Somewhere between grade school graduation and middle school musing, we're taught the lesson to never judge a book by its cover. An attempt to teach the young and impressionable that a person is more than just what you see; don’t only trust the surface.
Admittedly, French Montana is one book I didn’t feel compelled to open and read. The South Bronx rapper came up with the prolific Silver Surfer Max B, acquired the only joint record deal with Rick Ross’ MMG and Diddy’s Bad Boy, and has been featured alongside everyone from Drake to Jennifer Lopez, but he failed to grab my attention. Rave reviews around early mixtapes sounded promising and a string of radio jingles and club hits kept him within sight, but French somehow remained in sight and out of mind. French’s contribution to the internet breaking “Stay Schemin” was all I needed.
On and off records, French seems to be living life lavishly. Between canoodling with the Kardashian that isn’t Kim and updating Instagram so the world could keep up with the adventures of Montana, you can always count on him to deliver an infectious summer single. French appears to have found a comfortable lane making moderate hits with famous features and production fitting of the times. It's not necessarily the best music but the best of times could be had with French and company playing in the background. I always figured he would exist somewhere between Billboard’s top 30 and well-known mixtape rapper. The constant push backs of his eventually-leaked sophomore album turned free mixtape, the follow-up to his underwhelming 2013 debut Excuse My French, only encouraged this way of thinking.
I saw a ceiling for French, but suddenly, “Unforgettable” happened and it changed everything.
For the first time in his career, French has a top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hit. There’s no verse from Drake, no grunt from Ross, and no spin-move by Diddy. It’s just Montana, a hip swaying Afrobeats-esque production, and Swae Lee exhibiting a soft yet contagious vocal performance that gives the record its undeniable allure. “Unforgettable” is the “One Dance” of 2017, once again showcasing how the growing popularity of world music and rap are intertwining. As a Moroccan-American, “Unforgettable” is a literal return to roots for French; it's no surprise the single has dominated globally.
Not only did French deliver the biggest single of his career, but he created a new sense of excitement surrounding his newly-released sophomore album—for real this time— Jungle Rules. For the first time, I found myself wondering what French would do next? So here I am, about to press play on my first full-length French Montana album, not 100% what to expect, but hoping to find music to play for my best of times.
Like past 1-Listen reviews, I’m glued to my seat from beginning to end. I must listen from start to finish, giving my gut reaction to each song without stopping, pausing, or rewinding.
1. "Whiskey Eyes (ft. Chinx)
The growl of a lion is a fitting doorbell to begin an album called Jungle Rules. Monkeys and some soft strings. Voices. A bunch of voices. Shouting that they’re 'motherfucking coke boys.' Loving the unity. A woman’s voice over an acoustic guitar. I like the way this is building up, it's starting to give me the feeling of an overcast day where introspection rules the mind. Hard drums just came in. French just arrived. “Shootout with the police like Siegel did it,” okay, I like this. Simple, not the introspective record I expected but there are some cool bars. He sounds rather sober to have whiskey eyes, but it's still a great song title. “If you don’t own your masters your classic turn to ashes” sounds like a line that JAY-Z didn’t use on 4:44. I don’t know who this Skylar Gray-esque singer is but she sounds like a ghost haunting French Montana. Some more stunt raps, I'm really liking how the drums are hitting. It's turning the record into gladiator theme music as French just said. I’m a bit impressed by some of these lines. I might’ve been wrong by what I expected. Chinx! It's always sad whenever a rapper leaves this earth before his time, but it's truly disheartening when violence is the cause. I love the way he's floating, only making the posthumous verse even more saddening. The streets are cold. Good intro, French. I’m awake and intrigued.
