Fetty Wap, all of 24 years old, uploaded a song to SoundCloud in April of 2014 and it just, well, stuck around. "Trap Queen" — currently in its 34th week on the Hot 100 — continues to define pop ubiquity, blasting from car speakers in the middle of the day, getting requests at the club that night. The rapper, born Willie Maxwell, is at the Pepsi Center in Denver — far from his home in Paterson, New Jersey. He's opening for Chris Brown near the tail end of a month-long, countrywide jaunt, but that's just the tip of his celebrity: Kanye West was an early Fetty Wap supporter; Drake contributed a verse to the remix for his third hit, "My Way"; Taylor Swift covered "Trap Queen" with the rapper in Seattle.
However, when Fetty Wap dropped the track list to his self-titled debut album — due out September 25th — A-list names were conspicuously absent. "I didn't have no features on 'Trap Queen.' It was just me," says Fetty on his tour bus in the shadow of the venue. He's having his braids untwisted and re-twisted by his current squeeze. Fetty is soft-spoken and stares at the floor, never turning his head to show me his one good eye. "Before I came out with another song, 'Trap Queen' was doing so good, but only the name Fetty Wap was behind it. I made my name already.... When they hear the album, it's gonna be Fetty Wap, the artist, featuring his brothers. There's no superstars on the album; my brothers are superstars to me."
That's an understatement: Fetty's entourage rolls deep. Around 15 of his Paterson pals crowd the bus, passing blunts at a rate seemingly meant to exhaust Colorado of its robust weed supply. The collective drinks Remy Martin 1738 from styrofoam cups emblazoned with "Remy Boyz 1738." (Fetty's posse — the A$AP Mob to his Rocky — has become known as the Remy Boyz.) They welcome me with a swig of Remy — Fetty tells me they go through about 20 bottles of the cognac a night — and a blunt encased in a Backwoods Honey Berry wrapper. Purple packages from the cigars litter almost every available surface, and the group agrees that Euflora, where they bought the pot, sells just a so-so product. (It's working just fine for me.)
Fetty reeks of smoke and perspective. "Honestly, I don't really get tired of talking about 'Trap Queen.' Because that's what really got me started," he says. "Probably next year I'll be tired of talking about 'Trap Queen.' Not right now, though."
"Probably next year I'll be tired of talking about 'Trap Queen.' Not right now, though."
It's impossible to point to exactly why "Trap Queen" has the staying power that it does. It's infectious and overwhelmingly positive for a love song framed by drug production. And, gasp, Fetty sings pretty much every bar. As he says — almost defensively — he's followed it up with "679," "My Way" and "Again," becoming the first rapper to have his first four songs appear in the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks Top 10 simultaneously.
The cuts all appear on his upcoming LP, and make up the bulk of his five-song, 20-minute set in Denver. The Paterson throng — the size of a small grade-school class — tells me to follow them to the show, ushering me off the bus and through the backstage area. It all happens as fast as Fetty's rise, one person pointing me this way, the next nodding her head another. All of a sudden, I find myself onstage with the whole troupe. Guys are partying, hopping around and snapping selfies. Some actually rap.
Fetty and Co. keep the energy high — perhaps not that difficult for an interval of five songs. It's early, just after 7 p.m., but the arena is full and the female-heavy audience sings along with all of the songs — not just the closer they know is coming. Clad in a head-to-toe Chicago Bulls sweatsuit accessorized with gold chains, Fetty takes a towel as he comes off the stage. He's soaked in sweat. A few feet from the exit, he stops his friends to chastise them for not hitting a cue on time. He's clearly taking it all pretty seriously — most of the time — as are those around him.
After the show, Mike Goon, Fetty's hypeman-plus (he also raps here and there), is bouncing off the walls with an ear-to-ear grin between the Fetty bus and French Montana's. Earlier, they had laid down some tracks in the latter's traveling studio. "He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, so whatever he wants me to be, that's what I'm gonna be," Goon says of Fetty. "I don't consider myself a hypeman; I consider myself an entertainer and a musician. I play my position — it's like a basketball team. Before you were on the bench, and now the coach says you're in the game." Back on the Fetty bus, a couple of gents fire up NBA 2K15 on the Xbox One.
Goon grew up near Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, and once he met Fetty, he moved to Paterson, where he says, "Strangers show me more love than my neighbors [did]." As he gleefully explains his niche, he repeats a common mantra from others on the tour bus: "It's a blessing."
"I've roughly seen half a million people," says Goon. "Who's not gonna be excited about that? It's lights, it's music. People are chanting and dancing. And you get paid for it, at the end of the fucking day," he tells me. "I gave up trouble. I came up from the gritty streets of New York City, where all we knew was how to get it: stealing and robbing. Where I'm from, they expect you to be dead or in jail. When they see you onstage with Taylor Swift, it's beyond. It's fucking amazing. It's a movie. You never want to take it for granted or fuck it up."
Fetty's DJ echoes that sentiment. Backstage eating a few sliders, Big L — not to be confused with Harlem's Big L (R.I.P.) — says, "It's a dream come true." He has his Apple MacBook at the table, making some changes to his chosen program, Scratch Live. L, whose first name is Lamar, grew up in Paterson where, he says, "There's a lot of violent stuff." Ditto for Monty, Fetty's right-hand rapper, who rocks a John Elway jersey onstage to ingratiate himself to the crowd, many of whom just watched the first Broncos game of the season. Monty appears on six of the new album's tracks, and says he has a record of his own on the way, tentatively scheduled for a November release.
"Everywhere you see Fetty Wap, I'm there," says Monty. "Most everybody come from the hood: These ain't no new niggas. Everybody from Paterson; everybody was there from the beginning. We part of the zoo. Every state we go through, we fuck it up and leave."
"Even if the album don't go anywhere, that doesn't mean nothing to me," says Fetty. "I did what most people said I wouldn't do. And I overcame, I guess you could say, a lot of rookie boundaries. I just shot past what a lot of people expected. Selling the album is what I'm supposed to do in the music industry, not what I wanted to do.
"Even if the album don't go anywhere, that doesn't mean nothing to me. I did what most people said I wouldn't do. And I overcame, I guess you could say, a lot of rookie boundaries."
"For the most part, I don't really have a story to tell. It's the same story; everybody come out with the same story. They came from nothing, they got something and now they have everything. It's the story everybody already knows about. I just figured, why keep telling people that they ain't gonna get the chance to live this way? About how much money I got? About how many cars I own. Why can't I just put it in a way that they don't really know what I'm talking about, but they're just singing along? I don't depend on lyrics for my music. If I did, it'd be a lot longer process for me to make music. And, on top of that, I'd have to be a storyteller, and I'm not a storyteller."
The speakers get turned up, and the soundtrack is almost exclusively Remy Boyz–related, with Fetty Wap rapping on many selections. His associates are clearly what really matter to him. Fetty Wap is obviously not the first popular musician to lift his buddies up, but he's as committed to the piggyback as they come. Is it satisfying to take his friends along for the ride? Says Fetty, "Hell, yeah, this shit feel good."