Over the past two years, Moroccan-born, New York-bred rapper French Montana has established himself as a commercial star. His major label debut, Excuse My French, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and the "Don't Stop" MC has shown no signs of slowing down since.
His latest effort, Coke Boys 4, offers up more of the same: sex, drugs and club-friendly beats similar to those that made French a mainstay on hip hop stations. The olive-skinned rhymer got some help from Chinx Drugz and Lil Durk — both of whom are featured prominently throughout the mixtape — as well as his label "bawses" Rick Ross and Diddy and a host of other heavy hitters including Wiz Khalifa, Jadakiss, Jeremih and Meek Mill.
From the jump, Coke Boys 4 keeps the energy high. The Black Metaphor-produced "Intro" offers a strong start with a bass-heavy, pounding beat to give French the perfect runway for takeoff with rhymes like, "Comin' out the bottom, you don't know the half/I'm famous now, my signature called an autograph," he raps with the satisfaction of someone who made it.
Despite a few heaters for the streets, such as, "Worst Nightmare," "Paranoid (Remix)" and the come-up anthem "Wit It," which features Ross, it's the triumvirate of French, Chinx Drugz and Lil Durk that works best. Unlike the initials of the tape (CB4), these three keep the subject matter closer to their reality, which is mostly lifestyle testimonials ("Millionaire Thoughts," "Money Bag") and the turbulent moments during their rise to fame ("88 Coupes").
More high points came mostly with the songs that feature French venturing outside of his comfort zone. Like Drake with "Just Hold On (We're Going Home)," French was at his best on Harry Fraud's '80s-tinged electro pop hit "God Body," dropping some of his better wordplay with lines like, "Table's turning, pot's burning/I don't hear them n----s talkin'/Def Squad, Erick Sermon/EPMD, got E, P's and D."
"Act Like That" is another standout track that uses a faster, more radio-friendly tempo to contrast the somber subject matter — French and Lil Durk's families' pleas for the respective MCs to change their behavior.
And though he's not known as one of hip hop's premiere lyricists, French, like the Miami Heat, can step his game up when he's rhyming alongside fellowed skilled spitters. The Wiz Khalifa-assisted "All For You" proves he can switch up his style, chopping up lines into perfect syllables like, "Made it, lost it, came back, flipped it/Always faded, lifted/Hit that corner, whipped it/Hit that bill up, whipped it/always whinin', mind your business/I'm always high, sky ain't the limit/Ball like 'Melo, cars all tinted/Chain: black, yellow/Pittsburgh Steelers/Caught it, knocked it, tossed it, flipped it/Took my dough and switched it/Took my dough, invest it/Your whole life is scripted."
There were lows to this high, though. Coke Boys 4 was weighed down by generic tracks like, "What You Call That," which serves as little more than lifestyle-centric filler; "All We Know," which tells the repetitive tale of a good girl gone bad; and "Millionaire Thoughts," which sees the Cocaine City Records CEO making an uncomfortably long-winded attempt to sing.
Still, the glimpses of growth are what made French Montana one of the names to watch in 2012, and as of 2013 he's officially on. From here, it's up to him to determine whether he continues to ascend or falls by the wayside the way so many rookie MCs have. Coke Boys 4 could back an argument for either outcome. It works against itself with middle of the road songs that are as innovative as a club scene in a hip hop video, but it also shows his originality, his key — pun intended — to longevity.
(Photo: Insterscope Records)