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Thoroughly modern fetty

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By Patrick Tine 


In a column published last month, Kevin Fallon, the senior entertainment reporter at the Daily Beast, bemoaned the lack of a “Song of Summer: something silly and valueless, yet catchy and essential.” It also has an “irritating omnipresence and stalker-like inescapability.”

If inescapability and catchiness are the key ingredients of a Summer Song, then the winner is “Trap Queen” by Paterson, N.J. rapper Fetty Wap.

Even if you have never heard of Fetty Wap (real name: Willie Maxwell) or you don’t listen to Top 40 or hip-hop stations, you have undoubtedly heard “Trap Queen.”

You have heard “Trap Queen” blaring out of car windows, you have heard it blasted through tinny iPhone speakers on the bus, you have heard it while eating lunch in the dining halls. The official music video has been viewed almost 230 million times on YouTube. It peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been in the top 10 for 32 consecutive weeks. This year Fetty joined Eminem and Lil Wayne as the only hip-hop artist to have three songs (“Trap Queen,” “679” and “My Way”) in the Top 100 at the same time.

The song is an ode to his girlfriend, the Trap Queen, her loyalty, and the upwardly mobile, lavish lifestyle they share. This is financed by the long hours Fetty, and sometimes the Trap Queen herself, put in at the “bando” (abandoned building) where he makes truly heroic quantities of crack cocaine which retail for $56 a gram. Fetty and his Trap Queen also smoke a lot of weed together as Fetty is rarely without, “a sack for us to roll.” The oppressive, vehement trap beat and Fetty’s distinctive style (his rhymes are half-rapped and half-sung) has made the song a club favorite. When the song comes on in a club it is not uncommon for groups of white women to howl with approval and ironically declare themselves to be Trap Queens as well.

Since the release of “Trap Queen” in March of 2014, Fetty has found himself with powerful allies in the music industry. Kanye West invited him to the stage to perform alongside him at the Roc City Classic in February and has called “Trap Queen” his “favorite,” perhaps seeing a common bond between Fetty’s fictionalized power couple and his own union with Kim Kardashian. Drake was so taken with his single “My Way” (another song you have definitely heard, if only by osmosis) that he collaborated with Fetty on a remix. His success led to a contract with 300 Entertainment, a well-regarded independent label run by former C-Suite executives at Def Jam and Warner Music Group.

This is astonishing success for a rapper who has yet to release a full-length album. To date, Fetty’s output consists of one mixtape, “Zoo Style,” four singles and 26 featured or guest appearances on other rappers’ songs.

His debut album, “Fetty Wap,” is scheduled for release on Sept. 25 and will help determine his staying power as an artist.

But who is he?

Fetty Wap was born Willie Maxwell on June 7, 1991 in Paterson, N.J. The title of his single “679” is a nod to his birthday. According to Genius.com, the Encyclopedia Britannica of hip-hop, Maxwell grew up in a housing project on Paterson’s lavishly violent east side.

Fetty cuts a unique physical figure. He lost his left eye when his childhood glaucoma was left untreated and now chooses to forgo a prosthesis. The look gives him either a perpetual mischievous wink or a menacing, villainous gaze. His hairstyle alternates between a fade and gold-tinged dreadlocks. His body is a sketchpad of tattoos and he favors expensive sneakers — must-haves in the world of hip-hop.

Fetty’s story of how he came into music is familiar to any millennial, regardless of race, gender or class. In an interview he gave to CivilTV while driving around his Paterson neighborhood in a new Mercedes coupe, Fetty explained how his first hip-hop idol was Gucci Mane and how he was able to access his music: “I was sixteen when I got my first iPod. We had the big Dell desktop and I’d go on LimeWire, type in ‘Gucci Mane’ and everything would pop up,” Fetty recalled.

Any teenager who grew up in the early 2000s can recall, with nostalgia, the thrill of illegally downloading music on the family desktop.

Fetty Wap’s idol, Gucci Mane, is a pioneer of trap music, the subgenre of hip-hop that Fetty has come to dominate. Trap is known for its use of synthesizers and aggressive sub-bass beats. The lyrics generally laud drug dealing, profligacy and violence but with more reckless abandon than gangsta rap or East Coast rap. Some of it is quite good.

The name “Fetty Wap” is a tribute to Gucci Mane. “Fetty” is local slang for money and “Wap” is a tribute to one of Gucci Mane’s many nicknames: “GuWap.”

Fetty’s rise to stardom mirrors that of so many hip-hop artists. He dropped out of high school, wrought havoc with his friends, and began rapping and singing, slowly building a following in his neighborhood. His entourage of friends and hangers-on form a group called the Remy Boyz 1738. The name is derived from a top-shelf label of Remy Martin cognac and is one of the essential trappings of trap success.

Like so many rappers before him, Fetty sold his mix tape on the corner of his block, foisting it on anyone who would listen. And it was his paean to money that he probably did not have and a relationship that was highly fictionalized which catapulted him to fame.

Central to his look are articles of clothing bearing the insignia or flag of Haiti. As a non-Haitian, his embrace of Haitian symbols has been controversial in some circles. He insists that his choice of attire is meant with respect and as a talisman of being “woke.” He also says he reps Haitian clothing as a tribute to a former lover’s late Haitian grandmother and a firm belief in Haiti’s post-revolutionary motto of “Unity brings strength.”

“Unity is what built my camp,” Fetty says.

Fetty might want to keep an eye on his camp. He would not be the first overnight superstar to be undone by the rapaciousness of his entourage. When asked if he is essentially a one-hit wonder, Fetty was unequivocal: “One hit wonders are people who can’t make music. I make music.”

We’ll know for sure on Sept. 25.

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