150 Pop Stars' Real Names
KARIM KHARBOUCH (a.k.a. French Montana)

After a frenzied bidding war, one of most sought-after unsigned rappers is no longer a free agent.

On Thursday (Dec. 8), French Montana, joined by Sean " Diddy" Combs, announced his freshly inked deal with Bad Boy Records on BET's "106 & Park." Hours before the announcement, Montana chatted with Billboard.com's The Juice on the signing, his 2012 debut effort, and his working relationship with both Diddy and Rick Ross.

"I felt like I couldn't reach any higher on the indie level," said the MC, who has been releasing mixtapes since 2007. "Nobody took the indie level to where I took it, with songs actually on Billboard. I did tours. I did everything I could do."

Now signed, the rapper plans to continue releasing mixtapes to build anticipation for his upcoming album. "They want me to pick the release date, but I feel like it should be whenever the time is right... definitely next year," French Montana said. "First album's gotta be a classic. All the greats' first albums are. I want mine to be like a 'Doggystyle.'"

On Dec. 12, French Montana will deliver a collaborative mixtape with Waka Flocka Flame, titled "Lock Out." Montana said to also expect another collaborative mixtape in the near future, this time with Three 6 Mafia.

"This game is nothing but smoke and mirrors. Believe nothing you hear and everything you see," French Montana says about the recent million-dollar deals rumored to have been given to up-and-comers. "When I took my deal, I knew how I was going to work it and pay it back. I didn't take it like it was quick come up. I think a lot of people look at it like that but it's not; you owe that. There's nobody giving it to you for free. The bonus is the only thing you don't pay back. Everything else is recouped."

Offers allegedly came from most of rap's heavy hitters, including Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music, Jay-Z's Roc Nation, and Ross' Maybach Music Group.

"It's different with me because it wasn't just one label that offered me [a] deal," French Montana told The Juice. "I had offers from everybody so when I made the choice, I made the choice I was [most] comfortable with. I don't judge a person from what people say about them. I judge a person by my own relationship with them."

"The deal [with Diddy] just felt right and it felt like it was the right thing to do," he said. "I felt like I can make a change with this for the music culture that I came from."

The Bronx transplant admits that if he hadn't gone with Bad Boy, he would have signed with the Bawse, which influenced his decision to enlist his longtime friend and mentor as his debut's executive producer.

"I love MMG. If I wasn't going with Bad Boy, I definitely would have gone with MMG," the Bronx transplant said. "That's why I had to make Ross executive producer on my album. Me and him got the same vibe. He's definitely been involved with everything I've been doing, giving me some good advice, and helping me out. You always need a mentor."

"Everybody is one circle. Everybody's fans become each other's fans. Their fans are buying your records, that's how it works. You see DJ Khaled, Lil' Wayne, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Drake; everybody's on everybody's music and they're all together like a big a crew, a movement. That's how I built mine with me, Waka, Ross, Coke Boys, etc. I'm trying to build it like a roster. That's how you win."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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