French Montana was born on November 9, 1984 in Rabat, Morocco. He grew up at the family estate outside Casablanca where he lived for the first 13 years of his life. Growing up, he was consumed with soccer and rap, describing them as his two favorite childhood hobbies, before getting into basketball in his later teens.
In 1996, at the age of 13, French left Morocco with his mother, his father Abdela and younger brother Zack for New York City, where they settled in the South Bronx. Speaking only his native languages Arabic and French when he first arrived, he learned English in the streets and in the Bronx high schools of Lehman and Roosevelt. After struggling for 2 years, his father decided they would move back to Casablanca, when his mother opted to stay back with the kids citing lack of opportunities back home. His mother was pregnant with his youngest brother Ayoub at the time, who was born in the US shortly after his father departed for Morocco. With 3 kids, including an infant, his mother was dependent on welfare for financial support. Karim eventually found himself the primary breadwinner for the family.
French Montana began his career as a battle rapper in his teens under the name Young French. In 2002, French and close friend Cams created a series of street DVDs called Cocaine City, drawing inspiration from the Smack DVD series popular at the time. The series featured interviews with major and upcoming rappers, personalities, and a focus on street music and hip hop beefs. Initially as Young French, he used the DVDs as a means of showcasing his talent as an underground artist, including in it his own original music, freestyles, and collaborations with other artists. The first volume in the series featured Pee Wee Kirkland, Remy Ma among others. What started out as a medium for developing an audience, quickly grew into one of the top-selling street DVDs. The series ran for eight years between 2002-2010, totaling 14 volumes, and multiple spinoff films. Based out of the Bronx, French ran the series with the help of childhood friends including Brock, Droop Pop and Cheeze, who went on to become the first rappers that formed the Coke Boys.
In 2003, French suffered a gunshot to the head when he was confronted by two armed gunmen as he was leaving a recording studio in the Bronx. The incident resulted in one of the gunmen dead, in what is believed to be a case of “friendly fire” by one assailant against the other. French was taken to the hospital where he survived after having spent several weeks in treatment. French came to find out he was set up by someone close to him and his circle.
In 2007, French Montana released his debut mixtape French Revolution Vol. 1, which included collaborations with Uncle Murda, Jae Millz, Mazaradi Fox and Tony Yayo. The track “Quarter to Eight” was the first of many collaborations with Rick Ross. The J.Cardim-produced “Straight Cash” was French’s first underground hit. In 2008, he released his second mixtape, Live From Africa. The song “Waavvy” was the first collaboration with rapper Max B.
French Montana and Max B released their debut collaborative mixtape Coke Wave on February 6, 2009. That same month Max B’s mixtape Quarantine was released, on February 23, while French released his The Laundry Man on February 24, 2009. The two artists resumed concentrating on their solo records, until the release of their second collaborative mixtape Coke Wave 2 in November that year.
French was included in XXL’s Freshman Class of 2012. At that time he had already been signed to Bad Boy Records following the success of his single “Shot Caller”, and had just signed a joint-venture between Bad Boy and Maybach Music Group.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, close friend and producer Harry Fraud revealed first meeting French Montana during a recording session at a studio in Chinatown. Fraud recalls recording a song for someone which French happened to have a guest feature on. In an unusual turn of events, the building was raided by police after a tip-off that there were counterfeit Gucci and Louis Vuitton purses being manufactured at the same building. Having lost his studio spot, Fraud went on to form his own studio in Brooklyn, where the two “met and formed a bond”.
Harry Fraud, who hails from a musical family background and had interned at a recording studio, was still unknown professionally at the time. The two would go on to release their first collaboration “New York Minute”, featuring Jadakiss, off of French’s fifth mixtape Mac Wit Da Cheese released on April 19, 2009. Following its success, the two artists would go on to record “We Playin In The Wind” off of French’s sixth mixtape The Laundry Man 2 released on June 29. With “New York Minute” still buzzing in the city, rapper Ma$e would approach French Montana to hop on the remix, included in French’s eighth mixtape Coke Wave 2 released in November. Since then, Harry Fraud’s production has been a staple among French’s music, and Fraud has since ventured out into working with various other artists. Fraud gained mainstream attention when his track with French Montana “Shot Caller” became one of the most added tracks on urban contemporary radio in 2011-2012.
Starting in 2009, French Montana had signed a deal with Akon and his Konvict Music label.
French released his tenth mixtape Coke Boys on September 15, 2010, which included collaborations with Three 6 Mafia, Gucci Mane, Akon, Fat Joe, fellow Coke Boys, among others.
With the success of the Coke Boys mixtape and his recent management deal with Debra, French adopted a recurring trap influence among his music.
On February 15, French released his eleventh mixtape Mister 16: Casino Life, which featured productions from Fraud and Lex Luger among others, including his soon-to-be next hit “Shot Caller”. The tape’s combination of hard trap beats alongside the more soulful beats – such as those of his New York producer Harry Fraud – would become a fixture among French’s music. The latter sound being further explored in his twelfth mixtape Coke Boys 2 released on August 19, providing a softer break from his more robust tapes that year. Both records have been acclaimed for their production and hooks. French would continue on his increasing presence in the South, releasing his collaborative mixtape with Waka Flocka called Lock Out on December 14. That same month, he would release his long-awaited collaborative mixtape Cocaine Mafia with Memphis-based rappers Juicy J and Project Pat, released on December 19. This would be French’s thirteenth and fourteenth mixtapes, respectively. With four records out in 2011, it would be his busiest year of releases since 2009.
