In 1991, the artist formerly known as Willie Maxwell II was born in rough-and-tumble Paterson, New Jersey, across the bridge from Manhattan. But since he took the city and the music world with a seemingly unending stream of hits under the stage name Fetty Wap (Fetty for confetti, as in paper, dollars; Wap for his affinity for OG trap lord Gucci Mane, a.k.a. Guwop), Maxwell has been everywhere. And, somehow, he never really left. It is a strange thing, Maxwell says now, to be wildly famous and yet utterly unchanged. He still lives in New Jersey, still accompanies a member of his crew on his visits to his PO, still runs with his boys from childhood. In fact, his life is a lot like it was before all the top 10s and the sports cars—just ... different.
But maybe the oddest part of Maxwell's fame, and something you almost never hear a rapper say, is that he doesn't even want the credit for his own creation. He is not Fetty Wap, in other words—and no one man is. In Maxwell's mind, Fetty Wap is a plural, a collective, the avatar of a posse, not a solo artist. And, for what it's worth, that posse is sustained by the largesse of the frontman, who claims to keep more than a dozen of his crew on staff and in cars—and keeps himself on motor bikes, even after an accident on a motorcycle last September left him with a broken leg. As he tells his fan Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, Maxwell is getting back on the bike, still riding for his boys, and taking care of his family.
TREVOR NOAH: I wrote some stuff down because I didn't want this to be a strict fan interview. Like, I didn't want to be that dude just talking about Gucci Mane, and then Interview is like, "Who the hell is Gucci Mane?" So I don't even know if you'd call it a roller coaster; it's more like a rocket ship, man. Roller coasters have their ups and downs; you don't seem to have any downs. You're just shooting straight up right now. What is that feeling like?
FETTY WAP: None of it feels real yet. Like, the fans are probably the only thing I can really see that's real. I went from trying to get people just to listen to my music, not necessarily knowing me, to this. I didn't want to be known, because I didn't want to be Fetty Wap. Like, I just wanted to be the guy behind Monty [rapper Montana "Monty" Buckz, Fetty's friend and a member of the Remy Boyz 1738 crew]. Me, I'm just a background guy. Like, I think Monty got a Bentley; I got an M6. You hear what I'm saying? I don't like to be that guy. When we go out places, people say, "Oh, are you Fetty Wap?" Like, "No, I'm with the Zoo Gang." Fetty Wap's not one person. Fetty Wap consists of a tight family. When I go out as Fetty Wap, I represent the whole family.
NOAH: Who is the family? What is Fetty Wap?
FETTY: The family is RGF [Fetty's original label, RGF Productions]. Fetty Wap is that person that holds it together, and the only way you can hold it together is by having family around you. So Fetty Wap is just a face. It's just a name and face. They hear a song, and they see a name. Then they see a face behind the song, but they don't know the person. That's why I've got alter egos, like Zoovier.
NOAH: I hear where you're coming from. I often say I wish my comedy could get famous without people knowing me.
FETTY: Exactly. You want the people to know, but you don't really want the things behind it. I have everything I ever wanted. I never wanted a big house. I never wanted a Ferrari. I mean, as I proceeded with the music, I started liking Ferraris ...
NOAH: [laughs] What kind of world did you grow up in?
FETTY: Honestly, it's real simple. People make their life really hard. It was as simple as this: My parents went to church. My grandfather was a bishop. My mom sang in the choir, my dad played the keyboard, and my uncle played the drums. I was into playing the drums, so I played the drums a lot for my uncle, and it got to the point where I was pretty nice at playing the drums. And he let me play every Sunday so, to me, going to church was fun.
NOAH: That's funny—church was music.
FETTY: Yeah. And, as I started getting older and started to learn about the world, my friends would tell me about video games and dirt bikes and stuff, and I'd be like, "Oh, I got none of that." I started asking questions, like, "Why we can't get this stuff?" And it was like, "Well, we work hard to make sure da da da ..."
NOAH: Where did you go to school?
FETTY: I went to Paterson Public School No. 6. At the time, it was the worst school in the city. Ain't nobody want their kids to go to School 6; it was that bad. But it was where we lived. If you grow up in a bad area, there are bad things around it.
