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

On Nov. 18, French Montana released his latest mixtape, " Mac & Cheese 3," as a gift to fans. Since its release, the tape, which features guest appearances from Sean " Diddy" Combs, Fat Joe, Rick Ross and more, has logged more than 437,000 downloads on DatPiff.com and 225,000 streams on WorldStarTapes. For the Bronx rapper, the key to success is treating every recording like it's intended for retail release.

"Those are songs that I was going to use on my album," says Montana, who estimates that he has 140 album-ready cuts stashed on his hard drive. "Those are 20 songs I picked out to throw out to the people, because I could never forget that's the market that made me, the mixtape market."

With his Bad Boy/Interscope debut, "Excuse My French," slated for early 2013, Montana has spent more than a half-decade building his name with mixtapes and the "Cocaine City" DVD series. The Morocco native hit his stride this year with a handful of successful street singles, including "Shot Caller" and "Everything's a Go" that respectively peaked at Nos. 39 and 96 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. But latest anthem "Pop That," featuring Rick Ross, Drake and Lil Wayne, signified a career shift, topping out at No. 2 on both Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and the Rap Songs chart.

When it came to "Mac & Cheese 3," Montana wanted maximum exposure for its tracks, releasing both dirty and clean versions so mixtape songs could be played on the radio. Montana's manager Gaby Acevedo explains that the tactic allows him to grow his stake on terrestrial formats. "It keeps him relevant and makes sure he's not gone tomorrow," Acevedo says. "It keeps him around. We keep relaunching him. That's why we put the clean version out."

Montana's buzz throughout 2011 attracted several offers, including what would become the multiple-album deal with Bad Boy to release Excuse My French in conjunction with Ross' Maybach Music Group that he ultimately secured. Bad Boy president Harve Pierre credits Montana's success to his sociability. "Even though he signed to Bad Boy, he deals with everybody," Pierre says. "He has friends at Cash Money, friends on Def Jam, friends everywhere. I'm clearing four or five records a week with other people wanting him on their records. He's a team player."

Montana most recently released "Excuse My French" single "Marble Floors," featuring Ross, Wayne and 2 Chainz, putting the wheels in motion on what he considers a "classic" project. "I'm in my best space right now, just working and making good music," Montana says. "At the end of the day, good music is going to resonate with the people. That's what I believe in."

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