ASAP Rocky gets a lot of credit for being a New York rapper who’s figured out how to play with Southern rap sonics, but in a way, his fellow New Yorker French Montana has him beat. The Moroccan-born Bronx-based Montana has been a staple of New York’s mixtape scene for years, and he didn’t really do much to distinguish himself for much of that time. I remember watching the Brooklyn battle-rap type Murda Mook clowning him mercilessly in some street DVD a while back, and it took me forever to figure out that he and Brick Squad 1017 rapper Frenchie were two different people. But Montana has really hit his stride in the past year and a half, mostly because he’s figured out that his unflappable, sleepy-eyed monotone delivery sounds pretty amazing on chaotic Southern fight-music. On tracks with guys like Waka Flocka Flame, Montana sounds like the calm in the middle of the storm, the eye of the hurricane. He’s turned his music into a study in contrasts, and it’s working.
Like virtually every other up-and-coming rapper these days, Montana is also almost absurdly prolific. In the space of a week, he released two collaborative mixtapes, both of which build on his charisma with crunk-revival types. The first was Lock Out, his tape with Waka Flocka Flame, and it was good. The second is Cocaine Mafia, on which he teams up with the Three 6 Mafia veterans Juicy J and Project Pat, and it’s great.
Juicy J has been on his own riotous roll of late, releasing excellently dumb anthem-laden mixtapes like Rubba Band Business 2 and Blue Dream & Lean. Those tapes focus on all-out ridiculous party music, but Cocaine Mafia is darker and moodier, bringing some of the old gothic stomp of his Three 6 classics. And the tape also comes with a generous helping of Project Pat, who, when I’m in the right mood, is one of my favorite rappers ever. Pat is Juicy’s older brother, and when he hasn’t been in prison, he’s long served as Three 6’s cleanup batter, the guy who jumps onto a track when it most needs a ridiculous verse. His subject matter tends toward Triple-6 standbys: drugs, sex, Memphis, stomping your face. But his word choices and his elocution are wondrously bizarre things. He uses his high-pitched staccato drawl to recreate bird chirps and frog burbles and metal-on-metal pings, all while delivering eerie threats in a demented playground sing-song. He is, quite simply, a national treasure. These three guys all know what they’re doing, and they all sound good together.
Despite a few elegantly chopped-up soul samples, Cocaine Mafia makes no overt concessions to the New York rap that Montana presumably knows best. Instead, it brings him completely into his collaborators’ dark Memphis wonderland, where his somnambulent calm somehow sounds right at home. And that sense of quiet has a great effect on his collaborators; Juicy somehow never flips out into party-guy excess, keeping things low-key and menacing throughout. And Pat, of course, would find a way to be low-key and menacing while doing magic tricks at a six-year-old’s birthday party; this suits him just fine. The tape is huge and long, and it just came out yesterday; I’m only now digesting it. There are certainly a few weak moments, like the Akon chorus on “Self Made” that seems beamed in from one of 2007’s worst moments. But for the most part, this is a powerfully potent mixtape, and it doesn’t deserve to get lost in the year-end dead period. It deserves our collective attention.
Download Cocaine Mafia for free here.