evolve. That tension between reflecting on his rise but pushing forward is inherent to his new release, Montega, which sees him tapping back into his most prolific musical relationship with producer Harry Fraud. They’ve been working together since 2009, with Fraud taking a lead role in developing some of French’s most seminal mixtapes during his rise, providing him with sample-heavy soul beats that quickly became popular with other street rappers, too. Fraud has been more or less a part of every French album since then to varying degrees, but this is the first time they’ve locked in like the old days in years.
On Montega, Montana unleashes his Carlito Brigante-like persona to maximum effect. On the opener, “Blue Lines,” he mentions brokering peace between Drake and Diddy, the death of his Coke Boys labelmate Chinx, and the incarceration of friend and influential artist Max B. If there is a theme on the project, it’s that Montana has overcome all of this like a man who has seen too much.
With the help of Fraud’s icy and lush production, French has crafted a diaristic album that also has star-studded guest features. (EST Gee shows up on “Keep It Real,” telling scammers that their crimes aren’t as hard as the brick-pushing that he did. Benny the Butcher and Jadakiss appear for their patented coke talk on “Bricks & Bags”). Montega isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s still good to hear bare knuckle rappers who prioritize bars rapping over modern and extravagant production.
The message is clear: French Montana will continue to be here until he decides he is finished, not when people write him off. GQ spoke with Montana and Harry Fraud together at Montana’s new condo in New York City, where boxes were still unpacked and rugs still waited to be unfurled, about aging into OGs, their decades-long friendship, surviving beef in hip-hop, Mayor Eric Adams and much more.
GQ: French, your mood on the last album was right there in the title: They Got Amnesia. How are you feeling these days ?
French Montana: I feel like everything came back full circle. And [me and Harry] went back to the sound that made us. I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot: From the diamond plaque [for his 2017 song with Swae Lee, “Unforgettable”] that made me the first African male artist from the Bronx to get one, to most of my albums going platinum. Now I’m back to making [the kind of music that] I love.
Harry, how did this reunion come together?
Harry Fraud: It came together because of the need to get back to basics. Everything we’ve always done is just natural. It’s not contrived. It’s a natural progression. We started together, we sharpened each other’s skills—then we branched out and both had success in our own right. And then I think it was just time to come back together and show people they can’t mess with us.
When did you two first meet?
Harry Fraud: We met in 2008. And that’s when French was really going hard with the mixtape circuit as well as on Cocaine City DVDs. It was huge in New York City, so I kind of had an awareness of him just from being a lover of the culture. And we met in a studio, because I was mixing a record that he had a feature on, and then we got in contact directly. And he literally just pulled up on my studio that was in DUMBO at the time. And he ran me through the wringer: he made me play 50 or 60 beats. I could tell it was him making sure I really had that shit, but I think that both of us were both very raw still, so it really took us seeing the potential in each other, and I think that belief in each other fueled our friendship. I’m not the guy that calls everyone “my brother.” I have friendships with a few people that I call my family. French is one of them.
What’s it like going through another run with French?
Harry Fraud: Well, I mean, all those projects that I did with everybody else, the blueprint for them was what me and French did originally. I learned how to produce a project from doing Mac and Cheese with French. So it was so easy for us to come back together And through the last couple years, especially on my independent run, I feel like I’ve been able to refine how we do that. Now I feel like I have something to bring back to the table with him and say, look, we can do this this way. So that makes me feel good.
French you lost your labelmate Chinx in 2015, and Max B, one of your closest collaborators who you came up with, is still serving a 12 year jail sentence. You rap about both of their legacies on the new record—clearly both situations still weigh heavily on you.
French Montana: Max and Chinx’s style represent [where] the game [is now]. Their legacies will carry on. A lot of people owe Max: He used to rap over Christina Aguilera samples! [He really popularized] the melding of singing and rapping. People owe Max.
What was the reason you moved back home to New York?
French Montana: I was always back and forth. I got tired of it. Like, if I go to Atlanta, I will hear Atlanta music. If I go to LA, I will hear G-funk music. If I go anywhere, I will hear the music representative of their culture. I feel like New York lost the whole culture. It sounds like we’re in London or something now. So as one of the pillars in New York, I wanted to come back and bring that sound back. And there’s no way to bring it back besides getting back with Fraud, and getting back to the essence. Most people today got their styles from New York.
Fraud, where does French rank in compatibility with you?
Harry Fraud: At the top. There are so many times where we are in the studio and we don’t even do songs. We have a sample battle. We’re showing each other stuff like “did you hear this?” It’s the childish spirit of loving music.
I saw Mayor Adams pulled up to the listening party last night.
French Montana: Listen man, what about that, the mayor of New York City coming in there and staying up for three, three and a half hours? That was one of the biggest highlights of New York City. I don’t think they ever did that.
Did you have some uneasiness linking up with a politician?
French Montana: I feel like music has no limits. You can’t control the love of music. And I’m a person that loves giving opportunities to kids from the neighborhood. And being connected with a guy like Adams that’s also doing the same thing on such a higher, powerful level, that can’t do nothing but help what I’m trying to help. If we’re not helping the kids, helping families change their lives, then we’re not doing the right thing with this music. I’m not here to look cool. Look, guys, that’s not gangster. I’m gonna have to change lives. I’m gonna help make a difference. That’s what was so cool about yesterday. I guess he sees the vision, too. We’re here to make New York City great.
What specifically are you doing to help the kids?
French Montana: We just signed kids. We want to grab up all the artists that have talent and put them in the studio. We signed RPT and D-Thang.
Talk to me about the Drake and Puff line in the intro (“Had to patch Drake and Puff back after that little beef”).
French Montana: You don’t miss nothing. Well, I think that Puff and Drake line, I never dove into it.
I figured you were the one who helped broker the peace.
French Montana: It was on my birthday. I remember we took a helicopter, and when we landed Drake was there to surprise me. Puff came in with his own little boat and then jumped on the boat. And that was kind of the first time that they came together after that little problem they had and I never even knew about the problem. I never even thought of that, but I just knew that’s two of my best friends. And it was hard for me, so I did everything in my power to bring them together.
What do you guys have coming up after this?
Harry Fraud: I got a lot of surprises this year. I like to let it happen and [not speak before], be respectful. But, I got a record with someone people were really considering the King of the Youth right now coming out this summer, that’s really going to fuck people up. I wanted to be a little quieter this year than last year. So Montega is going to kick off the remainder of my year, but I’ll be dropping four more four or five more tapes. And then I got a couple monster, monster records coming.
French, you are more than ten years into your career. What do you want your legacy to be?
French Montana: I want to accomplish everything off my bucket list. And I’m not talking about like Grammys, because we can’t control that. You can’t control people like you can control the streets. Because, number one, I always wanted to make albums full of all the best music that I love from back in the day. I felt like that’s always what I wanted to do. And there’s nobody better to do it with than Fraud.
Anything else on the bucket list?
French Montana: To get Max B out. Then, do his documentary. Because I already have my own documentary. Drake is producing it. Puff is too. We’re dropping at the end of the year. Then, we will work on Max’s.