Q&A With French Montana

All the Way Up

In order to succeed in the competitive world of rap music, more than just talent is required. It takes perseverance, dedication, and a bit of luck. French Montana is an artist who embodies all of these qualities perfectly. Through his unique blend of catchy beats and smooth rhymes, Montana has built a strong reputation for himself, starting from humble beginnings in Morocco and reaching the heights of hip-hop success. Despite facing numerous challenges and setbacks along the way, he has persisted and is now recognized as one of the genre’s most prominent and influential figures. But how exactly did he gain recognition in the hip-hop community? Good question.

French Montana, whose real name is Karim Kharbouch, was born on November 9, 1984 in Casablanca, Morocco. He is the child of Abdel Kader Kharbouch and Khadija Guled. During his upbringing, he enjoyed playing soccer and listening to rap music in his family home. In the mid-1990s, Kharbouch and his family moved to the South Bronx in New York City, where he attended both elementary and high school. Despite balancing his studies at Roosevelt and Lehman High Schools, he also worked to support his family. Although his parents decided to return to Morocco, Kharbouch’s mother chose to stay in the country with her children.

Parenting is a significant source of inspiration for Montana, who is skilled in Arabic, French, and English. Previously, he owned Selena Gomez’s property in Calabasas, CA, and lived in Pequannock Township, NJ. His marriage to Deen Kharbouch took place in 2007, but they separated in 2012 and officially divorced in 2014. The couple has a son born in October 2010. 

In June 2018, Montana became an American citizen. He has had tigers as pets and currently has a pet monkey named Julius Ceasar due to the Roman’s fondness for unusual animals. French Montana began his career as a battle rapper in the early 2000s under the name Young French. He co-founded the popular DVD series Cocaine City with his friend Cams.

Despite being shot in the head outside a recording studio in the Bronx in 2003, French Montana persevered and released his first mixtape, French Revolution Vol. 1, in 2007. He also worked on mixtapes like Coke Wave and Coke Wave 2 with rapper Max B. He formed a joint venture with Maybach Music Group in 2012 and signed with Bad Boy Records. French Montana has collaborated extensively with producer Harry Fraud throughout his career and has released numerous successful mixtapes and studio albums, including Excuse My French and Jungle Rules. His financial success has been boosted by hit singles like “Pop That” and “Unforgettable.” 

Due to his versatility, French Montana’s career experienced a significant advancement. His breakthrough came in 2011 with the release of “Shot Caller,” which gained considerable exposure on New York radio stations. This led to Diddy inviting French to collaborate on the official remix. French Montana also partnered with Maybach Music Group and signed with Bad Boy Records in 2011. In 2012, French Montana, along with Rick Ross and Drake, recorded the hit song “Stay Schemin.”

His debut studio album Excuse My French included the popular track “Pop That” featuring Ross, Drake, and Lil Wayne, released in 2013. Additionally, in 2014, he collaborated with Jennifer Lopez on the successful single “I Luh Ya Papi.” 2018 saw French Montana team up with Drake for the Platinum-certified single “No Stylist” and release the song “Famous” with Adam Levine. The following year, he went on a successful tour and launched his third studio album, Montana, which included the hit “Writing on the Wall” featuring Cardi B, Post Malone, and Rvssian.

In addition to French's collaborations with Pop Smoke, Tory Lanez and Jack Harlow, French worked with Logic, A$AP Rocky and Juicy J on the track “Twisted" on album Montana. French received favorable feedback for his song “Double G” with Young Thug and his album Coke Wave 4 in 2021. He continues to release new music and collaborate with various artists while being at the height of his career.

French Montana has received many awards and honors during his career. In 2013, he was honored with BET Hip-Hop Awards for Best Collaboration, Duo, or Group for “Pop That” and in 2014 for Best Club Banger for “Don’t Panic.” He also won an iHeartRadio Music Award in 2016 for Hip Hop Song of the Year for “All the Way Up.”

French Montana has been recognized for his achievements with nominations for various awards, such as a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in 2015 for his album Excuse My French and a Grammy Award for Best Rap Song in 2016 for “Pop That.” He also received an MTV Video Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Video in 2013 for the same song. Not only that, but French Montana has also been acknowledged as one of the top and most impactful rappers, being featured on lists like Complex’s 50 Best Rappers of All Time and Billboard’s 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Artists.

