fetty wap: catching up with the king of trap
In a candid interview, we find out what makes Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap.
Do you remember where you were when you first heard Fetty Wap's Trap Queen? Ear-splicing synth and a scattergun of 808s punctuated by a berserk squawk of some sort and a heavily autotuned boom intoning what you assumed to be the time - "1738" - but was in fact a tribute to a particular brand of Rémy Martin Cognac. Entrenched in trap but with R&B overtures, the Gucci-Mane-flavored sound may have been familiar, but the sentiment wasn't. A gloriously giddy dedication to his crack dealing co-conspirator, Trap Queen was pure Bonnie and Clyde 3.0. Celebrating his ride or die chick, the smash hit single was, perhaps (and yes we're reaching a little), trap's first feminist anthem; Wap's woman was just as talented at trapping as Fetty. Moreover, here was the sound of joy, of happiness, and of love, distilled into four minutes of magical music. Never has a song about cooking crack been such a pleasure to listen to.
"I could be wrong but I don't think any artist goes into the studio and says 'Imma make this type of song because I want my fans to feel sad or happy'," says Fetty on the line from the US when asked if he had intentionally made such a happy trappy track. "I just want people to listen to my music and feel good." Clearly, they feel great. Really, really great. "Thank you. That's one of the biggest compliments to me. I never would have thought that a song I put out would bring that type of feeling to a person or people." Within six months of being uploaded to Soundcloud back in April 2014, Trap Queen had over one million plays. Its follow ups, 679, Again and My Way elicited the same click-bait response. The latter, which followed the rapper's romantic trope, was deemed worthy of a remix by Drake. Trap Queen now counts 107m plays on SoundCloud and more than 266 million views on YouTube.
Released in September 2015, the 24 year-old's self-titled debut album went straight to number one in the Billboard charts cementing him among hip-hop's hottest. And he does it with an almost elegant simplicity. His oeuvre doesn't stray too far from the formula: he sings, he raps, and he piles on the ad-libs, 808 and autotune in equal measure. "I pay attention to my fans and what songs they love and react to. When you keep a close watch on what they gravitate towards, you see what works and what doesn't," says Fetty of his artistic approach. And people love it. Really, really love it. Fusion.net analyzed Fetty's recent debut and found 51 "1738"s, 35 mentions of his crew "Remy Boyz", 43 "Sqwaaaaaas" and 253 "babys". Has he seen this piece? He laughs, something he does often. "Nah, I don't really care about that too much. That's not something to keep count on. It's my signature… it's my brand. When you hear 'Yeah baby' you automatically know that's Fetty Wap, right? When you hear '1738', you automatically know it's Fetty Wap. So it's working. There's no overall message on this album. I'm not really a story-teller. People already know my story. And for those that don't, I'm from the hood and I made it out. My music did that for me."
It's fair to say that the father of two has had a pretty insane year so far, at a pace that is positively stratospheric. "I found out I was one of the 'Top 10 Most Googled Artists in the World' the other day," he exclaims. "That shit was crazy. The way the world embraced my music, I don't really take that for granted. 2015 has been one of the best years of my life, honestly." But how has he done it? Beyond, that is, the repetition, the romantic proclamations, the combination of singing and trapping. "I make music people can vibe to and just have fun and sing along with. I never try to overthink the song or the process when I'm making my music… I don't know man, I just make happy music and music for the ladies and it's been working." Let's try a more existential angle. What makes Fetty Wap Fetty Wap? "I'm the guy with the one eye who makes good music…" he shrugs with a smile, rightly smug at his succinct summary.
Armed with dip dyed dreads, Haitian bandanas, a collection of Jordans, his beloved Robin's Jeans and an arsenal of melody-driven trap tracks, Wap seems unstoppable. But things were a little different 18 months ago when he first picked up the mic. "You gotta think about it, last year I was in a completely different situation. I was sleeping at different people's houses and in cars," he points out. "In a year, my whole life changed. I had to make the transition fast and it comes with challenges but nothing compares to living my dream, being able to provide for my kids and family, and taking my people with me. We were grinding for a long time and we stayed down until we came up. I look at all of this as a blessing. I started off doing music like everybody else, as an outlet and to do something that wasn't gonna have me end up in jail or dead."
