Johnny Nunez, WireImage
But after a string of buzz-heavy mixtapes, DVDs and an omnipresent 2011 'hood anthem 'Choppa Choppa Down' featuring Atlanta spitter Waka Flocka Flame, Montana proved all the skeptics wrong. With a new album, 'Excuse My French,' due out later this year, and his 'Shot Caller' track circulating radio stations, Montana now turns his attention to delivering on all the hype. The BoomBox caught up with the rapper to discuss his surprising ascension, why he feels New York hip-hop is on the rise, his feelings about Common and Drake's beef and the seasoned producers he's working with on his forthcoming LP.
You are featured on one of the most talked about songs in the country right now, Rick Ross' 'Stop Schemin.'' How does it feel to be a dude from the Bronx, N.Y., who is making this kind of noise?
Man, it's been like a blessing. One day you wake up and you the most hated, and the next day you the most loved. It shows you how much things have turned. Like I said, it's a blessing for me.
What's your take on the Drake and Common battle, given they both used the 'Stop Schemin'' record to air out their beefs?
I didn't really know it was going to happen like that [laughs]. I didn't even know who was taking shots at who. But big shot-out to Drake. I've known Drake for a minute. He's my brother. And shout out to Rozay. I just stay away from all of that stuff. I'm trying to make music and make some money.
The song 'Shot Caller' seems to be one of the few East Coast-sounding records out right now, even down to its sampling of the Lords of the Underground's early '90s classic 'Funky Child.' And then there's the video, which was shot in the Bronx and features Fat Joe, Busta Rhymes, Diddy and N.O.R.E. Were you making a New York statement with that song and clip?
I just made it in my own New York state of mind. I can't really control what goes on out here and what kind of music people make. I just know what I can make. But it's very New York. And shooting that video [with the artists you mentioned] was a blessing. It's so humbling. It's the Bronx. I'm just soaking it in.
You came to the U.S. at the age of 13 from Morocco. How did you discover hip-hop and how much of a culture shock was it for you to be immersed in African-American and Latino culture as a Middle Eastern kid?
Coming from Morocco was just different, man. It's a third-world country and you are trying to make it happen. That's all it is. I didn't have any problem hooking up with the black kids because I'm from North Africa. And as far as Latinos, we are all the same.
What is your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Hip-hop is worldwide, my brother. It's everywhere. It's the only worldwide language that everybody speaks. Hip-hop was in Morocco. I don't care where the f--- you go. You are going to hear Tupac and Biggie, especially at that time. Hip-hop was always around.
Did you have a favorite MC?
I really liked Tupac, Scarface, Snoop Dogg, Biggie, Big Punisher and Jay-Z. It was always like that.
Talk about how you were able to garner notoriety in the south with 'Choppa Choppa Down.' And how did you get Waka Flocka Flame to come on board for that track?
Shout to Debra [Antney], that's his mother, who is also my manager. Waka is like my brother. We worked together and it came out like that. The way that song [blew up], it just happened. I couldn't tell you why. I don't even know how it happened [laughs].
What has been the biggest change for you since having that success?
Man, I'm so in the middle and all in it that I don't know how really far I am in the game. Everybody hits me up now. I even have my old teachers calling me [laughs]. Teachers I haven't spoken to since I was a kid. But to keep it 100, everybody measures success differently. As long as everybody is happy -- my friends, my family -- that's how I know I've made it.
Let's go back to early days to your 'Cocaine City' DVD in the early 2000s. Were you worried that people would take that drug reference in the wrong way?
Hell yeah, I was [laughs]. But when you are young and stupid you don't care about s--- like that. That's how I looked at it coming up in the game.
You signed with Akon's Konvict Muzik label imprint. What was that whole period like and why didn't it work out?
I was never officially signed with Akon, but it was a shopping deal. That was around the time he was going through some problems with his label at Interscope. I waited, but when a deal didn't happen, I just went out on my own.
What has being signed to Bad Boy and having Diddy in your corner meant for your career?
I felt like for what I needed, Bad Boy got me...they got me covered. Especially Puff, man. He's going to be the first billionaire rap entertainer. At the end of the day, they need me. Other artists-labels don't need me, but Bad Boy and Puff needs me. And I need them. It goes both ways. Bad Boy was where my heart was at.
Before you signed to Bad Boy there were reports that you were headed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation, Rick Ross' Maybach Music and Kanye's G.O.O.D. Music. How close were you to joining any of those labels?
It was crazy. We worked so hard to get to that point. So when you have people like Jay-Z, Ross and Kanye, and Puff and everybody like that looking at you, that shows you are a part of hip-hop history.
Talk about the making of your upcoming debut studio album, 'Excuse My French.' What can fans expect in terms of your sound and collaborations?
I'm working with the best new producer. His name is Harry Fraud -- he's the one that did 'Shot Caller.' I'm also working with Lex Luger, Billionaire Boyscout and Play-N-Skillz. I'm working with a bunch of producers, man. I'm not going to go to a producer that's going to take me in a studio and charge me my whole budget and give me a fake head nod. I'm just trying to make good music. I appreciate everybody that's supporting me.