Inside the collaboration-heavy, genre-versatile resurgence of French Montana
On his new album They Got Amnesia, the US rapper enlists an army of collaborators to weasel his way back into the headlines of hip-hop.
In 2017, French Montana felt unstoppable. Five years into his career, the US rapper reached a pinnacle on his Swae Lee-assisted single Unforgettable, a chart-dominating single that would become French Montana's biggest commercial success story to date and one of the biggest hip-hop singles of the year. The album it was taken from - the same year's Jungle Rules - would chart in the Billboard top three, with an international success even felt all the way in Australia, where the record would become French's first charting album.
Following Unforgettable's commercial rule, however, French Montana didn't quiet down. Backed by a discography bolstered by collaboration, the rapper emerged as a go-to collaborative heavyweight providing a distinct touch to tracks by some of music's most successful heavyweights; Unforgettable preluding tracks alongside The Weeknd, Drake, Post Malone, Cardi B, A$AP Rocky, Giggs, Major Lazer and more. In fact, it's more difficult to find a rapper that French Montana hasn't collaborated with across his decade-long career, with every pocket of rap music touched by his presence.
However, despite these headline-sized collaborations, French Montana has struggled to reach the heights of his past. The Drake-featuring No Stylist was the closest he got to the success of Unforgettable, while the next year's Slide (featuring Blueface and Lil Tjay) and the arena-sized Writing On The Wall (featuring the aforementioned pair of Cardi B and Post Malone) failed to impact in the US; the latter mysteriously finding more traction in Australia, where it brought French Montana his second ARIA Top 50 single.
In the dying moments of 2021, however, French Montana is eyeing a resurgence. Arriving in the depths of November was French Montana's fourth album They Got Amnesia, an aptly-titled record that aimed to re-introduce the rapper's craft and the consistent pace of evolution and growth that's defined his career thus far, including the last few years. It's an album that hopes to showcase the newfound heights of French through its spiralling, 22-track duration, providing a reminder of his earworm-ing brilliance years after his commercial breakthrough.
But how does French Montana hope to re-introduce himself to the commercial cultural sphere? Through the thing that got him there in the first place: collaboration. Across the course of They Got Amnesia's hour-long duration, French Montana enlists an army of guest collaborators that each bring their own distinct energies to the record's sound; the end result being a cross-mash of different sounds and a melting pot of headline-sized US hip-hop in 2021 - and how French Montana seemingly has the ability to bring out the best of all of them.
For example, the taking the swerving blend of hip-hop and nostalgic R&B that arms tracks like Touch The Sky and Didn't Get Far with their own flavours; the former enlisting John Legend and Rick Ross for the occasion, while the latter delves head-first into nostalgia bait by unearthing Fabolous from the glory day of mid-2000s R&B and soul - something we honestly couldn't expect.
Then, on the other side, there are tracks like Stuck In The Jungle with Lil Durk and the late Pop Smoke, the TikTok-destined Handstand featuring Doja Cat and Saweetie, the Fivio Foreign-featuring Panicking and the Coi Leray-assisted Push Start; songs which empower and energise with their quick-firing pace, showing off the more characteristic hip-hop side to French Montana's sound. Striptease - featuring Ty Dolla $ign and one-to-watch Latto - sits somewhere in the middle; Latto being as fiery as ever, while Ty remains one of R&B's strongest collaborators.
Over the last decade, French Montana has cultivated a career out of bringing the best of himself to collaborations and likewise, bringing the best out of his own collaborators - and They Got Amnesia is no different. Sure, hallmark heavyweights such as John Legend, Pop Smoke, Doja Cat and Ty Dolla $ign are about as impactful as you'd expect, but his elevation of rappers with a bright future ahead is the calling card for They Got Amnesia's strengths: Coi Leray, Latto and Fivio Foreign in particular being three break-outs bound to further define the year ahead.
All three of these acts are ones that strive on They Got Amnesia, as French Montana gives them the space needed - and the budget you'd expect - for them to flex their creative muscles. Coi Leray - a rapper teetering on the edge of a full commercial breakthrough - feels in her lane on Push Start, while Fivio Foreign backs up a break-out performance on Kanye West's DONDA with Panicking - a single that relishes in its energy. Then, there's Latto, who feels on top of her game on Striptease, perhaps even being the entire album's unexpected star. French Montana has always brought that out of his collaborators, from Swae Lee on Unforgettable right through to the next generation he uplifts on They Got Amnesia.
With a new record under his belt, the prowess of French Montana is re-introduced to the world, and his re-emergence seems set in stone. We'll have to wait and see whether it pays off, but for the acts that are elevated across the course of the album's winding duration - it's hard to see They Got Amnesia as anything but a success story.