His big-time rush

Af­ter ‘Trap Queen’ be­comes a hit, rap­per Fetty Wap tries to keep sud­den fame in per­spec­tive and fo­cuses on new mu­sic

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - GER­RICK D. KENNEDY

It takes cruis­ing past the op­u­lent store­fronts that line Rodeo Drive for Fetty Wap to take stock of how much — and how quickly — his life has changed.

“It’s crazy. I was here a year ago, and I was walk­ing down the street, hop­ing to get in one of th­ese stores,” the 24-year-old says from be­hind the wheel of a rented Mercedes-Benz.

The Pater­son, N.J., na­tive — real name Wil­lie Maxwell — be­gins telling a story about how he and his crew vis­ited L.A. last sum­mer to pass out copies of his mu­sic and want­ing to shop at his fa­vorite designer’s bou­tique, but then he’s side­tracked by two sports cars parked in front of a re­tailer. (His affin­ity for cars fre­quently comes up in con­ver­sa­tion.)

A year ago, Fetty was a f ledgling rap­per post­ing his tracks to Sound­cloud as soon as they were fin­ished. In March 2014, he up­loaded a rough ver­sion of a new song called “Trap Queen.”

With a min­i­mal, synth-heavy trap beat, catchy melody and his wob­bly, dig­i­tally en­hanced singing, the track — a drug dealer’s love bal­lad to the woman who cooks the prod­uct with him — be­came an un­der­ground hit, de­spite (or maybe be­cause of ) its un­con­ven­tional and, yes, true in­spi­ra­tion.

“I wanted to add the fe­male per­spec­tive to [deal­ing],” he says. “There’s a lot of fe­males that hus­tle, just like men hus­tle. So I com­bined the trap and a love story into a song … and it worked out for me.”

“Worked out” is an un­der­state­ment. The song be­came an East Coast an­them al­most overnight, with Hot 97 stal­wart Funkmas­ter Flex cham­pi­oning it on New York ra­dio late last year. Its ac­com­pa­ny­ing lo-fi video, up­loaded to YouTube in Au­gust, logged more than 1 mil­lion hits be­fore the rap­per’s own RGF Pro­duc­tions imprint struck a deal with Lyor Co­hen’s 300 En­ter­tain­ment. As the sin­gle gained trac­tion, so did the co-signs. Ri­hanna said it was the last song she pur-

chased. Rick Ross, French Mon­tana and Fabolous is­sued remixes. Kanye West pro­claimed it a cur­rent fa­vorite and re­cruited Fetty as a sur­prise guest dur­ing his Roc City Clas­sic con­cert in New York in Fe­bru­ary. Video of Bey­oncé and Jay Z danc­ing to Fetty’s per­for­mance went vi­ral. He’s in the run­ning for a spot on XXL’s cov­eted Fresh­man Class list.

A year af­ter it was up­loaded, “Trap Queen” is of­fi­cially the big­gest rap record in the coun­try.

Cur­rently sit­ting atop the rap charts, where it has been for weeks, the song just hit No. 6 on the Bill­board Hot 100 (its peak po­si­tion) last week and was cer­ti­fied gold af­ter sell­ing more than 500,000 copies, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen Mu­sic.

Even more im­pres­sive, the sin­gle is near­ing 100 mil­lion plays grossed among Sound­cloud, YouTube and Spo­tify. Not bad for a guy who is roughly two years into his mu­sic ca­reer.

“I take it one day at a time,” he says of his ris­ing pro­file and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing at­ten­tion while walk­ing down Rodeo. “To be where I’m at and have all th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences and go to new places and meet new faces … I never thought I was go­ing to leave the trap.”

Fetty man­ages to make it down a crowded Rodeo Drive un­rec­og­nized de­spite his new, white-hot fame, although his ap­pear­ance does draw dif­fer­ent at­ten­tion. He’s cov­ered in tat­toos, in­clud­ing on his face, and he doesn’t cover the left eye he lost to con­gen­i­tal glau­coma as a child. (He said his pros­the­sis made him self-con­scious, so he ditched it.)

Fetty isn’t of­fended that peo­ple as­sumed the in­jury was the re­sult of the street life he openly raps about; he even let the ru­mors build be­fore nix­ing the myth.

“Grow­ing up, in school and be­ing from where I’m from, peo­ple have al­ways thrown jokes,” he says. “I used to fight a whole lot; I didn’t take too kind to the eye jokes when I was younger. I’ve calmed down, for the most part.”

Calmed down and got­ten se­ri­ous, ap­par­ently: Since land­ing in L.A., Fetty has spent most of the week­long trip holed up in the stu­dio, hard at work on his de­but full-length. Orig­i­nally con­ceived as a mix­tape be­fore the song’s ex­plo­sion, now the al­bum in­volves ses­sions with Ty Dolla Sign and DJ Mus­tard.

In con­ver­sa­tion he’s tight-lipped about his new mu­sic; while he will­ingly blasts a hand­ful of records in the car, he won’t di­vulge de­tails like a pro­jected re­lease date. His A&R guy also dis­creetly pre­views two un­der-wraps up­com­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions. From the sound of it, both will boost his sta­tus as a ris­ing rap star to watch.

Still, he’s not giv­ing into the pres­sure of living up to a smash de­but track.

“You can’t be scared, you can’t be ner­vous,” he says a week later over the phone, back home af­ter a re­cent string of shows in Ohio. “If this what you do, this is what you do. But also, I don’t want to rush any­thing. When my next sin­gle drop … [peo­ple] are gonna know it’s me. I got my own sound, no­body sounds like me.”

Matt Sayles / Invision / As­so­ci­ated Press

FETTY WAP PER­FORMS

at the MTV Movie Awards at the Nokia Theatre on Sun­day in Los An­ge­les. He has an al­bum in the works.

Andy Pareti

FETTY WAP per­forms in March at South by South­west in Austin, Texas.

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