Born Karim Kharbouch in Casablanca, Morocco, Montana immigrated to New York City with his family at age 13. His parents, seeking greater opportunity than what they could find in their native land, settled in The Bronx. While fluent in French and Arabic, Montana spoke only a small bit of English. However, he quickly became acclimated to Bronx culture, partly through his infatuation for hip-hop; an obsession which would later become his profession.
“I just love hip-hop. At first the rapping was just a hobby,” explains Montana. “I figured out it was a career when I got my first check, after I came out with the Cocaine City DVD. It was a winner from the jump.”
“Winning,” it was; but Montana is no new jack that got lucky. This shot caller's come up dates back almost a decade. When street DVD's were king, Montana's Cocaine City series, which he began dropping in 2002, were grassroots video royalty. Featuring raw and uncut interviews with both up-and-coming and established artists like Jadakiss, 50 Cent and Young Jeezy, each volume was also interspersed with music from Montana himself. “The DVDs were always the plan for me to get on as far as rapping,” says Montana. “It was a platform. It was a stepping stone.”
The next step in his journey to rap riches was solidifying his growing fanbase by dropping great music. Acclaimed projects including his Mac & Cheese and Coke Wave series of mixtapes established his rep as a hustler with legit rhyme skills that listeners could steadily gravitate to. Mixtapes, viral videos and songs like “Choppa Choppa Down,” featuring Waka Flocka Flame, only heightened Montana’s buzz.
That buzz was amplified with the release of his single, “Shot Caller,” in 2011. The song became a runaway smash, earning major airplay across the nation and certifying Montana as the next big rapper out of NYC. “I just caught on fire. They say every couple of years someone comes and sweeps the streets,” says Montana. “First it was DMX, then it was 50. I guess it’s my turn now.”
His decade long journey to the top has not come without its own set of trials and tribulations—the greatest of these, a late night shooting of which Montana fell victim.
Following through on the enormous expectations he has built up for himself is a matter of keeping his ear to the streets. “I just pay attention to what people say,” offers Montana. “The people chose me. You can’t come out and say you HOT. The people gotta choose you.”
The people have spoken. Now please, excuse French Montana as he cooks up more hits.
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