NOAH: So you were surrounded by music, but you only really started making music three years ago, right?
FETTY: Yeah, as I got older—16, 17—I was like, "I want to do my own thing." I wasn't seeing eye to eye with my parents. It wasn't what they wanted for me.
NOAH: What did they want for you?
FETTY: I really don't know. I never asked them. I never cared. I still don't to this day. I've always been my own person. I don't do what people want me to do. Like, if you want me to do that, I'm going to do the complete opposite. [laughs] And once I got to the age where I was like, "I could just do it by myself," they was like, "Go do it."
NOAH: Are you still in contact with your folks?
FETTY: Yeah. I just bought my mom a house.
NOAH: Oh, that's dope.
FETTY: I mean, after the years of me trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself, I knew I had to go back and fix some things. I can't just be super-rich or whatever and not do the right thing.
NOAH: Meaning take care of your family?
FETTY: Yeah. My mom, my father, my little sisters, and my brother—I don't got that much family. I'm not really a family person. I just do my own thing. But I've just been spending time with my mom, especially since the [September motorcycle] accident happened. I drive all the way down there to Georgia just to check up on her. You just get tired of being that person that you thought you were. I don't feel no different. I see the music, because I made it. I don't really see the fame.
NOAH: So for you, there's nothing different. You haven't changed.
FETTY: No. Like, yesterday my bro had to go to probation, and I was like, "I want to come with you." I was just sitting in there, and people were looking at me like, "Whatchu doin' here?"
NOAH: They recognize you?
FETTY: Yeah. This is my city, so everybody knows who I am. I used to go with him before, sit there just in case they try to take him. I do everything the same, like nothing ever happened to me.
NOAH: Do people treat you differently?
NOAH: The big difference between Fetty Wap the performer and the man in this room is that your music is loud and big, and you're really chill, reserved.
FETTY: I am. A lot of people got something to prove. If I had something to prove, I proved it already, so why do I have to go showboat? Like, I don't say I got the hottest song in the world. And, personally, I think otherwise. I like other people's music.
NOAH: It's interesting that you say that you've got everything you could've dreamed of. For some people, the only reason they keep pushing is because they haven't achieved everything they wanted to achieve or haven't got everything they want to get. What keeps you going?
FETTY: I love making music. It's just something that I can't stop doing.
NOAH: How much time do you spend in the studio?
FETTY: Honestly, I don't spend that much time in the studio. When I first started doing music, I was in the studio every day just trying to build my portfolio. But now, even though I haven't totally mastered my craft, I'm at a pretty high level. Can't nobody do what Fetty Wap does. So when I go to the studio, it may be four to five hours max, probably three days out the week. I used to go to the studio for 10 to 15 hours, and I would do five to 10 songs. Now I go for four to five hours and I do, like, 15 to 20 songs. I'm an ad lib guy. Most people know me for my ad libs.
NOAH: What do you think is the reason you're so successful? Why do you think people connect with your music so much?
FETTY: Because I don't care about being Fetty Wap. Like, this doesn't mean anything to me. My plan was to make sure that my son would be good, and I have a daughter now, so now she's included into the equation, and the work I do as Fetty Wap made me care. To see that people appreciate the work that I put in to make these songs for them, that's what makes me care. I don't care about being Fetty Wap. But just understand that there's work behind this. Like, we got about 17 members in the squad, seven apartments, and 12 cars that you got to pay for. And those aren't even my cars. All my cars is paid for. I own five of my cars-I'm paying for my boys' cars, my mom's car, my sister's car, my brother's car, my mom's rent, my sister's rent, my rent, my car, my other car ...
NOAH: So do you feel like, at some point, you're no longer working for yourself—you're working to enrich the people around you?