Music Connection: From Morocco, Africa to the Mecca of hip-hop to being internationally known as rap’s top collaborative artists, take us back to the beginning when you first got started in this rap game.

French Montana: I came from Africa in ’96, I was 13. I didn’t speak no English, no nothing so, I remember dropping my first Cocaine City DVD in 2003. There was always a hurdle that didn’t let us jump in the game. It was always that door locked in our face. It wasn’t always about talent because everybody in New York raps. Everybody in New York wants to make it to hip-hop.

The game is 99 percent hard work and 1 percent talent. It’s because you have to find a way to get into the game; that’s not normal like how the average person thinks. So you gotta be like 12 steps ahead of the game. Back then, there was a lot of artists that in order for them to be seen or heard, they had to be signed to DJs. It was this guy SmackDVD that just came out with DVDs and me and my guy was sitting down watching it one day.

We was like, “Yo, we know all the drug dealers, we know all the rappers. Why don’t we just go and just film and put me in the middle of it, exactly how the DJs do it.” DJs used to put out iike a Fab freestyle in the middle of it. By the time you hear the third mixtape, you will be like, ”damn, who is this kid?” That was a way for me to go through the window into the hip-hop game. People were looking for me after the third Cocaine City DVD.

I kept on making music from like 2003 until like 2008. That’s when I met Max B, around 2007-2008. The rest was history after that. I was more knowledgeable of the game. I knew the business a little better. I been through all of the ups and downs. I learned how to make music, doing the Cocaine City DVDs independently.

There was a lot of downfalls and a lot of experience, and by the time I met Max B, we were the first ones to do CDs/DVDs. I took the Cocaine City DVDs and turned them into mixtape series with me and Max B. So we dropped Coke Wave 1, 2, and 3. By the time we dropped Coke Wave 3, there wasn’t no car in New York not bumpin us. 

MC: Speaking of Max B, what does he mean to the rap game (to you).

FM: He’s the wave god. He’s the culture. He’s somebody that is ahead of his time; from sing rap to swag. Everything to slang. I feel like he was so far ahead of the game, that people are just now catching up. 

MC: What’s the state of Max B?

FM: He’s ready to come home. 

MC: Tell us about the collaboration you did with Bad Boy and Maybach music.

FM: So after Max B gets locked up, I become like the most blackballed artist in the industry. I ended up getting with DJ Holiday for this mixtape called Casino Life. Then I locked in with Harry Fraud, and I still wasn’t signed. Then I dropped, “Shot Caller.” Once I dropped this record, everything connected. All that was missing was that hit single. And the mixtapes connected with the singles.

The singles connected with the lifestyle. The lifestyle connected with the streets. It was one big snowball effect. And that’s when Ross hit me up. Then I went to go see Ross. And Ross was trying to sign me, but he really didn’t have the money to give me. So he said, ”Lets call Puff and grab the money from him. And we can do a deal all 3 of us.” 

MC: To me, you’re like the Quentin Tarantino of hip-hop because you collaborated with The Weeknd, Lil’ Baby, Drake, Kanye West, just to name a few. How did you make these collaborations happen?

FM: Honestly, I just love music. I don’t feel like there’s enough hustle in the world that can get people that don’t do things for money that work with you, you know? I feel like when I first got Drake on a record, it wasn’t my record. Ross just invited me to the studio to work with him on the Rich Forever mixtape. I just went in there and did a verse and a hook.

Then Ross asked Drake to be on his album, and Drake just so happen to pick the song that I’m on. He said that the hook and the singing parts were crazy. I follow my ears; and I follow a feeling that I have. If it doesn’t move my soul, I can’t [make it]. Because the moment you start shaking your head that you don’t like something, there’s gonna be something in me that’s gonna say, “Yeah, I don’t like it either.”

Like when I met up with Kanye, he got me my first Grammy nomination, as a producer. Or even working with Khaled. I go see Khaled, I do a hook. Next thing you know Khaled will hit me like, “Yo, Jay-Z just put a verse on it.”

So I was just blessed to work with the biggest artists in the game, just by laying down music and letting them do whatever they want to do with it. I feel like I always had a gift like that. The hardest video I had to do was putting Nas and Kanye together; after they both been in the game for so long. And here comes French Montana to get them both on a record together. Then after that, they went to do their first album together. But that came through me; they met through me. 

