As of last week, it's been three years since French Montana first announced Mac & Cheese 4. Initially planned as a mixtape, then as a proper follow-up to his disheartening debut album Excuse My French, the project eventually plopped into our laps after years of delays as... a mixtape. This was supposed to be huge. French tapped DJ Mustard for initial lead single "Don't Panic" at the height of his 2014 hot streak, announced that he and Kanye West were working on five songs together, and at one point, and linked up with Lil Wayne and Rick Ross for the flop of a single that was "Gucci Mane." All of that soon fell by the wayside, but then in early 2016, MC4 got another glimmer of hope. The Kodak Black-assisted "Lockjaw" was taking the fuck off, and French released the excellent Wave Gods tape, a project better than most artists' albums that suggested he had much more up his sleeve when album time came knocking.

Just before its planned August release though, MC4 leaked, killing a good deal of its buzz, and then to make matters worse, its official release way delayed again due to sample clearance issues. When French finally dropped it as a free release ten days ago, it felt like mercy-killing a one-promising racehorse that never lived up to its potential, and donating its organs to science. This rollout makes The Life Of Pablo's look dignified and strategic, makes Late Nights: The Album's years of delays seem like no biggie. For reasons largely outside of French's control, MC4 was dead before its ship even sank thanks to lack of label interest, collaborations falling through, and seemingly no help given on the sample clearance side-- don't tell me that "2 Times"' Teena Marie sample and "I'm Heated"'s Fat Boys flip would have been any harder to clear than, say, the Nina Simone samples Kanye's had on his last two albums had label folks been motivated to do so. Once we get down to the actual meat and potatoes of MC4, it does give off quite a bit of that potential that French was promising, but there are also nearly as many failures on his part as there were on the promo side of the album's botched release. 

For a guy so often dismissed as a melodic pop-rapper, French has made tour-de-force intros one of his definite strengths, and like the Harry Fraud-produced gems "Haaaaan" and "Wave Gods Intro" before it, "Ready / Intro" is immaculate, a colossal, ambient-tinged palette for French to flex about curving bitches "cold turkey" and sitting "court side in my court case." This is classic French, engaging in typical braggadocio but making it sound important over expansive production. Two of the next three tracks, "Play Yaself" and "2 Times," continue this approach of taking the best elements of the Fraud-produced Appetizer tape from two years ago, and making it worthy album material. After that joint tape, and Fraud's work on Wave Gods, there's really no denying that this is one of the best producer-rapper duos out there right now. Of all the missteps made on MC4, none occur on Fraud's watch, with him and French reading each others' instincts like an elite QB/WR combo, and further carving out a distinct sound. 

Wave Gods had French trying out a variety of styles and succeeding more often than not-- the baroque boom-bap of "Old Man Wildin," the weird IDM of "All Over," the hollowed-out East Coast trap of "Lockjaw' and "Off The Rip" -- and MC4 attempts just as many forays into non-Fraud territory. We get the chilly Canadian bounce of "No Shopping," the strip club bombast of "Everytime," the golden era NY-mining sounds of "Said N Done," "I'm Heated," and "Have Mercy," and the high class pop of "Check Come" and "Xplicit," but only about half of what's thrown at the wall actually sticks. The Drake single is fine, if boring, the Jeezy track feels tired and already done a million times, "Said N Done" is cool until the gag is run into the ground on "I'm Heated," and "Check Come" feels like Detail should've saved it for Beyoncé. These are all tracks French should've been making to get into album mode -- stepping out of his comfort zone and expanding his breadth -- but at least half feel like they should have been left as B-sides or bonus tracks. 

All said and done, I'll find myself paring this down to a leaner ten tracks in iTunes and listening to it just as much as Wave GodsMC4 starts out strongly, and ends even better with the hardnosed NY posse cut "Have Mercy" (unfortunately, after the Tribe album dropped, only the second best song to sample that "Dis Generation" line this November) and the jazzy, heartfelt "Chinx & Max / Paid For." Listening to French succeed at both his waviest and his most emotional makes the fat of MC4's middle section even more of a tragedy. No one outside of hit-chasing A&Rs asked for a Miguel/French bedroom jam, no one outside of French wanted a Fat Boys remake, and no one outside of... possibly anyone... wanted to hear him belt over piano chords on "Check Come." French's strengths have only gotten stronger, and his ability and willingness to experiment has expanded, but when it comes to making albums, he needs to learn how to edit and restrain himself better. That's probably a gargantuan task when you've got label execs breathing down your neck for hits, but as he showed on "Lockjaw" this year, if he simply relies on his existing gifts and commits fully to exciting collabs, he's got all the skills and finesse necessary to keep churning out unlikely organic hits. He's got to recognize MC4 as a failure, regardless of its music, and so I'm expecting a hungrier, more back-to-basics tape from him before springtime 2017. French is getting there as an album artist, but due to various slip-ups, MC4 isn't the breakout album it should have been.