2. "Unforgettable" (ft. Swae Lee)
I love how the bass and keys come in together, this song has an aura that just draws you in from the beginning. These drums have the infectiousness of the chicken pox. How can you not move? Only a serial killer with frostbite on their heart can stand still while this record plays. And Swae Lee just sounds as if he was born to sing this hook. “Unforgettable” is the fulfillment of his destiny. I’m hoping that this is the first of many records that find Swae dabbling in the afro-pop lane. French contributes a solid verse but I’m surprised that any song that references planking has a chance of being a hit in 2017. I wonder why Swae had to clarify that there wasn’t Bacardi in his cup, that’s so oddly specific. “Unforgettable” both feels like a wedding song and the cause of divorce. The touch of Auto-Tune on French's vocals isn’t the most warming sound but I commend him for trying to add an extra touch to the song. Swae Lee might have the hook of the year. Sonically, his voice buries itself in your eardrums. If this song stays in my head any longer, I’m charging him rent.
Only a handful of solo songs. This is the first track that features only French. Hmm. Sounds like a woman’s voice so he might have a background vocalist or is that a sample? French enters with a cool little slow flow. A minimal beat. Sounds like a rather personal letter. Dare I say this works for French? Well, that high note didn’t work. It didn’t work at all, please never try that again. Okay, I like the hook. Not sure about the verse but the entire record is rather Post Malone-esque. French Auto-Tune makes me wish T-Pain taught a class, a how to guide. He isn’t the only rapper who needs it. The hook really is the heart of this record. Verses are lacking but I like how there’s bounce is in the chorus. Background vocals from someone. Might trip over a lion's tail before returning to “Trippin” but it wasn’t a horrendous experience. Such a good hook.
4. "A Lie" (ft. The Weeknd & Max B)
Somehow, I've avoided this song prior to the album's release. A woman’s voice saying 'Coke Boy Baby' makes me miss the Maybach Music woman. Bring her back. Harry Fraud drop! Slow build up. The Weeknd vocals sound so damn clean! I remember when they used to sound like he was in a room of weed smoke and coke lines. NICE DROP. He’s using the singing-rap flow that has become his weapon of choice for collabs. Abel sounds like he’s drinking green tea and replaced the excessive pill popping with Flintstones vitamins. Everything about this song has been shiny, like a brand new luxury car being pulled off the lot. French doing the back vocals underneath Weeknd is unexpected. Yeah, this is built like a well-oiled single that’s meant to dominate airwaves and summer playlists. I consider this the traditional French single, straddling the line between pop and rap. It’s a little too clean. “If I’m not the hottest city that’s a lie,” wait did he lie about a lie being a lie? This is too much. Max B! The waviest himself. The flow is there, he still has something. I admire how French hasn’t left him hanging, and this single will surely assist in putting money in the pockets of Max and his family. It’s a cool verse. I wonder what his music will sound like when Max B is finally free. Eh, I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this one. The hook is just annoying enough to be catchy but only in a radio/club capacity. Has a chance to make waves, no pun.
5. "Jump" (ft. Travis Scott)
Rappers love to record and smoke. Weed has added so many small details to the beginning of rap songs. “For the wave culture.” I like how odd this beat is, like a loop that stopped a few seconds too short. I'd compare it to seeing a person with one arm shorter than the other. Travis with a rather simple hook, a bit catchy, but I’m not sold just yet. He sounds comfortable here, song is slowly building up. I love the back harmonizes, though! Starting to feel this one a bit more. Realizing how much Travis' vocals add to a song's texture. His voice is apart of the instrumentation. Take him off and it would be rather boring but he adds character. Yeah, French rapping with Trav doing the harmonizes underneath is tough. Gives them this strange synergy. Not sure what the hell French is talking about, I wish he would lose the Auto-Tune, but again, synergy and bounce are what makes this record hotter than a Hot Pocket fresh out the microwave. Travis has a verse. “Jump” actually feels within his lane, like a leftover from Birds gifted to French. Rollerskates on the flow. “White bitches on me like I’m Kobe” *shakes head profusely.* I like this as a house party record. I would jump off someone's roof into the pool while this played if the right amount of drugs were provided. I like this for what Travis brings to the table, it's practically his record.