MC: Tell us about 10K Projects and the handful of artists that you signed.

FM: Shout out to Kenzo B, shout out to Dthang, free Max B, Forever Chinx, shout out the Coke Boys. It’s the movement. There’s a bunch of brothers that get together to make some powerful music. So we got Coke Boys 7 droppin next, after my album [Mac & Cheese 5]. Shout out to 10K; we just did the new deal, Coke Boys Entertainment with Dthang. And it’s a beautiful thang. 

MC: When it comes to collaborations, especially when you’re on the road, what type of technology do you use to accommodate for yourself and for other artists?

FM: Sony mic and my computer. Pro Tools. That’s about it. I don’t try to make it too complicated. 

MC: Tell us about your humanitarian efforts happening in Nigeria and Uganda. And how do you pay it forward. 

FM: Uganda, Makoko, Morocco, Bronx, the list goes on. This is just part of being African and making it out the Motherland; going back to see how much our lives affect them. Basically, helping the people that can’t help themselves. Especially, mothers and kids. Knowing that healthcare, it shouldn’t be a privilege, it’s a right. Just making sure that, you come to these peoples’ aid, if you have a chance to.

We gonna continue to work towards that. Shout out to Global Citizens. Shout out to everybody that played a big part. I was like the first global ambassador, as far as artists. I was the first rap artist to “ring the bell.” It was a beautiful experience. And I hope that I can be able to do more. 

MC: Speaking of Africa, where in Africa have you performed?

FM: I performed in South Africa and north Africa. I haven’t performed in Uganda or Nigeria, but I’m looking forward to it. 

MC: You’re the number 1 streamed African artist with over 40 billion streams. How does that make you feel?

FM: I don’t even care about things like that, you know? Having a diamond record or having three or four platinum albums, mixtapes, honestly, I’m blessed to have this sense of music; that’s instilled in me. Every time I tap into it, something magical happens. That’s something that nobody can take away from me. I made it out of nowhere with just that.

It’s faith and believing in my ear; believing that I have a gift. I feel like I can walk in anywhere, just be able to stand out on my own because I can hear something and I can feel something towards something that nobody else can. That’s how I worked my way to Africa here. And into some of these big positions that I’m in. That’s how I was able to buy my mother a house and help people, and just continue to strive. And have a decade long career; and continue to rise. Get better and better. When you’re blessed with things like that, you shouldn’t take them for granted. 

MC: Where does your work ethic come from?

FM: It comes from being an immigrant. It comes from a place that we don’t get the same opportunities. Watching my mother sacrifice, my father lose everything. It comes from a sad place. It’s nothing wrong with it. It comes from experience. Experience is the best teacher you know? They say “broke parents, make strong kids.” Rich parents, you know, you know what they say. So I’m glad that I was able to see my family have it, then not have it. They made me who I am as a man. 

MC: Tell us about your autobiographical documentary, For Khadija.

FM: That’s droppin this June;, if I’m not mistaken. It’s a story about an immigrant mother with her kids and what she had to sacrifice and have faith and deal with obstacles. She didn’t know English, she didn’t know nothin. She believed her kids deserved the best, and you know, French Montana was made during those difficult times. 

MC: Who are your top five artists of all time? 

FM: Marvin Gaye, 2Pac, Biggie, Max B, Chinx.

MC: What’s one piece of advice you would give to an up and coming artist and/or an artist struggling in the music game?

FM: Believe in yourself. And don’t put your career in other people’s hands. You wanna be mad at yourself for making the wrong decision, or happy with yourself for making the right ones. Always look out for yourself to help yourself. And that’s what it is. Your best teacher is going to be experience. And have faith, and one thing that’s better than anything, that I can ever tell you is, pray. Pray and hustle.


French was born in Morocco, Africa, but later grew up in the South Bronx, NY.

French speaks Arabic and French fluently. 

French debuted his studio album, Excuse My French in 2013.

French is a huge philanthropist; actively involved in charitable initiatives, specifically healthcare organizations and underprivileged communities. 

French is a loving father.

French has a fragrance line called Angels’ Share.

Photos by Zay Jones