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French Montana
Excuse My French Gary Suarez , June 4th, 2013 10:43

It's inadvisable to expend too much energy thinking about Excuse My French. One can practically feel the record bristle under such scrutiny, an understandable response given the number of legitimate conventional criticisms that could be levied at the Bronx, NY rapper's full-length debut. Branded by no less than four distinct label imprints and saddled with nearly two dozen vocal guests, French Montana seems a belovedly pitiable runt of the rap litter at a time when he purports to be leading the herd.

Dwarfed by his collaborators' lyrical talents and signature styles on the Luke-sampling pre-release single 'Pop That', the handpicked 2012 XXL Magazine freshman suffers from the success of others in a similar fashion here. His verses rarely deviate from a well-worn drugs and money motif, spat over a scattershot selection of unblushing beat replicas. In fact, upon further inspection Excuse My French so blatantly plunders rap radio's past and present that once one stops expecting anything original there's little left to do than mentally catalog the references.

Yet while French Montana isn't doing anything new, he's also not doing anything wrong. Diddy and Rick Ross - both executive producers with respective financial stakes in this record - had neither reason nor incentive to make Excuse My French any other way than how it turned out. In the rock music world, including a series of notable collaborators on another artist's record is by and large considered positively. (Skull Ring, Iggy Pop's best record this side of the millennium, had him jamming with Green Day and Sum 41 and reaffirmed his punk bona fides.) Why, then, should French endure so much shade for featuring the chart-topping likes of Drake and Nicki Minaj on his album, a debut no less? Chalk it up to rockism or even reverse rockism, if you have the time.

Following last year's grimly gorgeous GOOD Music banger 'Mercy', every rapper in his right mind wants to feature on the next multi-platinum posse cut. Excuse My French offers two such candidates. The superior, explosive 'Pop That' introduced French to his widest audience yet, thanks in no small part to impressive verses from Messrs. Drizzy and Rozay. Anyone half-paying attention to hip hop has no doubt heard these Gold-certified bars dozens of times over the past 10 months. Even though our hero vanishes after the first verse, 'Fuck What Happens Tonight' coasts along with adequate bars from Snoop Dogg and Scarface along with Mavado's Caribbean-ized Auto-Tune hook.

Much like the Bronx rappers of the mid-to-late 90s such as Big Pun and Fat Joe, French spits what he knows. You're not going to find him swapping verses with the brainy blog-friendly young'uns presently popping out of the five boroughs. This is a man who survived an attempted murder - having been shot in the head, specifically. As we've learned from 50 Cent, that sort of near-death experience can make a rapper pretty damned cocky. Real talk grinders ('I Told Em') and brag swag bangers (the air raid drone of 'When I Want') evince French's mindset in the game. 'Bust It Open', a hedonistic cocaine-n-cooze celebration, is purely for the turn-up, while 'Trap House' pridefully delivers drug dealer self-confidence.

On the production front, the line between cynicism and opportunism dissolves all over Excuse My French. Lately it seems major label rappers are disallowed to release an album without a Young Chop beat, and 'Paranoid' fills that quota here. French all-but mocks Chief Keef by coating his voice in corrective electronic goo to achieve the desired drill sound. The latest in a recent spate of worry-free cuts, 'Ain't Worried About Nothin'' follows the contemporary formula as dutifully as any 'Louie Louie' imitator might've done in the 1960s. 'We Go Where Ever We Want' jacks The RZA's instantly recognizable 'Ice Cream' beat, repurposed just barely to allow for a jarring, disruptive hook from Ne-Yo. Chef Raekwon, ever the magniloquent Wu master, undoes any damage by following French's two giddy verses with one final puzzle of reference upon inscrutable reference.

Rae's brief appearance here inadvertently reminds that there was a time in New York rap when lyricism reigned, that street stories were told authentically and excitedly in slang and in code. Those days, however, are long gone, and Excuse My French sounds like the rap of right now, accessible to even the most clueless bumpkin thanks to the levelling force of Rap Genius and the willingness of undercooked and over-endorsed artists like French Montana to dole out simplified hooks and snappy one-liners. And if that's something you take issue with, there are plenty of nostalgic underground artists waiting for you elsewhere.