FETTY: No. They always say, "Yo, I don't want to be a burden. I could try to get a job." If I wanted you to get a job, I would ask you to get a job. I'm also not stupid. I'm not going to overwork myself. If I have to chase the money, then I can't do this no more. That's not what I signed up for. I didn't sign up to tire myself out. I signed up to get enough money where we could be all right for a little while, and then we could just start to find little businesses or enterprises. Nothing bothers me, bro. I don't have issues. I always tell my mom I don't have regular problems. I have problems, like, what type of girl is going to say they're pregnant by me today? Those are the types of issues I have. I don't beef with people, because I don't be around people. Nobody can't say nothing about me, because ain't nobody know nothing about me.
NOAH: You seem like a very simple guy, man.
FETTY: I am.
NOAH: Do people sometimes feel like they know your music more than you know your music?
FETTY: Yeah, but I have a solution for that: As soon as they say I don't sound as good as my old stuff, I tell them, "I would never sound as good as I first sounded, because you guys didn't know who I was. Being that I'm in rotation, you guys are getting used to the sound, so now you expect another track and another track, but it never happens again, no matter how hard I try." Like, there will never, ever be that song.
NOAH: Do you try to repeat that past success?
FETTY: No. There's no point to.
NOAH: Who are the people that you'd love to work with?
FETTY: I kind of did it already. I really moved fast, bro. I don't want a big selection, because I don't want myself in between nobody else's problems, basically. Like, if I know these two people going at it, I'm not about to make a song with either one of them.
NOAH: You give me the sense that the music is your passion and your job, but you haven't allowed it to filter into your life. You know, there are the people you meet who have this enigma around them. Would it be safe to say the most important thing to you is ... the realness of you?
FETTY: Yeah. The music world taught me a lot, man. It taught me how much happiness it could take from you. J. Cole said it in that interview: People forget their happiness and what makes them happy. Like, what you really wanted to do it for. You start to stress yourself out about the people around you. You start to think, like, "What do you really want from me?" And then you forget that you, at some point, asked them for something. At some point you needed them to take you in because you ain't had nowhere to go. And now you turn around and question their loyalty to you, and those were the only people loyal to you. The only people that really loved you are still there, and you tanked on them. I'll never let that happen. Before I let myself question my loyalty to my people, I'm quitting music. I didn't do this to be by myself.
NOAH: Do you see yourself growing in the industry to, say, become a producer or manager, building a stable of other artists?
FETTY: That ain't my thing. I don't like all this business stuff, man. I like stocks.
NOAH: You like stocks?
FETTY: Yeah. I'm big into stocks. I've invested in a lot of stocks. One day I was talking to my accountant, and he was like, "Yo, what if I could turn a million dollars into $20 million?"
FETTY: And the next day he was at my house, my leg was broken, we were on the computer, looking at it, like, "I don't understand none of this stuff." And he breakin' it down, like, "Yo, this is trade values, this is stock minutes, this is going to go up, this is going to drop down. You've got to know when to sell, when to trade, when to buy." And I was catching on ... And now that's what I do in my free time.
NOAH: That's so insane. Fetty Wap trading stocks in his free time. That's such a great image. What are your other passions? You like cars.
FETTY: I love cars.
NOAH: M6 is still your favorite?
FETTY: It's a battle—a battle between the 6s. I've got a CLK63, the fall '07 edition, the Black edition.
NOAH: The problem with that car is that the wheels don't stick for me.
FETTY: The back tires?
NOAH: Yeah, I've never been a fan of the 63. I like their engine sound, but I just don't like the fact that, off the line, I spend more time spinning the tires than anything. It's cool for, like, burning rubber, but the M6 was always dope. I prefer the M5.
FETTY: Yeah, on the track I prefer M5.
NOAH: You're a speed guy?
FETTY: I am.
NOAH: What bikes do you ride? I actually used to race bikes on the track.
FETTY: My accident was on, I think, a Suzuki? It was a little big, and it was my first time riding. I ride dirt bikes. I was like, "Oh, shit, I think I like this motorcycle thing." So I bought a motorcycle. And then I was riding to go see my son, and somebody in their car ... It was as if they were trying to hit me. I hit the brake, and the bike slid, and as the impact came, I jumped off the bike, and that's how I saved myself.
NOAH: Damn. Yeah, I've had three bike accidents. It's a weird moment when it's happening, because it happens so quickly. You don't even realize you're hurt.
