With his latest single "No Stylist" featuring Drake releasing a little over a month ago, I figured music would be the primary focus of our chat when I met French Montana at the LG V40 ThinQ launch party at Stage 48 in Manhattan recently.
Sure, Montana is steadily working on a new album following the success of 2017's Jungle Rules, but it's connecting with his African heritage and supporting the country that helped shape who he is today that seems to be leading his present steps. "Honestly, I wanna make sure that I'm in the right space. I just dropped a single and two other songs and I just wanna let that play out," he said.
"I just wanna make sure I have everything done right to give the people what they deserve," Montana, LG's latest partner, said during our talk just minutes after he performed several of hits like "I'm A Coke Boy," "Pop That" and the summer single "Zooted" with Becky G.
Montana's taking his time with new music—and rightfully so. He's been grinding long before his first mixtape, French Revolution Vol. 1, was released in 2007. It's his charitable efforts that Montana seems to be moving full speed ahead with.
The Morocco native said he's been spending time in his home continent. After living in a village outside of Casablanca for the first 13 years of his upbringing, Montana, whose birth name is Karim Kharbouch, came to the U.S. with his parents where he was raised in the South Bronx. Nearly two decades had passed before the 33-year-old found his way back to Africa—Uganda, specifically—to shoot the video for his 2017 Billboard chart-topper, "Unforgettable," featuring Swae Lee, one-half of the rap duo Rae Sremmurd.
"I wasn't able to go to Africa for almost 20 years and now that I've got the chance to go back and get to my roots and make up for all the time I haven't been there, it's a beautiful thing," Montana said. "Africa's energy is different because [the people are] all rich in heart. It's sad to say they don't have the same access to the luxury life that we have, but all that luxury is in their hearts."
It was while Montana was on location in 2017 when he came face to face with the hardships Ugandans were facing in their day-to-day lives, including their tremendously limited access to medical care.
One of the country's most impoverished areas, Luuka District has a population of more than 260,000 residents but the nearest hospital is about 15 miles away down an unpaved, rocky road. Not to mention, there is only one ambulance owned by a small, rural health clinic that serves the massive community, Suubi Health Center (SHC). Montana visited the clinic where he met with residents of the city and Denis Mukisa, the son of SHC founder Bernard Mukisa, and he was instantly inspired to make a difference.
"You watch Instagram you can see all the pain people are going through in different places in the world, but when you go there and witness it with your own eyes, it's different," Montana said. "Even with the hospital alone, the closest clinic only having two rooms for hundreds of thousands of people, [it] really [opened my eyes]. If two people got shot at the same time or were sick and there's only one ambulance to go pick up both of these people, more than likely one of them is not gonna make it. So those harsh realities of life, we got to experience them firsthand and that opened my eyes."
Hearing their stories encouraged Montana to donate $100,000 the Mama Hope organization, which supports global entrepreneurship aiming to extreme poverty through locally sourced and community sustainable outlets like SHC. He was also moved to partner with Mama Hope Global Citizen, starting with a campaign to help Suubi expand its focus on Ugandans'' access to maternal, neonatal and child health care.
"When I went there I was like maybe I can go buy an ambulance. Maybe I can do something to help. We can't help everybody, but we can help," Montana said.
Under Montana's influence, more celebrities are helping Uganda, including Diddy, who donated $200,000 to the charity in January. In early October, Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian visited the country for the first time and discussed broadening Uganda's tourism market with President Yoweri K. Museveni.
"I'm just so happy to see Kim and Kanye got to Uganda because that was my whole plan, just to spark the brains of the people around me. If I can just make [someone] go somewhere I know changed my life and they get out there [and start to help], that's something I can smile about," Montana said.
He added: "I wanna use my platform to help the people that are in need and to keep making great music. That's the legacy I wanna leave behind."