6. "Hotel Bathroom"
Interesting. This sounds like Spanish guitar strings but glitchy like the beat is buffering. That damn Comcast internet. Liking how weird this is getting. French singing about smoking in the bathroom. Of course, this is about sex in the hotel bathroom, hotel couch, probably anywhere but the floor. I hope he’s not on the floor. I like the melody but not the voice singing to it. “Free Max B for one night,” now that would be a lit party. French is oddly loud, he sounds so excited about this hotel sex, probably the most excited he’s sounded all album. Second rap verse is nice. Motel 6 sex is relatable, far more relatable than Drake dissing the Marriott. If French isn’t too good for Motel 6, you shouldn’t be either. Production wise, I'm really digging this one. I just don’t love French as a vocalist. He’s singing his little heart out, but it isn’t hitting. This is definitely the result of great ecstasy and a little encouragement from the Hennessy to sing with such passion. Okay, closing with a choir-esque performance of the hook. I'm still not coming back to this one but I’ll carry the message in my heart.
7. "Bring Dem Things" (ft. Pharrell)
Pharrell! An unexpected Skateboarder has appeared. Harry Fraud drop. Okay! This sounds like music for a personal parade. If I wanted to march downtown with a fleet of cars and a band behind me, I would play this. Harry Fraud put his entire leg into this. Pharrell is taking it back to Gangsta Grillz In My Mind: The Prequel rapping. All swagger, dripping cool. I think Pharrell just said someone’s clothes were made for poodles, God tier disrespect. Skateboard P might not be the best rapper but when he does decide to deliver bars, they aren't the kind you'd get from anyone else. Rainbow barf is imagery I’ll never forget. Why didn’t Pusha T get this beat!? I feel like Harry Fraud definitely was trying to channel a Clipse-esque vibe. Beat change! Minimalistic. French started strong with a story, switch back, he’s snapping. This is a good element for him. Yep. A early favorite. "Ain't no future in frontin, my homie will rip your mask off" Okay French! That's how you close out a verse. If Soulja Boy made the anthem for turning your swag on, then French and Pharrell just created one for when you walk outside feeling like you can outshine the sun.
8. "Bag" (ft. Ziico Niico)
Man. I needed a rewind. Anyway. A nice change in tempo. I don’t know Ziico Niico. Whenever I see a name featured on an album I don’t know, I worry it’s a legend and that I’m being disrespectful, praying Ziico isn’t some OG rap figure from the Bronx. I hate when after you hear an excellent song, if the next one doesn’t live up to the greatness it just sounds a bit plain. “Bag” has already lost my interest. It’s another song about securing the bag over a trap slapper that could slap a little harder. I do like the added aggression to French's tone. A nod to Max and Chinx. “Bag” isn’t bad. It’s actually much better than I initially thought. French has this weird thing for songs stuttering, like he’ll repeat small lines in a chopped up manner. I wonder what that’s about, an interesting detail. I wish it wasn’t such a generic hook, but the song has energy. I might come back when I’m not thinking about “Bring Dem Things.”
9. "Migo Montana" (ft. Quavo)
Ha. “Migo Montana” is a great song title but why does it only feature Quavo? London on da Track! Banger! French doing some light singing on the hook, sounds like he has gotten the perfect Promethazine and Sprite mix before stepping into the booth. The way his vocals drag is the cool sluggish druggish and not the Xan zombie sluggish. Is Quavo just mashing together all his best hooks into a hook? OHHHH THE DROP! London drums are fat, full, sounding like they just arrived from Golden Corral after taking the all you can eat literally. A nice bounce. French is really channeling his inner Migo without borrowing the signature flow. With features from Quavo and Swae Lee, the idea was to get the hook men and make bangers. Car talk, enter all the foreigns. “I’m higher than the Grand Canyon,” protect Quavo forever. Really enjoying this beat, the trap rappers need more London production. I like this as a trap banger. Feels oddly short, but wanting more is much better than wanting less. This may be the one Quavo feature that could’ve benefitted from the addition of Offset and Takeoff.
