French Montana was born Karim Kharbouch in 1984 in Rabat, Morocco, and was brought up at a family estate outside Casablanca where he lived for the first 13 years of his life. His parents are both Moroccan, though he has some Somali ancestry on his mother’s side as well. Growing up, he was consumed with playing football and rapping, describing them as his two favorite childhood hobbies.
In 1996, at the age of 13, Kharbouch left Morocco with his mother, father Abdela and younger brother Zack for South Bronx in New York City. He learned English in the streets and in the Bronx high schools of Lehman and Roosevelt. His father returned to Casablanca after two years. His youngest brother, Ayoub, was born in America, after their father had departed. His mother was on welfare. The family income came from Karim.
In 2002, along with his friend, Cokeboy Los, French created a series of street-flavored mix tapes called ‘Cocaine City’ after drawing inspiration from the ‘Smack’ DVD series. Under the name Young French he used the DVDs as a means of showcasing his talent as an underground artist. To gain a broader fan base, French incorporated interviews with major artists, as well as some up and comers. The first edition in the series included Pee Wee Kirkland and Remy Ma alongside French himself among others. What started out as simply a medium for developing an audience quickly grew into one of the top-selling « street DVDs ». The series ran for 8 years between 2002 and 2010, with a total of 14 editions being released.
In 2009, French signed a deal with Akon’s Konvict Muzik record label. He later left the company two years later in 2011 due to album delays. Montana was subsequently reportedly close to signing a deal with Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group (MMG). There were also reports that he would join Kanye West’s GOOD Music label.
In December 2011, French signed a record deal with P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, as well as Interscope Records. According to French, of the many major labels that were courting him, Maybach Music Group would have been his second choice had he not signed with Bad Boy. However, on January 2, 2012 while in the studio with Rick Ross, French announced that he had signed a joint venture deal with Bad Boy Records and Maybach Music Group. Ross and Diddy are set to executive produce his debut album.
French was featured on XXL’s Freshman Class of 2012 alongside Future, Kid Ink, Danny Brown, Macklemore, Don Trip, Hopsin, Iggy Azalea, Roscoe Dash and Bad Boy label mate MGK. However, he later revealed to Sway Calloway on RapFix Live that he almost turned down the cover opportunity, feeling he « deserved it two years ago » and that he had surpassed the current crop of rap rookies.
In October 2012, it was announced that French’s debut album Excuse My French would be released on May 21, 2013. His mixtape Mac & Cheese 3 was released shortly afterwards, on November 19, 2012. French also announced plans to release a mixtape titled Medusa with fellow rapper Future in November 2012. The second single from Excuse My French was, « Freaks » featuring Nicki Minaj. He was featured in Issue #82 of The FADER and appeared on the cover. The third single would be « Ain’t Worried About Nothin' ». Upon its release, Excuse My French was met with mixed reviews from music critics. It fared better commercially, debuting at number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 56,000 copies in the United States.
On August 12, 2013, French announced that his group/record label Coke Boys, that includes rappers Chinx Drugz, Flip, Cheeze and Lil Durk are currently working on collaboration studio album. The group released a mixtape, Coke Boys 4, in January 2014. Following its release, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Montana revealed that Mac & Cheese 4 would be his second studio album rather than a mixtape.
According to French, the rappers Tupac Shakur, Nas, Snoop Dogg, The Notorious B.I.G, 50 Cent, and the Wu-Tang Clan were among the hip hop artists that he listened to while growing up. He also considers himself a general music lover, and is an admirer of the work of English R&B singers Amy Winehouse and Adele.