French Montana has a knack for crafting au courant earworms that pay subtle homage to rap’s illustrious history. After cementing his rep as New York’s most in-demand mixtape maven (under the careful tutelage of ByrdGang iconoclast and self-proclaimed “wave God,” Max B), the Bronx MC topped the charts in 2012 with “Shot Caller,” which had IG models and dope boys bopping to the same madcap horns from Lords of the Underground’s grimy 1993 cut, “Funky Child.” It hit the streets like a gleeful tsunami — everyone wanted to ride the wave.
French epitomizes Kurtis Blow’s “AJ scratch” bar — from 1984, the year the Moroccan emigre was born: “Up in the Bronx where the people are fresh.” Indeed he’s part of a renaissance that has brought new light and vibrancy to rap’s birthplace — along with Cardi B and Desus & Mero, he’s helped make the Boogie Down seem like the coolest place on earth. On They Got Amnesia, French makes sure we never forget that his bona fides are bulletproof.
On the legacy-minded “How You King?” he slurs, over the archetypal “Impeach the President” break, “Ten years plus, need hits? French got ’em.” You get the sense that, beyond airplay, he’s wondering how he measures up against the greats when he later asks, “Do you put Hov where you put B.I.G. and Snoop at?/Or you put him higher ’cause he made it bigger through that?” He seems to aspire to their legendary status, even if he hasn’t yet shown their level of substance and depth.
“Mopstick” makes some strides toward that with insightful observations over Boi-1da’s sparse but mellifluous bounce. “When you broke and trapping, that ain’t easy/Better have a pastor, mask up like Yeezy,” French asserts. And there’s a sobering aspect to his tone that makes it clear he’s not just the cavalier Page Six mainstay who used to carry around a pet monkey.
But then again, this is the same cat who took a Kardashian to that ghetto-fabulous getaway, City Island, which is a jersey-in-the-rafters-level flex. And “I don’t really Care” applauds that milestone (”came through with Khloe down the city island”). It’s a banger built for insouciant stunting. But the bloated “FWMGAB” — revisit of Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’s 1997 “Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)” — feels like the sequel no one asked for.
The emo “Losing Weight,” however, offers some much-needed introspection. Referencing Cam’Ron’s immortal “Harlem Streets,” French reminisces on the tough times before fame: “Every day we movin’ weight/Just to try to move away.” This purveyor of the wave is far from shallow.