New Jersey is hot again. Not just because it’s June, but Paterson’s own native son, Fetty Wap, currently has multiple singles blasting through speakers in every corner of the map. “Trap Queen,” his street hustler’s ode to ladies with the magic touch, has become this summer’s hip-hop anthem. But even with his rapid-fire success, it’s still family first for the 24-year-old rap singer.
Photos by Derick G
Written by Mikey Fresh
Video by Cutino Films
Styling by Brookelyn from Young & Reckless
Post Production By Eric Jordan, Andy Lezzo & Jason Chandler
Fetty Wap is hanging out the window of his white four-door Maserati, smacking his hand against the outside of the door like a military drill sergeant. “Pay attention, yo!” he yells. He looks ahead at the stationary black Suburban truck directly in front of him, and to the rear, at the parked black Porsche Panamera. Both vehicles are filled with the rapper’s Zoo Gang family and a couple of burly Haitian dudes, yet no one is paying any mind to hip-hop’s hottest new artist of 2015. So he repeats himself, louder and more ferociously this time. Harder banging. “Pay attention!”
The 24-year-old rapper just finished his first photo shoot with VIBE and now time is ticking on this beaming May afternoon in Miami. He has 20 minutes to get from Little Haiti to Miami International Airport to pick up a friend. One of Fetty’s closest childhood friends and confidants, Monty, rides shotgun with a huge Gold Cuban link chain dangling from his neck and wears an uneasy expression. “They’re focused on the wrong things,” Fetty mumbles.
The rising star has no choice but to stay on his P’s and Q’s. With his contagious breakout hit “Trap Queen” becoming one of the biggest songs of the year in any genre, he’s had to navigate the pothole-riddled route from Soundcloud obscurity to Billboard chart topper, seemingly overnight. It all started back in Paterson, New Jersey, a city that’s separated from the Big Apple by merely a 40-minute drive over the George Washington Bridge, but might as well be a million miles away, with its intense poverty and dearth of homegrown luminaries before Fetty. From those impossible beginnings, the man born Willie Maxwell formulated his own sound, one that he affectionately calls “ignorant R&B” (think Gucci Mane with melody). “I wasn’t even trying to get money from my music at the time,” the rapper-singer hybrid remembers of his early work. “I just wanted people to listen.”
Fetty started seriously recording music around 2008, yet by the end of 2013 he’d come up with the melody-injected ode to down-ass chicks that’d soon plant his flag firmly on the rap map. Bobby Shmurda, 2014’s rap rookie of the year with the breakaway hit “Hot Nigga,” was first to take notice, bigging up “Trap Queen” on his Instagram account last year. In February, Kanye West brought Fetty on stage during the Roc City Classic NBA All-star Game in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park to perform what he called his favorite record of the moment. And in May, Drake knighted the Lyor Cohen-helmed 300 Entertainment signee by hopping on the remix to his follow-up single “My Way,” giving an instant boost to the karaoke staple that LeBron James was caught singing in the sidelines during the 2015 NBA playoffs.
With the speedy pace at which Fetty’s life has been moving this year, it’s understandable why he’s a bit annoyed by his crew’s current lackadaisical state. But they’ve taken notice and are ready to roll. The father of two folds his 6’2” frame into his car and looks forward. Wap complains of the black leather being “too damn hot” as his shirtless back settles into the driver’s seat. His most recognizable characteristic — or lack thereof — is his left eye, which he lost as a young child due to congenital glaucoma. The handicap bothered him when he was younger (as you might imagine, kids can be douchebags) but these days he seems extremely comfortable with himself. “People used to be scared to come up to me because of my eye,” he says with a slight grin and not one ounce of insecurity. “But it’s way different now.”