“Don’t gimme water. Get me yogurt,” French Montana says. He squints his eyes, taking in the fiery hot sauce that he’s smothered — maybe regrettably -- over chicken and rice from the Halal Guys' famed food cart. It’s late afternoon at BET’s offices in New York City. Following back-to-back interviews, he’s famished.
Despite hints of a summer tan on his face, French Montana is in grind mode. The Bronx rapper (born Karim Kharbouch) is at an important juncture. He’s on the precipice of releasing his second studio album Mac & Cheese 4. It’s a project that’s been long-anticipated — almost three years in the pipeline — since his 2013 debut Excuse My French. That’s not to say that he’s has been sleeping. If anything, he’s been ubiquitous. He’s currently featured on Fat Joe’s street scorcher “All the Way Up” and his single, “No Shopping,” puts him right smack in the feud between Drake and Joe Budden. Earlier, he nabbed a production credit (and Grammy nomination) on Kanye West’s “All Day.” Outside of music, the 31-year-old appeared in The Perfect Match alongside Terrence J and Paula Patton. His personal life isn’t too shabby either: He’s been linked to high-profile women like Khloe Kardashian, Trina and Sanaa Lathan.
But French wants more. With Mac & Cheese 4, he wants to shift focus away from the headlines and back to his craft, proving his mettle as a solo force.
Mac & Cheese 4 has been a long time coming. You actually played me a near-complete album two years ago. What’s the delay been?
Yeah. I’ve been wanting to drop it for like, three years now. I’ve still been able to stay afloat and be one of the hottest in the game. I feel like, I was helping everybody with their s**t; now it’s time for me to help myself. Plus, my situation was a little sketchy. I had to make sure I was in the right spirit, the right place for me to drop the album. Shout outs to [former record label] Interscope. They’ve been real dope with me. Shout outs to Epic [Records]. I needed to go where my brothers were at. Shout outs to Puff and [Rick] Ross and [DJ] Khaled.
You needed to figure things out from a business perspective?
Yeah. Exactly. I feel I could have just put the album out but that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. I wanted to come correct. You know, I come from the era when Nas would take four years to drop an album. Certain people just take their time.
Fans have attention-deficit disorder now. They’re impatient for new music.
It’s almost like, when you go to a strip club and throw $50,000. The next day you don’t throw nothing and [the strippers] be like, "What’s wrong?"
I would throw nothing because strip clubs creep me out… With so much music, how did you decide on the final album track list?
With me, they gotta catch me. I say that to say, if they gave me another week, I’d choose 10 new songs. Whenever they catch me, that’s what you have. I keep making [music].
So thematically what is Mac & Cheese 4?
This is the most soulful plate you could eat. That was the metaphor for it. I’d pick the purest samples; the music is soulful. And [mentor] Max B gave me [the title]. I just wanted to carry the legacy on.
What’s your hope for the album?
My hope is to show people the reason I’ve been hot for the past three years without dropping my album. I’m really that guy. I have a great ear for music. I make hits. I can do a whole hour-and-a-half set onstage and have more hits than somebody with six albums, that’s probably your favorite rapper. I’m fighting with music. I’m not fighting because the owner of Sony is my cousin. I’m fighting because I make records. It shows. From Jay Z, to Miley Cyrus, to will.i.am, to J. Lo, you name them. That’s all happened in between my first album to this album. I’m showing people why French Montana is French Montana.
Do you feel there is a misconception or that people don’t know?
Nah, it’s not that. It’s just people would never give you the credit you deserve until you not here no more and they feel the impact you had. I feel like Max B, it used to be nothing but hate. Soon as Max B got locked up, it was, "Wave God!" When 2Pac was out here, it wasn’t love like this. People are always looking for something. I say, "Haaaan," like, bro, it’s an ad-lib.
A lot of people don’t know that you started as a New York street rapper. You have 20 mixtapes and now radio hits. Do you think people may not know how to categorize you?
Yeah, people don’t really know I came from battling and [New York City underground venue] Fight Klub. $15,000 to battle. Like, I really earned where I’m at.
Right now, everyone is talking about “No Shopping” as part of the feud between Drake and Joe Budden. What’s your take?
I don’t feel like we went in there trying to diss nobody. I think people try to make it something that it’s not. It’s not a great idea to do that. I feel like, give the record its moment. Stop trying to make it about what it’s not.
Aside from music, there’s a lot going on in the world right now, especially involving Black Lives Matter. What are your thoughts on the racial tension?
Things like this have been going on for years. We gotta spread love, man. If you try to spread anything but love, it’s wrong. I’m from Africa. Black lives should matter. What’s right is right. What’s wrong is wrong. Whatever color it is.
Terrorism is another big topic, especially in this upcoming presidential election. A lot of people don’t know that you’re Moroccan and you practice Muslim customs like fasting during Ramadan. How are you feeling about the anti-Islamic sentiment we’re seeing in society?
It’s not right to point fingers at a religion. We’re trying to make the world better. There’s good and bad in every religion. I really feel like, as far as ISIS, if people were to look it up, they would see that they do almost 100 percent of their wars against Muslims. Some people don’t have the knowledge to realize that.