Who: Bronx-raised rapper French Montana (born Karim Kharbouch in Morocco) has been grinding locally for years and can be seen in a mid-aughties chapter of the now-defunct SMACK DVD magazine, pulling handfuls of cash out of his jeans like leaves from a pile of mulch. And though he made his name playing brilliant foil to the shower-sing-along harmonies of incarcerated (as of press time) New York mixtape hero Max B, Montana, 27, has raised his profile nationally through consistent collaborations with heavy-hitters Waka Flocka Flame and Rick Ross.
Sounds Like: A sloth with sunglasses on. Montana pairs his slurry delivery with an impeccable ear for production, having worked extensively with Dame Grease (of DMX's It's Dark and Hell Is Hot fame) and upstart Harry Fraud, whose sound couldn't be more New York if it included a subway car's closing-door chimes. Montana also refuses to be hurried by the thunderous, post-crunk production of Southern beatmakers Lex Luger and Juicy J, with whom he frequently collaborates.
In Me I Trust: Since Montana's career has been suspended in numerous holding patterns, he'd be forgiven for experimenting a bit with his sound. But he's stuck to his guns, like the one viewable in the aforementioned SMACK clip. "You, as an individual, gotta know what your music is supposed to sound like," Montana says. "At the end of the day, you don't wanna blame somebody else. Somebody could be like, 'You 'posed to sound like this … ' and then you drop it and it's a straight dud. Then you mad at them. I'd rather be mad at myself."
Strength in Numbers: "I feel like I should've been signed, I feel like I should've did a lotta things," Montana says about his partnership with Diddy's Bad Boy Records (who will release his debut album, Excuse My French, this summer, executive-produced by Diddy and Rick Ross). "But nothing happens when you want it; it happens when it's supposed to. The timing now is perfect, 'cause I've learned so much. Now I got Puff, the best to ever do it. I got Ross, the number one rapper in the game right now. … It's gonna take a lot for us to fall off."