Evan Gabriel throwin’ cream like Mister Softee
Montana of 300 is quick to admit he may never meet God. Still, he raps like he’s expecting a knock on the door any day. A Southside Chicago native and former college running back, his name is a nod to the film and notion of “no surrender, no retreat.” He isn’t affiliated with Chief Keef or the band of Black Disciples known by the same numerals. He’s sober and a natural conversationalist. Despite no major cosign and minimal media exposure his songs rack up thousands of streams, and this consistent release strategy is working. A rumor recently surfaced that he was recording with Kanye West, although he was unable to comment at the time of the interview.
With almost 70,000 downloads, Montana’s Cursed With A Blessing (2014) is where dreams are constantly threatened by slugs. Montana thrives in videos, which are often chilling and shot on location in Chicago. A quick search renders a stack of results, including remixes for “Trap Queen,” “Computers,” and “Faneto,” all in this year alone. But while it’s easy to let images of masks, Southside alleyways, and guns conjure the stigmatized label of “drill,” his music grapples with issues more grandiose than street beef. The video for “Holy Ghost” finds Montana at the pulpit, furiously addressing his disciples:
“just ‘cause it’s published in a book it doesn’t mean it’s a fact
now listen // ’cause man we wasn’t
allowed to read on them plantations
three hundred years had my people growing impatient
wanting to know us in that bible and they can’t take it
now let me tell you about the plan of a damn racist
let’s teach these n****s love who hate ‘em so they can’t say shit”
Montana doesn’t miss a bar or fumble a literary device. He references injustices in “Holy Ghost” while exploring the possibility of meeting his maker. Had he continued eating three meals a day and living in the weight room as a freshman at Monmouth College, he predicts we would be watching him in the NFL. But nearly eight years later, as the Midwest’s rap Mecca is approaching it’s 300th murder, the kid from the Low-End neighborhood is averaging 5 million views per music video and seems to just be gaining speed. When I call him, he’s just finished shooting two videos with his close affiliate Talley of 300. His next solo project, Fire In The Church, is slated to drop Dec. 2nd.
You spent time bouncing between Peoria and Chicago while growing up. Did you play sports?
Montana of 300: I played football, basketball, and ran track. If I wasn’t rapping I’d probably be in the NFL. I was a running back. I was real fast. That really came easy to me. I always had speed and I was just having fun. I never looked at it like, “This could be a way out.”
What do you think made you go with music?
Montana of 300: I was always the nicest, year around with it. When I went off to college, I was eating three times a day, in the weight room a lot. In a month or two I had put on a good 30 lbs. At the time I was rapping in a group. And I was thinking, I might be looking like the damn bodyguard out of the group. So I slowed down, ate twice a day. But I thought “if I go to the NFL, I could be a good running back but I couldn’t be the best.” I wouldn’t be Walter Payton or Barry Sanders. But even then as a freshman in college, I felt like I could possibly be the best rapper that ever rapped. When you see people’s YouTube comments from all over the world, saying you the best rapper alive, or you better than Wayne, all this type of stuff, these people are not my family members or my friends. These people don’t owe me anything, they’re complete strangers to me. So way before they were saying it, I always felt that I had that potential. I always felt like my mind was working and doing more than the average mind. I’ve always been my own worse critic.
Your music embodies the notion of the tongue as a sword. Has rapping always come easy for you or is it a skill you’ve been slowly crafting?
Montana of 300: At the end of the day, I’m independent. At the end of the day all I have are my lyrics. And that stems from my brain. So really, I got me, I got my brain, and I got God. My lyrics is way more potent than everybody else that’s out right now. It’s not too many people that you snatch the beat from and have to listen to their lyrics. Some people’s careers would be dead if you snatched the beat from them. And they couldn’t last as far as potency, creativity, and going bar-for-bar, and being out of the box. A lot of these people are saying the same thing to a different rhythm.
Have you seen other people make it in music from The Low-End?
Montana of 300: Not in music but hoopers, like Luther Head and Derrick Rose.
Did you ever have a mentor?
Montana of 300: Nah, man. I read a lot, and I judge things based off experience. I always wished I had a big brother, someone who could lookout and do stuff for me, you know? But at the end of the day, I’m really glad that I don’t. I don’t owe anything to anybody, you know? I never had no fast friends, or someone to put me on this track, or anything like that.
What music did you listen to growing up?
Montana of 300: 2Pac, Getto boys, Biggie, Jay Z, Nas, Hot Boyz, DMX.
What role does religion play in your life?
Montana of 300: I have no religion, I’m spiritual. I always tell people: What I believe in more than anything, and can’t prove, is that God exists. And I have an open enough mind to say it’s a possibility that he doesn’t, and I could be wrong. I have no problem being wrong. Every time I pray I could possibly be talking to myself. But I believe there is one and he hears me. And if he doesn’t exist, I don’t feel like that puts me in a bad place. If I’m really praying to an imaginary friend, it’s doing a lot for me and keeping me sane, keeping me balanced. I’ve talked to him my whole life, and I’ve never heard him speak back. But I’m not going to stop. At the end of the day, that’s who I roll with. That’s my best friend.
