Status Ain’t Hood: Fetty Wap’s Sloppy, Improbable Rise
As I write this, I’m sharing my office with a 130-pound yellow labrador named Flapjack. The last time I took him to a boarder, she was like, “You know your dog’s massively overweight, right?” And yes, I do. It’s hard to miss. He is a titanic mass of dog. He is big and dumb and friendly and happy. When my kids’ friends come over to the house, he lavishes them with so much attention that they stop being delighted and start being weirded out. He’s five now, and he sleeps for most of the day these days. But when something gets him excited — someone walking past the house, a piece of food hitting the floor, me picking up the leash or putting on my shoes — he still gets as fired-up as he routinely did when he was a puppy, during the era when I had to watch YouTube tutorials to learn how to patch up apartment walls after he’d eaten holes in them.
Point is: Flapjack is an enormous, relentless engine of joy and affection, and in that, he reminds me of the New Jersey sing-rapper Fetty Wap, who released his self-titled debut album last week and who is almost unquestionably rap’s rookie of the year. Like Flapjack, Fetty Wap’s charisma manifests itself in big, sloppy displays of love: Those euphorically out-of-tune hooks, that giddy emotional force in his voice, that tendency to interrupt his own guest rappers just so he can howl, “yeeaaaaaah baybay” routinely. (The first of Fetty Wap’s three breakout hits is a love song, and the second is, too, sort of.) It’s fun! The problem is that someone let Fetty Wap make an album longer than an hour — one that runs an impossible 77 minutes in the deluxe version that’s streaming on Apple Music. I would never let my dog slobber on me for 77 minutes straight. It’s exhausting.
Before we get into the album, though, we should talk a bit about Fetty’s improbable and encouraging out-of-nowhere rise. The last time I wrote about Fetty Wap in this space, just a few months ago, I was coming to terms with the idea that he might not be a one-hit wonder after all. That, in itself, is unlikely. When “Trap Queen” was bubbling at the beginning of the year, Fetty was in about the same position as O.T. Genasis, who also had one big, obnoxious, catchy song. If anything, “CoCo” was bigger and dumber and catchier than “Trap Queen”; for a while, I couldn’t walk through a grocery store without mentally blurting “baking soda! I got baking soda!” to myself. And now O.T. Genasis already feels like a relic of a forgotten era. Meanwhile, Fetty secured his someone-with-at-least-two-hits status when Drake showed up on a remix of “My Way.” But the version of “My Way” that ended up hitting wasn’t the one with Drake. Instead, people wanted to hear Fetty’s buddy Monty rapping about the notches in his jeans and pronouncing the phrase “baby, you the baddest” in a nanny-nanny-boo-boo playground cadence. As far as Drake remixes go, this is basically an unprecedented turn of events. Fetty had three big hits this summer — crossover hits, not just rap-radio hits — and they were all cheap and hard and sounded like they belonged on mixtapes.
We at Stereogum are working on a list of the year’s most important new artists, and there’s a decent chance that Fetty will be the only rapper on that list. The other relatively new rappers who are having big years — Rae Sremmurd, Dej Loaf — were making hits last year, too. Fetty, meanwhile, has bigger hits than anyone else in rap, Drake included, and he’s done it without any substantive help from anyone, Drake included. He has a sound that belongs entirely to him — a bellowing honk that’s not really singing and not really rapping, all over engagingly cheap donk-plink production from his longtime associates. The only guest verses on Fetty Wap, his debut album, come from his Remy Boys crew, and the whole thing seems completely stuffed with potential singles. I have a hard time imagining most of the random tracks here blowing up, but I had trouble imagining “Trap Queen” blowing up, too, and look what happened. Maybe that’s why Fetty Wap gets to make an album that feels like it’s eight hours long: Everything this kid has done has worked so far, and so nobody was going to tell him no.