10. "No Pressure" (ft. Future)
Keeping things in the South, I see. This doesn’t sound like a Metro beat but “No Pressure” is BOOMING. The bass is ridiculous. French giving me What A Time To Be Alive Drake vibes. With a bit Auto-Tune on his voice, he’s skating. The kind of song that makes you feel like you’re on South Beach being irresponsible and irate. How can you be irate on South Beach? Exactly. Unlike The Weeknd, Future sounds like the drugs are still within the arm's reach. He actually sounds a little to druggy, like he’s not completely there. His energy is off but the verse sounds good. That’s always been an odd middle for Future; he kills it when he sounds far from Earth I like this. If I was on Love & Hip-Hop, this is the song I would want to aggressively throw water on someone to. Oh! The way French and Future double team the bridge at the end is fire. I kind of wish we got some back and forth action between the two. I think they compliment each other well enough to get away with it. Nice production build up at the end. Production has been mostly strong.
11. "Push Up"
French Montana must work out a lot. He seems like the kind of guy who would be in the gym with all his diamonds on. Infectious. I like this. Has banger qualities. I just realized I'm not even listening to what French is saying but how he says it. Another case of judging the book by its cover—at least I’m reading the Wikipedia summary. His lyrics seem like they don’t have much weight but the big difference in how they hit are in the delivery. “Push Up” is a great display of how it works in his favor. He just rhymed Sushi and Karrueche and Tunchi, I chuckled. I like “Push Up.” It shows how French can really build a hitting trap number without any assistance. From the hook to the verses, it's a good display of some of his strengths.
12. "Stop" (ft. T.I.)
T.I., at times, sounds like the new trap kids. I hope this feature won’t be one of those cases. Banging beat. High energy French. He really has the excitement of a lottery winner as he runs down all the drugs he has. I think that’s what he’s saying. Repeating tip, tip, tip is hilarious. Sorta reminds me of “Pop That” in song structure but that feels like a premature take. T.I.! This flow is swift, moving across the beat like a serpent about to pounce on a rabbit. This is like that "Top Back (Remix)" verse with the aggression but far more controlled. T.I. did not come to play. I’m liking this. Jeeeezus. He really arrived, ran across the song like he was Supersonic, and left with my jaw hanging. Give me an album of verses like that T.I. and I’ll forgive you for everything.
13. "Blackout" (ft. Young Thug)
Atlanta is all over the album. Funny, rappers love to say they have millions still in the trap house. We don’t care! By far one of the most menacing beats on the entire album. Beat Billionaire made a bully. Young Thug doesn’t even sound like himself until he shifts to the high-pitched flow. A bit more aggressive than what you would expect. French sounds like he’s trying to fit in with Thugger’s strangeness. The two are having the oddest back and forth. I’m so confused by the bizarreness of what’s unfolding. The two basically tagged teamed the beat and it happened so sporadically. I hate how the hook sounds like the verses, they switch without any warning. Thugger is changing his voice every time he appears. He’s like the video of the black woman on Twitter who changes her wig about 10 times in under a minute. “Yellow diamonds on me like a yellow ducky,” I just laughed out loud. This is the most amazing and puzzling song on the entire album. I need more rappers to rap alongside Thug just to showcase how unorthodox he is as a vocalist. A true alien. I’ll keep this one just so I can spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
14. "She Workin" (ft. Marc E. Bassy)
Hahaha. French went from a trap war zone with Thugger to a sensual, groovy house number with Marc E. Bassy. It’s a slow builder, Marc’s vocals sound great. French has found a way to adjust himself for each song. He’s a vibe chaser, trying to make sure each track has a fitting approach. The shaker is such a great addition to any song. I can see “She Workin” having international appeal. He did a Kanye love Kanye line, pretty sure most of this was recorded last year. Short. Thinking my life will be okay without this one.
15. "Formula" (ft. Alkaline)
The voice of a Jamaican man. Everything spicy! Bumbaclot! Such a fire way to start a song. My man is turnt. Some Jamaican dancehall to spice up the vibe. Such a warm number. French entered on the song mentioning Chinx murder. I can’t believe how he used such an infectious foundation to begin with a somber verse. But that’s real life, sunny days can end in cold deaths. Not what I was expecting. Alkaline sounds good. He leaned hard into the dancehall sound, I like how the music roots aren’t trying to be overridden by American contemporary elements. Unlike “Unforgettable,” it's less about making a hit and more about truly paying homage to the Jamaican sound. First time hearing Alkaline, interested in how deep his roots are in Jamaican dancehall. Cool. I hear massive potential.