FETTY: It feels fake. Like, you blink, and then everything looks different.
NOAH: You're still going to ride, though?
NOAH: What are your dreams for your kids? Because I assume they'll have a world of opportunities that you never had.
FETTY: Most parents have college funds and things. I don't. I call myself the "hood daddy." I got their money in cash, stashed up. I don't have plans for my kids. I just want them to be happy. I ain't going to lie: I was happy, man. Me and my sisters and my brother was mad cool. We all did the music thing. My dad had the keys to the church, so we would go over there and jam. So I just want my kids to have fun the right way. I want their type of trouble to be, like, "Aw, Dad, I locked the keys in the car." I don't want to hear about, "Oh, my friend just got shot."
NOAH: Now, does that mean living in another area, or does that mean having access to a different type of life?
FETTY: Both, really. If the mothers want to stay there, I can't stop that. But as the children get older and know what they want ... We all grew up at one point.
NOAH: Did you grow up in that? Like, was that a possibility in your world—getting shot?
FETTY: Getting shot? Man, I'm surprised I'm still living. I ain't really make the best of decisions in my life, but for some reason, it missed me. It's weird—that's what I always think, like, "Maybe something's going to happen."
NOAH: Are there any friends of yours that maybe you've had the opportunity to take out of that?
FETTY: Everybody that's with me. Like, every single person. There's, like, maybe 17 of us altogether. Probably three of us graduated high school. Out of 17 of us, probably three of us ain't never been to prison. Out of 17 of us, 17 of us all got kids. All of us got more than one kid. Probably all of us had kids before this happened. Out of 17 of us, I think that only five of us had jobs. Out of those five of us, maybe only two of those jobs was making real money. And they just became my gunmen. They got a license to carry a gun. I started a business for my security to make sure that they could carry everywhere. I took everybody from the streets—they all get checks because of what they do for me, down to my cameraman. I love everybody that's with me. All these dudes from Paterson—nothing happen to none of us. We won't go to jail. I make sure we don't. We don't stand on no corners. Ain't nobody carrying when they ain't supposed to be carrying. We don't pose with guns in the videos; we don't leave guns in the house. You'll never see Fetty Wap posting no videos with no guns.
NOAH: If you hadn't done music and had success, where do you see yourself?
FETTY: I don't even want to think about that. Word up. This was the only thing that was going to work. This is what had to happen. This was the only way out. If it hadn't, then I don't know.
NOAH: Were you one of the five in your crew that had a job?
FETTY: No. I've had two jobs my whole life. I worked at FedEx for, like, two days, and I worked at Popeye's for a week. I just needed a check. It was a standard thing for people where I'm from. Well, people from there that did what I did for a living, you know what I'm saying? Go get you a quick check when you mess your money up. It's so crazy how much happened for me. Like, I thought I was going to be living in my same house this whole time.
NOAH: You didn't expect this.
FETTY: No. In an interview way back, when I first started, I told people, "It's going to be ‘Trap Queen,' ‘679,' and ‘My Way.' " I ain't think "Again" was going to be how it's going. And then it was like: "Trap Queen" just went platinum; "679" is right behind it; then "My Way." And when they interviewed me the next time, I'd say, "I told y'all it was going to happen in this exact way." I don't believe in doubt; I've never doubted myself.
NOAH: What is the best thing and what is the worst thing that's come with all the success?
FETTY: The best thing that happened is I kept my promises. I ain't run out on nobody. So to me, the good thing is kind of the same as the bad thing, being that I'm hardheaded and that I didn't want to leave. I live my life until there's no more living to be done. Because you never know when it's going to stop. Wake up tomorrow and it could all be gone, bro. All the cars, all the motorcycles, everything. All the memories. We could go into a state of emergency, you know, and the world goes to war. The money won't count for nothing.
TREVOR NOAH IS A SOUTH AFRICAN COMEDIAN AND THE HOST OF THE DAILY SHOW.
lot of people got something to prove. If I had something to prove, I proved it already, so why do I have to go showboat? —FETTY WAP