In May, the producer Paul Couture flew to Los Angeles to play new music for the rapper French Montana. Couture had been working with Max B, the influential but long-imprisoned New York rapper; Montana, one of Max B’s old collaborators, wanted to hear the results. Couture was planning a quick trip West. But after he played several Max B demos, “French is like, ‘You can’t leave L.A.,” the producer recalls. “‘You can do this on the fly right here. What’s the longest you stayed up?'”
A hectic week later, Couture and Montana finished Coke Wave 4, out today. It marks the first new project for Max B in almost a decade — the rapper started to serve what was initially a 75-year sentence in 2009. And it’s an extension of the Coke Wave series that Max B and Montana started the same year, which subsequently garnered a devoted following attracted by its deft sample-flips and the mixture of Max B’s off-kilter, sing-song lines and French Montana’s stolid raps.
Speaking over the phone from prison, Max B likens the latest Coke Wave installment to “the equivalent of Kawhi Leonard going to Toronto, winning that championship in one year, and now he’s a super free agent and he can do whatever he wants, make any decisions he wants.” More soberly, he adds, “it shows I can collaborate with other artists of stature and still hold my own.” Then it’s back to charming bluster: “Anybody I fuck with, I’m gonna sound buttery.”
Returning to Coke Wave offers Max B an opportunity to correct a popular misconception. “Everybody has this thing mixed up that we’re talking about actual coke product,” Max B explains. “When we came up with the Coke Wave concept, it was always about the hustle, the grind. When we started, French was in the DVD game. I was doing my thing, had worked with Jim [Jones, the New York rapper behind hits like “We Fly High,” which Max B helped write] and all them. So we both had some buzz in the streets. We thought we would come together and put his visual skills with my audio skills. But it’s not about drugs — it’s about the way we took the music and flipped it to make a profit.”
There is one other misconception — that this release, the third in the Coke Wave series, should actually be named Coke Wave 3. “The funny thing is, I didn’t even know there wasn’t a third one until the fans were like, ‘y’all just gonna skip three?'” Couture says. “I’m pretty sure French knows which number he’s on.”
Songs on previous Coke Wave tapes often involved in-your-face samples — of Marvin Gaye, Lynn Collins, Sting, 50 Cent or Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Coke Wave 4 proudly continues this lineage, opening with a squeaky sample of “It’s Impossible,” a bolero popularized in the American market by Perry Como and then recorded by a slew of torch singers during the Seventies. The new mixtape also includes already-released nods to Sade and Ice Cube, plus “Double Trouble” — which references “Stoop Rap” and Swizz Beatz — and an homage to Mel-Man.
Many of the sample choices were made in L.A. after French Montana heard Couture’s folder of Max B demos. “When I got with French we started going through hundreds of samples,” Couture remembers. “With an artist like him, we’re not limited by the cost of clearing anything. He would just throw all these songs he was feeling at the moment, some jazz song that 45 people heard on YouTube or whatever. I’m Shazam-ing everything, then he’s like, ‘Cool, do what you do.'”
“They were jumping on things that I never would’ve chose for them, taking risks on a random record like ‘Yes Y’all,’ or a softer record like ‘One More Time'” — in which French Montana sounds like he’s auditioning to join Coldplay. “You think everyone’s gonna want to stay on a trap lane or the typical line of where hip-hop is right now,” Couture says. “But that’s not where these two are going. There’s something fun about doing that when no one is doing that.”
It wasn’t all fun, though: French Montana enjoys grueling, marathon studio sessions, up to 33 hours long. One day Couture snuck out of the studio after a 22-hour session to return to his hotel for a nap. “I go back, and it’s 8:30 in the morning,” Couture says. “I lie down. French Facetimes me at 8:35: ‘Where you at? You gotta come back.’ I’ll never forget, he says to me, ‘How are you gonna let someone that’s richer than you stay awake longer than you?'” The guilttrip was successful, and Couture returned to the studio for another 12 hours.
Coke Wave 4 is nostalgic, but Max B is also looking eagerly to the future. With the mixtape out, he’s already jumpstarting promotional efforts for his next project, an official album titled Negro Spirituals. (Couture will oversee the full-length, which will incorporate the mixtape cut “Super Bad.”) “When that comes out,” Max B says, “it’ll be like, ‘if you ain’t got this shit right here, you fuckin’ up.'”