by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
The dressing room of a hip-hop artist can be a crowded place before a performance. There are friends and family filing in, drinks poured and immaculate food spreads being crushed. Stage call times rarely workout and it’s easy to see why—there is so much going on that it might be hard to leave the pre-game party.
When French Montana entered his suite above the stage at Rain Nightclub inside Las Vegas’ Palms Hotel, he had to get a lot done during a tiny window of time. Before his performance at the Reebok Classics party during the Project trade show last week, French was introduced to some important executives at the brand, greeted family and friends while enjoying a drink before the hot lights turned up.
As credentialed media in this environment, it’s best to keep your head low and STFU until called upon. Usually that time comes when the person in charge of the room says so, and it can come at the most unlikely time. In this case, the gatekeeper for French appeared to be the head of his security detail. A big and powerful man with a strong presence, he seemed to know what every single person in the room was in attendance for, despite any acknowledgement whatsoever. A few of us with Reebok media badges sat on a couch as the party in the suite escalated.
After about 10 minutes, I heard his voice cut through the loud noise. “You’re from SLAM, right?” And with that, French Montana walked over and introduced himself, shook my hand and sat down.
SLAM: What do you think about what Swizz has been doing with Reebok the past couple years?
French Montana: Swizz is from the same neighborhood I’m from. Even before the sneaker thing, I looked at him as an idol to everybody that comes from where I come from. So for him to give everybody opportunity, like me, like Ross—he knows what the kids follow, he knows that we set trends. He’s a trendsetter; he’s been doing it for years. I just feel like it was the right thing to do. Kids follow us, kids follow him, it’s only right.
SLAM: How would you describe your style?
FM: Flashy. I’m flashy—I want to wear shit nobody got. I want to set trends. It’s almost like when Hov came out and started button ups, you know what I’m saying? You want to set trends. A lot a kids don’t know what to wear, so we are in a position to let them know what’s hot and what’s not.
SLAM: Have you started designing your own clothing or creating other products?
FM: Definitely. We’re at the Magic show with the Coke Boy clothing, we got the Frost Originals clothing line—that’s what I got on right here.
SLAM: Why was this a business that attracted you?
FM: There’s enough space for all kinds of entrepreneurs in the game. There’s always room to expand.
SLAM: Were you a Knicks fan growing up in the Bronx?
FM: Of course, even though they never win I still ride with them. I used to love flashy ballers when I was coming up. I used to love Steve Francis when he had that handle, Baron Davis when he was doing it—I just love point guards. Kobe when he came in and had the fro. Vince Carter in his prime—of course. Shawn Kemp.
SLAM: Do you think basketball has influenced hip-hop in any way or has it been the other way around?
FM: Basketball and hip-hop is almost like the same thing. I hang around athletes all the time and it feels like we all come from the same neighborhood where you make it in the NBA, NFL or you rap.
SLAM: You spent a good part of your life growing up in Morocco. How did that impact your music career?
FM: It gave me a different hustler mentality. I come from a third world county and I’ve seen people not have it at all—not just being poor, but being in the worst possible predicaments you can be in. I learned from that. You have to take every day as a blessing. Where I come from, they call this the land of opportunity, so you have to imagine living here is that. Some people that are born here may take it for granted. But I love being somewhere like this.
SLAM: You talked about kids around the world looking up to you now. Does that change how you conduct yourself on a day-to-day basis?
FM: It has put me in a place where I can’t make dumb decisions. I need to keep a stable mind.
SLAM: What are your goals moving forward?
FM: As long as I’m doing better than last year, I’m doing good. As long as there is growth every day. I’d rather make $20 million over 20 years than make $20 million in one year. I want to keep growing as an artist, as a person, as an entrepreneur. I don’t want any handouts. Of course you are going to win and you are going to lose—that’s everybody. I’ve learned from great people like Ross, Puff and Swizz—I’m in a great space.