With French’s growing buzz in the South, he was approached by Florida-based rapper Rick Ross who invited him to his studio. French, who admits having been a fan of Ross’ music, was invited to come “at like three in the morning” where he listened to his upcoming MMG collaborative album Self Made Vol. 1. The two recorded a track for the album, while Ross hopped on the remix to “Choppa Choppa Down”. The new single, which also featured Wiz Khalifa, was released on April 28, 2011, with the music video coming out in June. An earlier remix featuring Gucci Mane and Wiz Khalifa had been released on March 25. The collaboration would mark the start of French’s relationship with Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group, prompting speculation whether French would be signing to the label.
With “Shot Caller” already one of the most played tracks on Hot 97, French was slated to appear on the upcoming episode of BET’s 106 & Park on December 6, where he would be debuting the music video and announcing the label he’s signing with. Diddy would also appear that night as part of his “Bad Boy Takeover” campaign, whereon the two officially announced that French Montana had signed to Bad Boy Records.
Having received offers from several labels, including Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Kanye’s GOOD Music; on December 6 on BET, French Montana publicly announced signing with Bad Boy Records, an imprint of Interscope Records. In a subsequent interview with Billboard magazine, French revealed that had he not signed with Bad Boy that MMG would be his next choice. However, on January 4, 2012, while in the studio with Rick Ross, the two announced French’s new signing to a joint-venture between Bad Boy Records and Maybach Music Group, making him a part of both labels. Both Ross and Diddy would be executive producing his debut studio album.
On January 6, the two dropped Ross’ track “Stay Schemin” with rapper Drake. Notable for its memorable French and Ross “hook”, the track would go on to be one of the biggest hits that year, oft-talked about for its Drake verse believed to be a “diss” towards rapper Common at the time.
French’s first single from the upcoming album, “Pop That” was released on June 15, featuring Ross, Drake and Lil Wayne. The song would be one of the biggest hits that year, and a still-popular club and summer anthem since. It is French’s most successful commercial single, having been certified “platinum” by the RIAA, and peaking at #2 on Billboard’s Hot R&B and Rap charts and #36 on the Hot 100. While initially expected for a release in July 2012, French’s album went through several pushbacks until its finalized release date of May 21, 2013. The date which happened to coincide with the birthdays of Max B and famous labelmate the late Notorious BIG. In the meantime, French had released his fifteenth mixtape Coke Boys 3 on April 13, 2012, which included collaborations with fellow Coke Boys Chinx Drugz and Cheeze, alongside the likes of Ross, Akon, Kevin Gates and Wale. Notable tracks among others include, a rare collaboration between French, Chinx and the late Stack Bundles on “Tap That”, and “Headquarters” featuring Red Café and Chinx, the music video for which premiered on July 21.
French marked the end of the year with his sixteenth mixtape Mac & Cheese 3 released on November 20, 2012.which included collaborations with Prodigy, Fabolous, Future, Fat Joe, Ma$e, Rico Love and Trina among others. Acclaimed for its production and track selection, it would go on to be among the most downloaded mixtapes of all time.
In January 2013, French announced his second single “Freaks”, featuring Nicki Minaj, from his upcoming album to be a remake of Lil Vicious’ 1994 song of the same name. The song premiered on Hot 97 on February 13, with the music video coming out on March 3.
His first solo single “Ain’t Worried About Nothin” was a hit on radio stations, and a remix featuring Ross, Diddy and Snoop Dogg was released on October 4, and a second remix featuring Miley Cyrus on October 14. Upon its release, Excuse My French was met with mixed reviews from music critics. It fared better commercially, debuting at number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 56,000 copies in the United States. The album also featured collaborations with Raekwon, Scarface, Ne-Yo and Jeremih among others.
Despite several pushbacks, French released his seventeenth mixtape Coke Boys 4 on January 2, 2014, which included collaborations with Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, MGK, Mally Mall, Lil Durk and MeetSims, among others.
French released his second single “Bad Bitch”, featuring Jeremih, in December 2014, with the music video premiering on February 23, 2015. In late-October, French had announced his “Set It Off” tour with Jeremih, running up to his expected Mac & Cheese: The Album release in December. With the album eventually pushed back to next year; in its place, French released his collaborative EP with Harry Fraud, Mac & Cheese: The Appetizer on December 12, 2014. His eighteenth mixtape, The Appetizer marked a shift away from French’s usual feature-heavy records. With Fraud’s signature sample-heavy production, French blurred the lines between rap and R&B in a manner not unlike that of Max B, and with subject matter ranging from difficult life-decisions, women, addiction and memories of his bygone friendship with his now-incarcerated rap soulmate. In August 2015, French paired with pop-opera artist Charisse Mills for the single, “Champagne.”
On February 14, 2016, DJ Khaled announced that he would debut French’s new mixtape on We The Best Radio. The mixtape, hosted by Max B, debuted on February 19, 2016. On May 5, 2016, French’s contract with Interscope and MMG ended, and he later signed a joint venture record deal with Bad Boy and Epic Records. Later, French was going to release his second studio album “MC4” in October 2016, however, the album’s release was canceled after Target unofficially released the album on CD on its original release date (August 19, 2016), two months before the album was set to release, which also managed to leak its entirety on internet as a leak, plus some “sample clearance issues” on tracks like “I’m Heated” and 2 Times”.It was originally supposed to be the fourth installment in the “Mac & Cheese” series, and the first to be originally released as an album. French later stated that he’s planning to start a new record label with Max B when he is released. On November 5, 2016, Montana unexpectedly released the album as a mixtape instead and premiered it on Drake’s Beats 1 radio show, OVO Sound radio later that night.