He’s halfway to 27 and Willie Maxwell II, better known as Fetty Wap, has just discovered, literally today, what he wants to do with his life. With how candid and easy he is to laugh with, it’s almost hard to remember you’re with someone that has a handful of awards, a debut single that landed on the Billboard 100 [Trap Queen] and, of course, a ton of money.
Fetty Wap's musical footprint started in September 2015 when he released his eponymously titled debut album which reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. Fetty's follow-up singles including the catchy hits ‘679’ and ‘My Way’ helped parlay Fetty into the mainstream where he became the first hip-hop artist in history to have four singles on Billboard's rap chart simultaneously. His tale is something of a rags to riches one. Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey was, as he describes, “really rough, really gritty, you had to be tough. We all stuck together.” His family, made up of his parents, older brother and two sisters, bounced around between about seven different houses throughout his upbringing. Times were good, times were bad.
He fondly remembers using his mother’s cooking as a barometer of the times. “When she would cook the good stuff, there’d be music playin’, the windows up, sun shinin’, she was happy, “Maxwell recalls. “When it was going good, I would have Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Fruity Pebbles and my mama would make french toast. When times were bad, we had hot dogs and spaghetti and Top Ramen. It’s good though, I like that better than french toast anyway. Fried hot dogs with spaghetti, put the bread in there, soak the spaghetti stuff up, that’s one of my favorites anytime.”
Maxwell’s mother now lives in Atlanta in a house he bought for her that outsizes his own. “I got her a nice, big house. It’s like 8 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms—it’s bigger than my house, my house is small.” His dad and little sister live with her as well, and Maxwell proudly boasts about his little sister who just made the Dean’s list. Lately, he is having mixed feelings about keeping a small house. “I wanna buy a really big, big, big house. I wasn’t into that before, but recently, I don’t know what’s going on with me, but everything has to be next level with me now. So I want a big, big, big house,” he laughs. Seems a natural move for the rapper, who rolled up to our set in a custom Lamborghini and enough diamonds to make a Bel Air housewife envious.
So what would he put in that big house? Maxwell would start with showing off that infamous motorcycle from the serious accident in 2015 that broke his leg. “I actually still have the motorcycle that I crashed,” he says. “I’m going to frame it and put it in the house. I’m gonna put that up in there, for the memories you know?” It’s become a trophy of survival and a reminder of how short life can be. “Ridin’ bikes is definitely not the way to get health insurance, so I’m tryna limit myself from that right now,” he jokes.
Now matter the size of his house, Maxwell remains loyal to his hometown roots. Paterson is more than the fights and hard life to Maxwell, it’s where he met most of his crew known as Remy Boyz 1738 (named after Rémy Martin 1738 Cognac). To know Fetty Wap is to know his crew and understand that this is a group effort—Maxwell refers to himself as “just the face.” The nickname "Fetty" (slang for money) derives from his reputation for making money. "Wap" was added in tribute to Gucci Mane's alias, GuWop. The Fetty Wap tribe is made up of Monty, his two DJs, his right hand man, Sturgy, and many collaborators like Nicki Minaj and Drake. One of his DJ’s actually broke Maxwell’s record, playing it in strip clubs and dance clubs in the Paterson area back in the day. “We are all from the same town. We’ve all known each other for a long time. Monty I’ve known for like, 12 or 13 years. When I was blowing up, I wanted to have the biggest DJ in the hood, so I went for that.”
While these are the guys you’ll always see with him on stage, Maxwell likes playing with the idea of someday having a band made up of his family. “My little sister plays everything: piano, guitar, clarinet, flute...once I figure it all out, I’m definitely going to try to have the whole family ‘cause we all play instruments. My brother and my little sister, my other sister my mom and my dad, we all play instruments. I’m gonna have my whole family as a band,” Maxwell says.
It was a text from his mother earlier the day of our interview that had him realizing what he truly wants to be. “I was telling my bro that out of my 26 years of living, I never knew what I wanted to be, even as I became Fetty Wap.” But his mother’s message gave him some insight on who he was as a kid. “She told me that when I was little, I was a control freak and once I got a microphone in my hand, I would just go to it and when I would put the microphone down, I was so shy,” he reveals. “I don’t know what it was about that story that made me kinda realize finally what I want to be in life--I want to be Fetty Wap and that’s what I’m going to embrace. I love to make music and I love to perform and once I realized that it wasn’t about the money anymore, that’s when I knew this is what I want to do. I don’t want to do anything else. I realized it’s not what I want to do, not what I need to do, this is what I love to do. I like making people happy. When people hear [my songs] they start smiling, everybody is always in a good mood when they come to my shows.”
When asked about what he’s most looking forward to in 2018, he echos similar sentiments about making others happy. He’s planning a tour poster design contest where he’ll have a different graphic designer create a poster for each date for a grand prize to boost their design business. “One of the things I’m doing now for every show is choosing a graphic designer to do a different poster for each show and I’m going to interact with the fans to pick a winner, have them come backstage and I’ll do a grand prize at the end, for whoever makes the best poster for the last show. I’ll give away $10,000 or something like that, to help them with their business,” he says. “You know a lot of people take their stuff serious and a lot of people don’t understand sometimes some people without money can get very far with a little bit of help, so I want to be able to help somebody. I actually just chose the first poster today. It’s going to be cool, definitely a different thing, and I hope the trend continues to create jobs for people. Hopefully that works out.”
Maxwell moves onto an anecdote about inviting a friend of his, “a gangster rapper,” to perform with him in Atlantic City. His friend expresses concern about safety because he has to “watch his back” at his own shows but Maxwell reassured his friend that his fans are different. After the performance, Maxwell’s friend approached thanking him, “‘thank you so much for bringing me out, a lot of my shows, I gotta watch my back.’ And it just made me appreciate who I am, you know what I mean? I appreciate the type of fans that I have.”
With the ‘For My Fans’ tour coming up, Maxwell is heading to New York to finish a music video and he’s planning to drop a mixtape as a gift to fans—something he refers to as a ‘final chapter’ before he continues working on his sophomore full-length album, King Zoo. He’s been listening to his fans’ comments about his direction and has taken that into consideration. “Now I’m going back to my original state, I really put a lot of music on this one, a lot of melodies and singing. I just love touring,” he admits.
If there’s one thing that’s certain about Maxwell, it’s his passion for music and the diversity of it. Having been discovered on Soundcloud, he recognizes the importance of making music accessible to everyone, too. “[Music is] meant to be different, everybody’s not supposed to be the same artist and everybody’s not supposed to sound the same. If that was the case then music wouldn’t be music, it would just be a fucking tomb. It wouldn’t have a meaning to it, it wouldn’t make you feel any type of way when you listen to a certain song or certain feelings wouldn’t come up if everything was the same.”
For this new record, he isn’t worried about hitting a wall as an artist. “I don’t think that will ever happen,” he affirms. “I mean, if it does happen, it’ll be [because of] some deep personal issue or something like that, it would have to be something tragic. It’s really hard to get me upset, it has to be something real extreme for me to be in a bad mood. I don’t really see why I should have to be in a bad mood, and as long as I keep that mindset, I don’t think I’m gonna ever hit a wall any time soon.”
Photography by Jonny Marlow
Lighting Tech by Alexander Fenyves
Styling by Franzy Staedter
Grooming by Chechel Joson
@ Dew Beauty Agency
Creative Direction by Heather Seidler
Written by Britt Witt