French Montana is a poor man’s rap star, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting rich. He shares Future’s knack for sing-songy choruses, lending memorable hooks to hits by Rick Ross (“Stay Schemin’”), P.A.P.I. (“Tadow”), and Chinx Drugs (“I’m A Coke Boy”), yet he isn’t half as innovative or imposing as the Auto-Tuned ATLien. He’s a gleeful lout like 2 Chainz, minus the color and charisma. He’s even more of a cipher than A$AP Rocky but lacks Rocky’s carefully refined audio-visual fashion sense. Speaking of cyphers, French won’t be winning one any time soon. On the Moroccan immigrant’s biggest hit, “Pop That,” he’s swallowed up by the mammoth, club-crushing beat and overshadowed by his A-List guests—even latter-day Lil Wayne, whose rabid goblin giggling overshadows no one these days. French is best known for accidentally inventing the word “fanute” because his flow was too mumbly to discern the actual lyrics without Rap Genius. Traditionally, New York rappers evoke hardscrabble concrete jungles; this guy just sounds like concrete.
So it comes as no surprise that Excuse My French, his official Bad Boy debut, is an exercise in throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks. The guest list is large and predictable, from the de rigueur (Jeremih, Ace Hood) to the perpetually available (Raekwon). The production is uniformly sleek, and it all bangs, especially the Gucci-reminiscent “Trap House,” but no common thread emerges beyond crass opportunism. Few rappers belong in a duet with avant-R&B creeper lothario The Weeknd less than French Montana. He sounds slightly more at home on the super-serious New York hip-hop beats of “Once In A While” and “We Go Where Ever We Want,” but even there, a prominent Kanye sample and a corny Ne-Yo chorus are more memorable than anything French coughs up. There are attempts to imitate Lex Luger/Waka Flocka skull-smashing (“Bust It Open”), Clams Casino/A$AP cloud rap (“I Told Em”) and Major Lazer/Snoop Lion faux-dancehall (“Fuck What Happens Tonight,” on which the erstwhile Doggfather shows up to directly contradict his recent “No Guns Allowed” sentiment).
Like Snoop, French’s message is as muddled as his aesthetic: The flaccid Future ripoffs “Ain’t Worried About Nothin” and “Paranoid” appear consecutively. On “Gifted,” he compares himself to talented but troubled celebrities including Whitney Houston, Tiger Woods, and Jimi Hendrix, but provides no evidence of significant talent nor troubles in his own life. All that confused posturing is a waste of time anyhow because the best tracks by far are the sex romps. The abominable-but-indomitable “Pop That” appears, as does the Nicki Minaj collaboration “Freaks,” a sproingy Missy Elliott throwback with a wondrous array of moving parts. It’s the rare occasion when French contributes more than just a killer chorus (though that’s there too), and it suggests he might be able to come up with something more stimulating next time around than this vacant record-by-the-numbers.