Fetty Wap has come from nowhere to have the biggest rap anthem of 2015. Al Horner dissects the success of hip-hop’s newest megastar
Fetty Wap, AKA 24-year-old Willie Maxwell, only began making music in 2013. ‘Trap Queen’ – the song of summer 2015 and a huge global hit – was among the first things he wrote. “I knew right away that the song was special,” he tells NME. “Everybody I played it to felt the same way. We knew it would be big but didn’t imagine this.” The song introduced the world to Fetty’s weird, warbling, unique brand of hip-hop – room-quaking beats and home-cooked production beneath Auto-Tuned, half-sung-half-rapped hooks and howls. It was an unlikely concoction of sounds to conquer the mainstream, and the lyrics were even less orthodox – an offbeat love story about cooking crack with his girlfriend and dreaming of making it big together (“We just set a goal, talkin’ matchin’ Lambos”). Fetty never doubted its potential. “I knew it’d transform my life,” he says.
His backstory is inspiring
Fetty lost his left eye to glaucoma at an early age and spent a difficult childhood in Paterson, New Jersey, scrapping with school bullies.
“I didn’t want to be a role model,” he insists, but he has become one: in October, a story broke about a 10-year-old boy who lost an eye due to retinoblastoma. “He was terrified of taking [his prosthetic] out,” said his mother, “and then Fetty Wap appears.” The boy was pictured proudly going to school without his prosthetic for the first time. Fetty gave him “the confidence to be different”.
He’s an old-fashioned word-of-mouth phenomenon
‘Trap Queen’ was originally released in April 2014 on a tiny label from Fetty’s hometown. It was re-released with full distribution in December 2014, but took another five months to peak at Number Two on America’s Billboard charts, racking up 275m Spotify plays and 285m YouTube views – with minimal label backing. By August, he had three singles in the Billboard Top 11. And when Taylor Swift duetted with him in front of 60,000 fans in Seattle that month, the place erupted in a way it didn’t for her tour’s more famous cameos. Gutted, Mick Jagger.
He steers clear of hip-hop clichés
Fetty has experienced the full colour of street life in Paterson, if tales of drug dealing in songs like ‘Trap Luv’ (“Wake up in the morning, all I think is flip/Count a couple hundreds, flip a couple bricks”) and ‘679’ (“I got a Glock in my ’Rari”) are to be taken at face value. But that hustler lifestyle is the backdrop to his songs, rather than the focus. Instead his album swerves gangsta clichés for real-life, romantic hood dramas and everyday stories. “I’m a regular person,” explains Fetty. “When I’m not working I spend time with my kids. I picked up a shopping habit too recently.”
He does it all on his own terms
Ask Fetty to describe his sound and he’ll give you a simple answer: “I just call it ‘Fetty Wap’. I stay in my lane, I’m not trying to be anyone else.” Even after signing a big money major-label deal, he continued to shoot his videos on location in Paterson and limited the personnel of his debut album to simply “me and my homies”.
His motorcycle accident trended on Twitter
In late September, Fetty was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle while riding a motorbike in Paterson. Photos of the rapper surrounded by paramedics sparked concern, leading to the hashtag #prayforfetty trending on Twitter. Having broken his leg in three places, he’s now back on stage, rapping from a giant gold throne, Dave Grohl-style.
He’s only just getting started…
Fetty’s rumoured to be teaming up with Drake for a second time. Collaborations with “Rihanna and Beyoncé would be dope”, he says, but he’s not getting too far ahead of himself. “You guys just gotta stay tuned.”