You are a father, right?
Montana of 300: Yeah I have two sons.
Do they like your music or are they too young to listen?
Montana of 300: They hear it. They definitely like it. They know when I’m on the videos, they know it’s me. They know to the world I’m Montana of 300. They my biggest motivation. I got to keep them focused so they can avoid some of the things I went through. That way they have more options.
What do you get at the ice cream truck?
Montana of 300: I just took my son to the ice cream truck the other day. Probably the teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Or them big ass bomb pops.
Do you do drugs?
Montana of 300: I’ve never been drunk in my life. I haven’t smoked since like 14, but was never big into it. I like to be on my Ps and Qs. Even as the bible says, you supposed to be aware. I got to survive, I got to be here for my sons. I got to go to the club when I get paid to be there, and there I have to be very stationary. The bad thing about Chicago is they don’t bring anybody that’s a Chicago artist to Chicago. It’s bad, but it’s smart. Nine times out of ten any Chicago rapper who is making some noise in the last three or four years, they part of a gang, you know? So when you part of a gang that means you have enemies. So when you as close to home as Chicago and then you going to have a show in Chicago, this is in driving distance of your enemies, you know? So if you’re a promoter, you might not have a good turnout at the end of the night. With the artists come the artist’s bullshit, in their own town. A lot of Chicago rappers like that, too. They don’t support each other. But if it’s another rapper from say Philly, they’ll be so ready to break cake and show him love.
Montana of 300: A lot of people are ungrateful in this world period. In Chicago, every artist want to be the number one guy in their city, like Meek Mill was in Philly before the whole lil’ Drake* stuff. There’s a lot of Chicago rappers, who, they’ve never done anything to you, but he’s making a name for himself, and you don’t want to see him come up and do better than you in your own town.
What do you consider to be your true purpose on earth?
Montana of 300: I just think I’m supposed to shine some light, however I can, even if it’s just for someone who came from the projects or the hood. I know what it feels like to fail. I done been to jail, but that wasn’t the end, that was just a chapter. I didn’t let anything get me off track. And when you think about who made it from where we from, I want them to say, “Montana did it.” It’s in God’s will. It’s possible for me to do it too.
Where does the anger in your bars come from?
Montana of 300: I think anybody that’s humble and you from the struggle, you definitely have a lot built up. There’s so much you can complain about and bitch about and to try to make people feel sorry for you. But if you can have a smile on your face and not get the big head and/or let certain things get to you, it’s definitely a lot you can give people because you aren’t always yelling about your pain. I know a lot of people intimated by me after hearing me. Sometimes I see fans and they ask for a picture I can tell they waiting for my answer like I might snap, or be mean, you know? But there’s a time and a place for everything.
If you could change one thing about Chicago what would it be?
Montana of 300: The murder rate.
I read you caught a gun charge in Peoria recently. Is that true?
Montana of 300: Nah I caught a gun charge in Peoria in 2010. But I recently caught a gun charge in Pontiac. But that’s an open case.
How do you define success?
Montana of 300: I think we all chase it, but I’m just trying to be a permanent work in progress. I’m real antisocial. I’m careful with who I give my energy to, my time and my worries to. I don’t have no problem being by myself. I’ve never had a problem standing by myself. A lot of people not like that, even in the street.
Where do you stand on the drill label?
Montana of 300: When Chief Keef released “Don’t Like,” if me or King Louie or Lil Bibby rap off the beat, they’re just going to say they was Drill rappers. Now, let’s say Meek Mill wrote me a verse, and I rapped it to this Chief Keef beat, and nobody knew Meek Mill wrote it, they going to say he’s a drill rapper, cuz I’m from the Chicago of today.
Why is that?
Montana of 300: I think Chicago rappers of today, we use slang that older rappers like Kanye West and Common don’t use. They don’t put ‘ops’ or ‘thots’ in they rap. So when they hear slang like that it’s like light bulbs, like ‘drill, drill, drill.’ The only person that’s lyrical that I get compared to a lot is Lil Wayne. But drill isn’t supposed to have punch lines, it not supposed to use metaphors. Or they metaphors are super simple. I really dislike it because I think it discredits anyone who is lyrical. I’m the one with the potent metaphors. There’s nothing super creative or mind blowing about [drill].
Cubs or Sox?
Montana of 300: I never watched a full baseball game in my life. But I’ll still say the Sox.
Besides 300, what are your favorite movies?
Montana of 300: My top five in no order is The Five Heartbeats, Troy, Warrior, New Jack City, and The Man From Nowhere.
What is your curse/blessing?
Montana of 300: I tell people this, and it’s kind of fucked up. But the bigger you get, the less freedom you have, you know? And the more careful you have to be. You can’t just go out and live like a regular person no more. So that’s being cursed with a blessing. They say more money more problems. You could live a regular life and not have any money, and the people who you love and are close to you never change, you know? But when you start becoming successful, some people turn into snakes, and you can’t see it because it’s like, we blood, and you would never think they have a reason to snake you.