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Will Hagle misses Maurice Jones-Drew.
The “hottest in the city of Jacksonville, FL” is Shahid Khan’s mustache. If you were to tell me any single rapper fit that same description, I would believe you. There isn’t much precedence or context, aside from maybe Fred Durst…? Yet Montana Fat has proved it with visual evidence.
“Hottest In The City” provides a glimpse into the unique rap scene brewing in Jacksonville, or at least an introduction to Montana Fat and his friends. Each artist takes turns singing in the same Kodak Black-derived melody and cadence over a beat with a prominent producer tag. The song and video, like many in Montana Fat’s small but impressive online catalog, both benefit and suffer from the energy of the group dynamic. Montana Fat’s SoundCloud contains clipping vocals, underdeveloped bars, and too many friends on the beat. It is, however, a symbiotic musical relationship. He clearly outshines everyone he shares a track with in terms of innate talent, but he also feeds off their energy and support.
Despite the lack of household names, Jacksonville has been fostering a burgeoning rap scene in recent years. Word has begun to spread beyond the city, which is technically and unsuspectingly Florida’s most populous. “Hottest In The City” has accumulated over 27,000 views since Montana Fat uploaded it in February of last year. Although the song is lighthearted and fun, Montana Fat’s lyrics on other tracks often dip into the bleak territory popularized by artists like 21 Savage, whose “Bank Account” even plays during a murder reenactment at the end of “Outta Dere Gone.”
Tragedy is a common theme for many in America, but especially young rappers in Jacksonville. Just within the past year or so, there have been multiple deaths attributed to gun violence in the local hip-hop scene. The fatal shooting of a 22-year-old took place at the restaurant where Boosie and Jacksonville-based artist Baby Soulja were filming a music video. After Lil’ Jug died in an unrelated shooting at an apartment building a few months later, Boosie indicated in his Instagram condolences post that he had been planning on signing the young rapper. Yungeen Ace reportedly took eight shots in yet another shooting that left two of his friends and his brother, all under age 20, dead.
Montana Fat is vague on the details, but he has enough R.I.P.s and calls for friends’ freedom in his lyrics that it’s clear he’s been ingrained in a life on the streets. On his remix of Tee Grizzley’s “First Day Out,” he describes being caught with a gun at age 16 and his brother going away for three years. On every song, he raps with conviction about his personal experiences and aspirations to move beyond them.
In April, Montana Fat released Never Wanted 2 Talk, a filler-less eleven-track mixtape. “No Hook,” which opens the tape, showcases the opposite end of the skillset he displays on “Hottest In The City.” Montana Fat raps with relentless, nearly breathless energy like a young Meek Mill, still infusing his bars with the soul of a Kodak or 03 Greedo.
“Allowance,” which isn’t on Never Wanted 2 Talk but may be Montana Fat’s best song, bridges the gap between “Hottest In The City” and “No Hook.” He couples his melodic approach on the former with the restless flow of the latter, resulting in a triumphant track that’s somehow unlike any of the obvious influences from which it draws.
Being able to consistently infuse a melodic backbone into his uncharacteristically fast Southern drawl, rather than alternating between the two from track to track, may be the key to Montana Fat’s continued evolution. For now, even proving he’s capable of both earns him the distinction he deserves alongside that mustache.