"The picture of my mother and father at their wedding in Africa is my favorite picture," he wrote in a recent Instagram post. "It’s unforgettable for so many reasons since it was the same year I was born and the same year my father was incarcerated for unfortunate circumstances. He named me from jail."
After his family was granted U.S. visas, he traveled to America in 1996 and they fell on hard times. "We were on welfare and she worked overtime to keep us fed, clothed and a roof over our heads. I promised my mother that I would hustle and make my accomplishments unforgettable once I found my opportunity. I want other people who might be struggling to know that the sky is not the limit… You can do unforgettable things."
Still, amidst his motivational posts, French Montana has also become the target of controversy. After a Twitter user criticized him online ("The fact that French Montana thinks anyone cares about him," she wrote), the rapper issued a response many perceived as offensive, tossing in words like "musty crusty" and "nappy a--" to address the online critic.
Ask Montana, though, and he says he feels he was personally attacked but isn't letting the Internet keep him from trying to spread love his own way. In an exclusive interview with Billboard, French Montana addresses the online war of words and what to expect in the future.
Why did you recruit Future for "No Pressure" and Swae Lee for "Unforgettable"?
"Honestly, I don't think I choose to have anyone. It doesn't happen like that. It just comes naturally. When I did "No Pressure," it just so happened that Future was in the same studio I was in. Me and Future were supposed to come out with a mixtape together before, and we did a lot of production before. I feel like we have that connection whenever we're working together.
"Unforgettable," too. The moment I heard the record, Swae Lee was on there, so it was a match made in heaven. It was something that was bound to happen.
You traveled to Uganda after finding these talented kids online to have them in your "Unforgettable" video. What was the experience like?
I listen to a lot of African music. I was on the computer going through it, and I ran across these kids. I was a fan and I felt like I saw me in them, 'cause I grew up in Africa when I was their age. I was doing the same thing they were doing. In my head, I was playing "Unforgettable." They were just dancing and I fell in love with it and said, "I gotta find these kids." It was something new, it was a breath of fresh air. With having gone through living in poverty and being happy with nothing, they channel that through their dance moves and their energy. Them having no TVs and just learning how to dance, it just makes them have their own moves and their own swagger.
As a father, how did seeing what these kids go through affect you when you saw that in real life when you went to Uganda?
When I saw that [I thought], "We're spoiled out here." We complaining about this and that, and then when you go out there, it's poverty, but people at their happiest. As a father and as a child of my father who still lives in Africa, it's an experience. I went there, thinking it was going to be the best worst experience of my life because of the way [my parents] put it out to me. My father was like, "Mosquitoes are going to bite you ... there's poverty" -- this, this, that. It was like my first vacation.
What do you hope people take away when they see this video?
I hope that you could see love and energy, smiles on kids' faces. All those kid dancers live together under one house and all have different parents. It just so happened there was one guy who grabbed all of them together and moved them in with him. Sometimes we get so caught up in the box that we in that we don't get a chance to see what's going on in the world. When you watch the video, it's all about love, for sure.
You recently posted a photo from your parents' wedding. What made you open up about the relationship with your parents and your African roots?
Those are unforgettable memories for me. I feel like it's the best time to tell people about it, especially the people that don't know. [People] are like, "Yo I thought you was Puerto Rican" or "I thought you was Mexican." I'm like, "Nah, man. I'm from Morocco." I want people to get to know me.
Do you plan to touch on more of your upbringing, being a father and other sides of French listeners haven't heard before on your upcoming project?
It's just signs of growth. I feel like I want people to feel where I came from. I feel like people don't make it out of where I'm from -- Africa. I might be the biggest person that came out of there in so long, and if I have that kind of platform for me to speak it and show people what's going on, then I feel like nobody else gon' do it.
A comment that you made in response to a woman on Twitter has been receiving backlash online. Do you regret how it unfolded on social media and would you take your words back?
I personally felt that whatever I said had nothing to do with race or women in general. I love women. I was married to a beautiful black woman. If I offended anybody, I apologize. It was nothing towards women, nothing towards race. People take things out of context. Now all I'm trying to do is spread positivity and love around the world, like the "Unforgettable" video. I don't bother nobody, I stay to myself, but [the tweet from the woman] struck a nerve. She didn't have to attack me.