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 sportscars parked in front of a retailer. (His affinity for cars frequently comes up in conversation.)
FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2015
A year ago, Fetty was a fledgling 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 lady who cooks the product with him — it 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 purchased. 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.
Now, a year after it was originally uploaded it, “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 accompany 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. I even told my mother, ‘I’m gonna be the trap God.’”
Fetty manages to make it down a crowded Rodeo Drive unrecognized despite his new, white-hot fame, although his appearance does draw a different kind of 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 admits. “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 homegrown favorites Ty Dolla Sign and DJ Mustard.
“It’s been work, work, work,” he says, laughing.
He has, however, indulged a bit in the spoils of fame. His crew has set up camp at a posh Beverly Hills hotel, and a rare break in his schedule allows for this afternoon on Rodeo, where he splurges on another perk: a private fitting with that favorite designer of his, French denim couteurier Robin Chretien.
Inside Robin’s Jeans, Chretien sits aside a number of items for his biggest fan and his entourage, a crew of eight that includes a videographer who documents his every move and members of his Remy Boyz 1738 squad, who often appear on his songs.
“You’re big, but you’re going to be bigger,” Chretien assures him as he pulls out the black leather vest he’s been holding especially for him. It’s a gift, he tells the awestruck rapper, to encourage him “to keep going.” By the end, Fetty and crew have dropped more than two grand in the boutique. (It’s a highlight in a day that was heavily sidetracked earlier by a serious battle with food poisoning.)
With “Trap Queen” a seemingly unstoppable force, finishing the album is Fetty’s main priority.
In conversation he’s tight-lipped about his upcoming 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 Selim Bouab also discreetly previews two extremely 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.”
For more music news follow me on Twitter: @gerrickkennedy