French Montana’s ‘Jungle Rules’ Hinges on Features Instead of Substance

From a short-lived fling with reality titan Khloe Kardashian to jumping on tracks with prime hitmakers like Drake or even Jennifer Lopez to raise his stock, French Montana has always flourished in good company. In fact, one criticism the rap community was quick to levy toward Montana was his apparent inability to smash through a glass ceiling and ride the charts based on his own merits, instead left languishing in the dreaded good-to-great mixtape rapper territory. Those critics got put to bed in the last few months, however, with Montana finally cracking the Hot 100’s sought-after top ten with the infectious “Unforgettable.” That track set the table for Montana’s third studio effort, “Jungle Rules.” If only Montana could capitalize on the momentum.

He did not. “Jungle Rules” plays like the soundtrack to a great keg party, or the kind of album you can cruise to with the top down and the speakers up. But that same compliment applies to so many albums this year — Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn,” Lupe Fiasco’s “Drogas Light” and Migos’ “Culture” just to name a scant few — and all of them have more substance than this.

Opening cut “Whiskey Eyes” starts with natural jungle sounds — a tiger growling and a monkey screaming. Could that latter animal be Julius Ceasor, the monkey French Montana bought himself a few years ago? What a way to one-up Blue Ivy’s rap debut on “4:44” than by giving a monkey his due. The track itself builds to a spacious crescendo that even French refers to as gladiator music, leaving the listener invigorated and wanting much more from the rest of the album.

Sadly, that thirst for French to build on that gladiatorial open is never quenched, not for 17 tracks. Instead French tries to embed some more musicality in his songs, making him sound like an uninspired Future, a tough feat to manage considering how low-key Hendrix’s own flows can be. Future’s appearance on “No Pressure” really hits that point home, leaving French without any unique qualities about which he can boast.

“Jungle Rules” is an album built on hooks, pure and simple, from the minimalistic “Hotel Bathroom” all the way to the dancehall-ready “Formula.” The album relies heavily on features — from Pharrell on “Bring Dem Things” to Travis Scott on “Jump” and Quavo on “Migo Montana” — which is a relief since French himself adds nothing unique to the work’s sound; in fact at times it even sounds like he’s detracting from it, the most blatant instance of which coming through on the Weeknd-assisted “A Lie.” The only exception to that rule is Montana’s remarkable performance on the bouncy yet heartfelt “Famous,” where he croons “I hope you don’t get famous / ‘cause everyone will love you but won’t love you like I do.”

Ultimately, “Jungle Rules” feels too polished to be raw, yet not developed enough to be any kind of grandiose masterpiece. The verses feel lazy, just loping along until they arrive back at the hook. This album might work for that leisurely drive with the top down, but if you’re looking for something to mine for a message, look anywhere else.

Jungle Rules” is available on Apple Music July 14.