Rapper French Montana was 13 when he immigrated with his family to the South Bronx of New York City from Morocco, not speaking any English. Over two decades and one platinum-certified album later, he’s telling his story in a new documentary, “For Khadija.”
“It’s just a real immigrant story. I never really seen nobody really make a movie like it,” Montana told CBS News in a live interview. “We did not just highlight, you know, the ups, we did not just highlight all the awards. We highlighted that you’re gonna lose more than you’re gonna win in life. And the experience to just keep going, keep going. You know, but they said a lot of things are impossible until a fool came along and did it, you know?”
Impossible is how many might describe Montana’s life. In the mid-’90s, Montana —whose real name is Karim Kharbouch— moved with his parents and younger brother to the Bronx only speaking Arabic and French. His father returned to Morocco while Montana’s mother was pregnant with his youngest brother, leaving her to raise the three boys alone. Eventually, Montana found his voice rapping.
“Picking rap as your hobby when you don’t speak English, that’s kinda like, you know, you’re blind and you want to be like Michelangelo, you know I’m saying? So it was like picking the hardest thing to do without speaking English,” Montana said. “That shows you when you have love and passion for something, nothing can stop you.”
The documentary is named for Montana’s mother, who he said “stole the show” in the film. And while the time constraints of a documentary posed a challenge, the rapper hopes other mothers will be touched by his family’s story.
“I feel like putting 20 years into one hour is never enough,” Montana said. “So highlighting the things that meant a lot, which, when my father left, when my mother didn’t speak no English. And we didn’t speak English. And taking that chance, you know, taking that leap of faith. I feel like that’s something that, when every mother gonna see that, every mother gonna feel that in their heart. Because those are the things you do for your child when you want a better future for your child.”
The film also delves into moments Montana may have forgotten.
“You don’t realize you recovered from so much stuff that you never looked back at,” Montana said. “You went through so much, and so much trauma and so many obstacles that you just kept on pushing after.”
One of those obstacles was Montana’s lack of citizenship, which kept him from going to college.
“I couldn’t really go to college, I didn’t have my paperwork. I felt like, you know, being locked up without being locked up,” Montana said. “So it was like, all the things that Americans take for granted, I found myself outside of that, I felt myself like an outcast. So I had to hit the streets.”
“For Khadija” premieres next month at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.