By Geoffrey Rowlands
French Montana was 15 years old when he had to become the family breadwinner. The man born Karim Kharbouch in Rabat, Morocco, was just 13 when his family moved to New York. He arrived speaking only Arabic and French. English was learned on the streets and in high school.
After two years of struggle, his father Abdela gave up on his American dream and decided to move back to Morocco. But Karim’s mother refused to leave. She cited lack of opportunities in their homeland and stayed put in New York.
“We were living on welfare,” explained French Montana, now 32. “Despite this, my mother believed we would eventually have a better life in America than if we went back to Morocco.”
With his father gone, French augmented the family income by whatever means he could find. Some of the money was earned legally, some was not. His illegal activities were such that he was risking not just a prison sentence but a deportation order. He was also risking his life, as proved by the gunshot entry and exit wounds on the back of his head.
French spent several weeks in hospital. Although he makes no secret of his brush with death, he is reluctant to discuss what happened in any detail.
“It came from the things I was doing at that time. You do dirt to people and people try to do dirt to you.”
The incident made French realise his life had to change.
“Lying in the hospital bed gave me time to think. Did I really want to keep putting myself in a position where I could get shot again? Everything happens for a reason. I didn’t want to keep making the same dumb mistakes. If you put your hand in the fire, you get burned. If you put it in the fire again, you get burned again.”
Although he was still hustling on the New York streets, French had begun his rap career when he was shot. He participated in battle raps under the name Young French and created a series of street DVDs called “Cocaine City.” They featured street music, interviews, hip hop beefs and provided a showcase for his own material. The DVDs proved so popular that the series ran from 2002 to 2010.
The first French Montana mixtape, French Revolution Vol. 1, was released in 2007. A further 15 mixtapes would be issued over the next six years. These products established him on the music scene before he recorded his debut studio album, Excuse My French. The LP proved massively successful hitting number four on the Billboard 200 and taking pole position on both the Top R&B / Hip Hop Albums and Top Rap Albums charts.
“Everybody knew about me by the fourth ‘Cocaine City’ DVD. All the mixtapes and collaborations with other artists built my fan base. People got to know I was real. That’s why they were so receptive to the album.
“I talk about real situations in my songs. I talk about what I’m going through or how I’m feeling. I want people to identify with what I’m saying and feel they share at least some of the same experiences.”
A further six mixtapes, plus numerous collaborations with other artists, have followed the album. But as French Montana fans may have been beginning to despair of hearing another LP, it seems his sophomore album could be set for release later this year.
Two tracks have been issued. No Pressure, which features Future, and Unforgettable, which boasts Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee as the guest artist. The latter has received critical and public acclaim. At 24 and still climbing Billboard’s Hot 100, the song is by far French Montana’s biggest US hit single. It has proved even more popular in the UK where Unforgettable currently holds the number six spot.
The song video and cover artwork refer back to his African roots.
“I was YouTubing my favourite African artist, Cheb Hasni, when I came across a video of these kids in Uganda dancing barefoot. I felt like I saw me in them because I was doing the same kind of thing when I was their age.
“They were happy living in poverty with no TVs and just learning how to dance. They had their own moves and their own swagger. I had to find these kids and put them in my video.
“The cover artwork is a photo of my parents taken at their wedding. It’s my favourite picture. It’s unforgettable for so many reasons since I was born later that year.
“I feel it’s time for everyone to know where I came from. Some people think I’m from Mexico or Puerto Rico. I have to tell them I’m from Morocco. I want people to get to know me.”
The recent death of singer, songwriter and musician Gregg Allman effectively concludes the history of Southern rock pioneers The Allman Brothers Band.
Gregg and his brother Duane Allman formed the band in 1969. Released later that year, their eponymously titled debut album stalled at number 188 on the US chart. But a solid concert schedule saw their fan following build to the extent that 1970’s Idlewild South reached number 38.
The band’s 1971 live album, At Filmore East, peaked at number 13 but continued selling in such numbers as to earn them their first platinum disc. Their second was for 1972’s Eat a Peach, which could have been The Allman Brothers Band’s final album.
Duane Allman was killed in a road accident during the making of Eat a Peach. The band members considered quitting but said they found strength, vitality, newness, reason and belonging in finishing the album. The music essentially brought life back to the band.
A year after Duane’s death, bassist Berry Oakley lost his life following another road accident just three blocks from where Duane had died. Again, the band members decided to continue.
Their next album, 1973’s Brothers and Sisters, was the band’s biggest hit. It topped the Billboard 200 and earned them another platinum disc. The album also spawned their most popular single. Ramblin’ Man hit number two on the Hot 100.
This was the zenith of their career. Although future albums would sell well enough, the band endured personnel changes, break-ups and re-formations before officially retiring in 2014.
Gregg recorded a number of successful solo albums and had another, Southern Blood, set for release in September. But he was dogged by a variety of health issues. He underwent a liver transplant in 2010 but eventually died of complications from liver cancer. He was 69.
Former Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello will release her debut solo album in September. But she has already issued two songs from The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving.
The official lead single, Crying in the Club, was followed just two days later by I Have Questions. This track has been designated as a promotional single.
The video for Crying in the Club is unusual in that it begins with one minute 42 seconds of I Have Questions before seamlessly morphing into Crying in the Club. It has certainly proved popular though garnering 16 million views in one week. The video can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlrYn_dZdqk
A lyric video for all three minutes 42 seconds of I Have Questions is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSdPkBKHqac
This song has not proved quite so popular registering four million views.
On May 14, Camila posted a lengthy message on her Facebook page relating the process of writing and recording her upcoming album. It is a sad tale but with a happy ending. Part of it reads; “The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving is the story of my journey from darkness into light, from a time when I was lost to a time when I found myself again.”
20 years ago, young girls were falling in their thousands at the feet of teen-pop trio Hanson. Brothers Isaac Hanson, then 16, Taylor, 14, and Zac, 11, topped the charts in 27 countries with their self-written debut single, MMMBop. Parent album, Middle of Nowhere, was also a world-wide smash.
Many people seem to believe these were Hanson’s only successes. But their six subsequent studio albums have all sold significantly well as did a number of other singles.
With their last album, Anthem, now four years old, fans were hoping for a new LP from the trio. This hasn’t happened but they have just released a new single.
I Was Born effectively celebrates the 20th anniversary of MMMBop. Homage is paid to Hanson as they were by featuring the trio’s children in the video.
“The lyrics are about being young and dreaming about what we wanted to do with our lives,” Zac explained. “The childlike aspect of the song called for children in the video. Using our own kids kind of completed the 20-year circle between MMMBop and now.”
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