Born Willie Maxwell 24 years ago in Paterson, New Jersey, his birthplace is a city that's had its share of violence, poverty and social deprivation. "Paterson is a tough city to grow up in just like any other hood in America," he says. He taught himself the drums and piano and attended church a lot; his grandfather was a pastor and his was a religious childhood. "I'm not ashamed of my upbringing, even though I chose a different route. I had to learn how to defend myself at a young age. You'll get picked on if you show any weakness. Even if you don't show weakness you still have to know how to hold your own. As a kid I was quiet and stayed to myself. Because of my eye I was always picked on."
Fetty developed glaucoma as a young child, ultimately losing the sight in his left eye, and while he initially used a prosthetic eyeball, he made the decision to do away with it a couple of years ago. And it is absolutely part of his appeal; what better way to say -- so clearly, so succinctly -- here I am, take it or leave it? It's led to an outpouring of appreciation from kids with sight deficiencies, such as 10-year-old Jayden Veden from Denver, who was inspired by Wap's unwillingness to bend to notions of normality. "It's important to me that the kids know that they have to love themselves first. I'm not always gonna be here but these kids gotta face the world every day. I feel humble that these kids look up to me, but it's scary too. I wasn't trying to be a role model," he insists. "I don't wanna send the wrong message to them either. I had to learn how to love myself first. I used to not even look people in the eye. So they see how I am now, but it took years to get here. I just want them to know that it starts with them. I actually spoke to Jayden and I thanked him because now he can influence others to be strong and accept themselves."
Does it affect him as a rapper in some way? His music is infused with a sensitivity of sorts, something you don't often hear from a trap rapper. "I don't think it affects me as an artist or the way I make music," he says. "It affected me as a person. I didn't start really living and being comfortable with myself until I took my prosthetic out and that's probably why you hear it in my music. I put my heart into my music - a lot of different things, not just my eye, that I've been through in life affect me as a person. And it makes me more sensitive to certain things. I'm not the type of person to look down on other people because of where they come from or their situation in life. I don't judge anybody and that comes from my own experiences."
Among his highs of the year - which include buying his mom a house, and the birth of his daughter - there have been some lows too. Recently Fetty was involved in a motorbike accident in New Jersey, breaking his leg in three places. "I'm doing okay," he says. "Hanging in there, keeping myself motivated and playing a lot of [NBA] 2K16. It definitely was a scary experience and I'm just grateful that I'm still here. Hopefully I can be back to my normal self in a few weeks. I love being onstage and performing in front of my fans. I become a different person when I'm out there. I transform into "Zoovier" - my alter ego." Sit down Sasha Fierce.
This is a man with plans, with ambition, not just for himself but for his pals from Paterson, including Monty and M80, the only guests to appear on his 20-track debut. "I want to continue making music. I'm not going to say life isn't good. It's definitely better, but I still have a long way to go. Some of my boys are still in the hood so I won't stop until they're just as good as I am. This first album is titled Fetty Wap for a reason. Monty and M80 are my brothers and this album is me and my brothers all the way." He didn't even include the Drake remix on the record, a brave choice for a mostly unproven performer. "Having features on the album wasn't gonna do anything for me, it didn't make any sense. Monty and M80 are the ones that have been with me since the beginning."
He's achieved a lot in a short space of time, but there's more to do -- including recuperation. "I'm just taking it one day at a time and enjoying every day more than the day before. Most guys my age from where I'm from don't live to see 24. My accident made me realize that in a split second everything can change, so I'm just focusing on getting better so I can get back to doing what I love and that's being onstage and in the studio. Everyone is an individual. No one is the same. I'm me because I'm me, if that makes sense. I don't try to be like anyone else. I just stay in my lane."
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Cameron McCool