French Montana On Baltimore Riots, Working With Chris Brown & 'Finding Balance'

Jessica Chou
Reebok Industry Night Workout with French Montana on Feb. 11, 2015 at the Reebok Lounge in West Hollywood, Calif.

At a time when it's risky for artists to not maintain a constant stream of new material in the atmosphere, French Montana is purposely taking it slow. And not for lack of motivation, either -- the Morocco-born rapper just preferred to take his time with recording the upcoming Mac & Cheese album and Casino Life 2 mixtape.

Casino Life 2, which dropped today, features Chris Brown, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Travi$ Scott, will.i.am, Lil Durk, and Curren$y among the 16 tracks, with production by Cool & Dre, TM88, Young Chop, and Southside 808 Mafia.

The two releases came together somewhat simultaneously. Montana recorded approximately 100 songs, setting aside 12 to 14 cuts for the new album before picking records for the mixtape.

French Montana recently talked to Billboard about both projects, his incarcerated friend Max B, Baltimore, and finding "balance."

Is the mixtape mostly older or newer music?
It’s a mixture of both, but our sounds don’t really change. You can hear an old song and it sounds like it just came out.

You and Chris Brown recorded a song titled "Moses." How was it working together?
It’s our first time working together in the studio. The last time I did "Loyal" with him he just sent me the record. I feel like this record is powerful. We just recorded it about two weeks ago.

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When will the album come out?
August, I don’t have the exact date. Probably the end of August. The mixtape is the appetizer, the album is the meal. I’ve been working on it [for] so long, but I saved the best for the album. I got Miguel on there… Kanye West. The album I'm trying to keep mostly for me, just a couple of features.

It's been a couple years between projects. Any reason for the slower pace?
I wanted to make sure that I was putting the right product out for me, but something that makes everybody happy at the same time. [I'm] coming off my first album, and a few years [of] not putting [anything] out and still being on everybody's single. From J.Lo, to working with Jay Z, to Miley Cyrus, will.i.am, those are experiences that let people who don't know who French Montana is see my talent. I figure this time people know who French Montana is so I can give them my own product.

What can you say about the album's Yeezy feature?
To help co-produce "All Day," it was a blessing for him to even listen to my album and help me with it. The song I have with him is not finished. I just feel like it shows growth, it’s like a totally different sound.

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Is there an overall message that you're trying to get across with your second album?
I'm just trying to keep a balance in my music. When you come from New York as soon as you drop anything that got that down South bounce on it, it’s like, 'oh, he’s from New York,' then you got to drop a New York [record].' It's like you got to satisfy everybody. Just from my experience, when I go down South I don't hear New York artists, unless you're established like Jay Z. I don't hear no new artist there so I said, 'I'ma put my down South swag [on the album] and New York swag.

Do you ever think about including current events in your music, like the Baltimore protests?
Yeah, of course. I definitely like to include stuff like that in my music but this is like my first [project] dropping in a while. I definitely want to do stuff like that. I just don't like to get too political, [and] say the wrong thing and offend people. I feel like you have to fight that stuff with more than music. We can start by helping each other be successful. That's where I come from: giving back, inspiring younger artists, doing the best I can, and making sure my family's straight.

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Your family dynamic has changed in between albums, how has that been?
I feel like every day is a challenge, as you're growing. When God wants you to grow he makes you uncomfortable. If you're not facing challenges you’re not growing, you're dying.

What are some of the personal challenges you overcame?
Coming in [the music industry] with Max B, one of my friends, and him getting incarcerated. That was hard on me. Losing friends during the process, dealing with the label, dealing with the people in the industry. Everybody don't wish you well. But you got to take the good with the bad.

Look at me, a kid who was born in Africa -- in Morocco. My country never had a bigger artist than me. Then I become one of the biggest artists in the Unites States, coming from not knowing English. My father left, [so] I had to become the man of the house at 13. Getting shot, overcoming all of that. I come from a whole life of people telling me I couldn't do it. It doesn't matter what my circumstances are, right now if I died today I've accomplished so much that you can't tell me that because I'm not the No. 1 rapper in the world, I shouldn’t be happy. You got to enjoy what you have [and] what you've accomplished.

You mentioned Max B, how's he doing behind bars?
I spoke to his mother last week. He's still fighting for his appeal. It's a sad situation but, you know, all you can do is fight.