Bad Boy/Epic
Bad Boy/Epic

Few rappers have mastered the art of remaining omnipresent quite like French Montana. The Moroccan sensation out of the South Bronx has come a long way since his humble beginnings as a DVD peddler, evolving into a bonafide rap star while gradually building his Cocaine City empire into one of the strongest movements in the New York City rap scene. Four years removed from his debut album, Excuse My French, Montana unleashes his sophomore album, Jungle Rules, a release that finds him attempting to bolster his standing in the mainstream market with a barrage of club anthems alongside a star-studded list of costars.

A celebratory affair, Jungle Rules is an album rooted in progression, with French Montana detailing the perks of his life of luxury and injecting his carefree brand of bravado over expansive soundscapes that run the gamut from blustering boom-bap to more melodic backdrops. However, the grisly undertones that have been present throughout French's discography also loom on Jungle Rules, as he litters the album with reminders of his past life and the losses he's experienced. "Whiskey Eyes," the album's initial offering upon pressing play on Jungle Rules, is a haunting introductory selection, with production by Rick Steel, Shaun Lopez & Ben Billions producing a string-heavy composition complete with ominous drums and a persistent vocal sample, over which French Montana shares the highs and lows of his rise to prominence.

"The best thing I did was let that pain hurt my feelings/Turn the pain into music/Turn the music into millions, haaan," French professes before painting an opulent scene of worlds away from the Bronx trenches. A large reason for that pain he speaks of can be attributed to the death of former Coke Boys member Chinx, who was the victim of a 2015 drive-by shooting in Queens, an incident that would affect French deeply. Summoning the spirit of his fallen comrade, who contributes a posthumous verse to anchor the track, Montana states "My nigga Chinx son became my own son," as he begins Jungle Rules on an intense note.

Despite not being recognized as a curator, a term reserved for the likes of DJ Khaled and Diddy, French Montana is as effective as anyone at galvanizing and surrounding himself with star talent, a skill he found applicable during the recording of Jungle Rules. Marginal at best as a lyricist, French may be capable of holding down a track on his own on occasion, as he does on the rollicking "Hotel Bathroom" and the amped-up deep cut "Too Much," but he truly finds his stride in collaborative settings. Incarcerated cronie Max B makes an appearance on The Weeknd assisted "A Lie," with the latter turning in one of the superior showings on the album, navigating the Harry Fraud produced ditty with purpose, while fellow 2012 Freshman classmate Future provides a sermon live from the trap on "No Pressure," a holdover that was scrapped from his MC4 project.

A native of New York City, French Montana may hail from the borough that birthed hip-hop, but he is by no means a shameless homer, as his ability to mesh with a myriad of artists within varied confines has afforded him the ability to be a rap chameleon of sorts. Out of all locales south of the Mason-Dixon, French's connection to Atlanta runs deep, as evidenced by the plethora of Atlanta rap heavyweights that make appearances throughout Jungle Rules. Quavo, who continues to strengthen his case for being the hottest feature in rap as of late, rears his head on "Migo Montana," while T.I. returns to form with a rapid-fire delivery on "Stop It," and Young Thug lends his warbly wails to the Beat Billionaire produced number "Blackout," all of which help bolster the latter portion of the album.

French Montana's recent hobnobbing with entertainment's elite has been well-documented over the past few years. He's been captured with high-profile celebs like Saana Lathan, Khloe Kardashian and Iggy Azalea, a wrinkle of his lifestyle that has seemingly influenced his music, with an ample amount of vibrant compositions included on Jungle Rules. "Catch me with J Lo in the Hamptons," French boasts on the Marc E. Bassy assisted heater "She Workin," a pulsating offering courtesy of producer Nic Nac, NGHTxNGHT and Davidior, while Rae Sremmurd member Swae Lee gifts him with what may be a strong contender for "Song of the Summer" with the smash single "Unforgettable," the Coke Boy's biggest Billboard hit to date. One of the peak moments on Jungle Rules comes via the Harry Fraud production "Bring Dem Things," which pairs French Montana with Pharrell Williams, who gives listeners a dose of Skateboard P with craft quotables like "Chanel scarf like rainbow barf/$1000 sip nigga, this ain't yo' cloth" on what makes for the album's most boisterous inclusion.

Emotional depth and and poignancy aren't traits normally attributed to French Montana, but both get put on display on the Rico Love produced "Famous," on which French Montana laments the downsides of fame, crooning "Even though the world was meant for you/I hope you don't get famous/'Cause everyone will love you but won't love you like the way I do," in a rare moment of vulnerability for the cocksure spitter.

Years in the making and long overdue, Jungle Rules is another step in the direction for French Montana, as he continues to inch towards reaching the zenith of his popularity with his attention to moving the crowd, particularly the clubs and the streets, while keeping a watchful eye at opportunities to crossover without overstepping his boundaries. With that said, French's tendency for repetitive subject matter and lack of a distinct rhyme or reason in terms of the type of creative direction that solidifies an artist as an entity of their own leaves a bit to be desired from Jungle Rules. Those missteps aside, Jungle Rules is a quality long player with a few worthwhile peaks, in spite of its valleys.

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