Someone should’ve told him no. Fetty Wap is a weird and fascinating album, but it’s not altogether a successful one. It’s so odd to hear a major-label album that was made with so little obvious label interference. Nobody was going to tell Fetty Wap to make a single because he’s already given them so many singles. But he hasn’t really done anything else yet. The album proves that he is an endlessly renewable resource of exactly that sort of single. Every one of these songs has a utilitarian beat, a strangely compelling hook, and a few lyrics about basically nothing. The songs all glide and bounce in the same ways that the singles did. They all give Fetty multiple chances to yell “yeeeeeaaah!” or “squaw!” But they never venture outside the singular comfort zone that Fetty has already established. I suppose it’s enough that Fetty has mastered this one sound that nobody else has figured out yet. That’s more than most rappers can claim. But it’ll be interesting to hear what happens when and if he ventures out of that zone. Thus far, only a few randoms (Ty Dolla $ign! Lil Dicky!) have brought him in as a guest, and he’s pretty much just done Fetty Wap things on those songs. But what happens if he enters the featured-artist roundtable and finds himself singing on beats that sound nothing like what his New Jersey braintrust is giving him? Maybe we’ll find out. The sound he already has is effective and durable, and it makes for great car-radio singalongs. But over an hour-plus, it get gets to the point where it’s numbing. Listening to Fetty Wap’s album tracks, I completely lose the thread of where one song ends and the next one begins. I know people have favorite songs on this thing, but I don’t know how. Eventually, the whole thing starts to sound like one long, drawn-out “yeeaaaaaah baybay.”
What’s not numbing, though, is Fetty’s public presence. Look at this video of him winning a completely meaningless award:
Watch his face. It’s incredible. He’s overcome. This award is nothing: The Music Choice award? Of most-played video in 2015 so far? Did you know that was a thing? I didn’t know that was a thing. It doesn’t matter. But it matters to Fetty Wap, so actually it really does matter. “I aint never won nothing in my life before.” Here’s a kid who grew up with one eye in a housing project in fucking New Jersey. He lost three times before he was old enough to walk. And here he is, staring at this fiberglass 45 that someone handed him, unable to hold back tears, to stop his voice from breaking. Maybe he’s had media training by now, but his rise has been so fast and meteoric that he hasn’t had time for that training to take hold. He’s experiencing all this in real time, as we watch him, and he’s seeing the improbably beauty of it. I don’t love Fetty Wap, the album. But I think I might love Fetty Wap, the person.
1. YG, Blanco, & DB Tha General – “Driving Like I’m Loco”
If Mixtape Of The Week was still a thing, then this week would belong to YG, Blanco, and DB’s reverent G-funk homage Block Party. There’s nothing remotely new about it, but all three of them, especially YG, attack the tense, luxuriant sounds of the Chronic era with focus and energy. They have fun with it. “Driving Like I’m Loco” injects a tiny bit of handclap-driven Bay Area energy, but all about that eerie, whining Snoop Doggy Dogg “Serial Killa” synth line, a thing I’m happy to have back in my life.
2. Kevin Gates – “Tattoo Session”
Kevin Gates will always be the guy who kicked a female fan in the chest and then made a song about how he was right to do so. That’s never going to change, and that image of him should never fade from our collective mind. But he’s also an absolute monster of a rapper, and it’s not like those grow on trees. “Tattoo Session” is five minutes of absolutely thrilling rapping, with no pause for breath or for a chorus. Gates kills the hard, declarative stuff, but he’s even better at the urgent singsong; maybe only Future does that better.
3. Paul Wall – “Crumble The Satellite” (Feat. Devin The Dude & Curren$y)
Paul Wall will never have the internet going nuts the way he did 12 years ago, but he’s a perfectly likable rapper, especially when he moves onto something other than the diamonds in his mouth. More importantly, he has the good sense to do a stoner-rap song over this dazed, mushy beat and then to recruit the help of Devin The Dude and Curren$y, two of the finest stoner-rap minds on the planet. Devin’s hook is a thing of beauty.
4. Jeezy – “Gold Bottles”
Most of what we’ve heard from Jeezy’s forthcoming album has been vaguely Biblical, both in theme and in scope, and that world-shaking portentousness suits Jeezy’s style nicely. But I might like it even better when Jeezy applies that same style to a song about hedonism and guns. Why shouldn’t a night out at the club be an epic thing?
5. Isaiah Rashad – “Nelly”
When he was on top, Nelly was making music that was great because it was shameless. It grabbed you and shook you all around with its big, goofy hooks and its lovable-dork punchlines, and it was impossible not to like. Isaiah Rashad’s song “Nelly,” which seems to have nothing to do with Nelly, is the opposite in a lot of ways. It’s small and tingly and atmospheric. It doesn’t grab your attention. Instead, it bubbles up from the air around you. But in its own way, it’s no less great.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— bookmobile bad girl (@rubybrunton) September 25, 2015