Well, French is famous so the song title is fitting. A slow build up. Dancehall-esque production with French sounding like he’s doing his best Drake rendition. Well, maybe not Drake, but he doesn’t sound like French. So odd. It’s almost like he transformed into someone completely different. “I hope you don’t get famous.” I like the vibe, still contemplating how I feel about his voice. I definitely like the idea of where he’s going with this. It’s not the next “Unforgettable,” though. Singing just doesn’t sound like French's natural position in music. If The Weeknd sung this, it would be an undeniable wrap. Yeah, this is far more Weeknd than Drake with great production keeping the song feeling fresher than Publix produce. Also, this album is long.
17. "Too Much"
Too LONG! My interest has been waning. Let's see if these last two tracks can bring me back. Also, interesting how the album ends with just French, as if he wanted to run the final leg alone. Smooth production, smooth flow. Tough talking French sounds like he’s calling out hits; an untouchable Tony Montana character. Not crazy about the singing on the hook, but it comes together when he switches to the rapping. There’s a sense that French has entered his bag on the second verse. Digging him in this zone. I wish this song was a little further up. It’s a cool track, when French raps like this I can get into it.
18. "White Dress"
Will French end with a wedding song!? Probably not. He is singing about living for a thousand years, though. Recommending that anyone he has hurt should drink Ciroc for their tears, excellent advice. LOL. Did he just say his driver looks like a mid-life crisis? Everything about this song has been hilarity. Coming off as an Auto-Tuned freestyle, thank God he decided to keep it under seven minutes. Stunting on rappers. Pretty sure he’s been stunting everyone on this verse. He said he fucks his accountant, I feel like that is the last person you want to mix business and pleasure with. Honestly, the carelessness makes “White Dress” a far more fun record than it should be. Might be one of the most wavy songs on the album. And it's over.
Have you ever been invited to the club after spending an extended amount of time away? There's an excitement about going out, turning up, and having the time of your life starts to formulate into the perfect fantasy. So you go. But by the time you leave, fun turns to dissatisfaction. Your vision of a night filled with drunk stumbling, tireless dancing and unforgettable memories didn’t come to fruition like you had imagined. It was just another night at the club, at worst, a reminder of why you stopped going. On first listen, French Montana’s Jungle Rules fills me with a similar contrast of emotions―happy that I went out, but also wishing that I stayed in.
Jungle Rules isn’t a club album, but it fits within the spectrum of musical entertainment that’s meant to be fun and blissful. A lot of the songs feel like they could be offered to the summer as anthems to soundtrack youthful thrills and debauchery. French knows how to have a good time, that’s without question, but he still struggles to keep me captivated. I enjoy his ear for production and how he’s able to find suitable guest to fill the party with added flare, but when they leave he struggles to keep the excitement going. This is what makes the singles so enjoyable—they don’t overstay their welcome. I prefer French Montana brief and amusing.
Jungle Rules will likely work best when a handful of songs are isolated on different playlists. He has crafted some solid material—more than a few tracks are worth revisiting—but as a whole, the entire album didn’t give me the sense that I’ve been missing much. Especially due to the album's length, 18 songs is no different than an entire season of Game Of Thrones.
It’s not that French is predictable, it's that he only has a few tricks that are impressive, and a few he shouldn’t do in public. He’s a better craftsman than rapper or singer, a builder of moods even if he isn’t able to always execute them. Every time you go out, the hope is to have a good time. But you only remember the great times. Even though there are pleasant moments, I won’t remember much about Jungle Rules beyond today.
At least for the rest of this summer and future summers to come, we’ll have “Unforgettable.” That’s all I really need.
Early Favorites: "Unforgettable," "Jump," "Bring Dem things"
Early Not-So-Favorites: "She Workin," "Trippin," "Hotel Bathroom"
By Yoh, aka Unforgettable Yoh, aka @Yoh31