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Remy to Rumble: Fetty Wap and His Crew Conquer America

New Jersey hitmaker and his tight-knit entourage talk “blessing” of sudden fame

Fetty Wap
“A lot of people thought it was gonna be a one-hit wonder,” says Fetty Wap of “Trap Queen,” the breakout hit that made him a star. Chelsea Lauren

Fetty Wap, all of 24 years old, uploaded a song to SoundCloud in April of 2014 and it just, well, stuck around. “Trap Queen” — currently in its 34th week on the Hot 100 — continues to define pop ubiquity, blasting from car speakers in the middle of the day, getting requests at the club that night. The rapper, born Willie Maxwell, is at the Pepsi Center in Denver — far from his home in Paterson, New Jersey. He’s opening for Chris Brown near the tail end of a month-long, countrywide jaunt, but that’s just the tip of his celebrity: Kanye West was an early Fetty Wap supporter; Drake contributed a verse to the remix for his third hit, “My Way”; Taylor Swift covered “Trap Queen” with the rapper in Seattle.

However, when Fetty Wap dropped the track list to his self-titled debut album — due out September 25th — A-list names were conspicuously absent. “I didn’t have no features on ‘Trap Queen.’ It was just me,” says Fetty on his tour bus in the shadow of the venue. He’s having his braids untwisted and re-twisted by his current squeeze. Fetty is soft-spoken and stares at the floor, never turning his head to show me his one good eye. “Before I came out with another song, ‘Trap Queen’ was doing so good, but only the name Fetty Wap was behind it. I made my name already…. When they hear the album, it’s gonna be Fetty Wap, the artist, featuring his brothers. There’s no superstars on the album; my brothers are superstars to me.”

That’s an understatement: Fetty’s entourage rolls deep. Around 15 of his Paterson pals crowd the bus, passing blunts at a rate seemingly meant to exhaust Colorado of its robust weed supply. The collective drinks Remy Martin 1738 from styrofoam cups emblazoned with “Remy Boyz 1738.” (Fetty’s posse — the A$AP Mob to his Rocky — has become known as the Remy Boyz.) They welcome me with a swig of Remy  — Fetty tells me they go through about 20 bottles of the cognac a night — and a blunt encased in a Backwoods Honey Berry wrapper. Purple packages from the cigars litter almost every available surface, and the group agrees that Euflora, where they bought the pot, sells just a so-so product. (It’s working just fine for me.)

Fetty reeks of smoke and perspective. “Honestly, I don’t really get tired of talking about ‘Trap Queen.’ Because that’s what really got me started,” he says. “Probably next year I’ll be tired of talking about ‘Trap Queen.’ Not right now, though.”

“Probably next year I’ll be tired of talking about ‘Trap Queen.’ Not right now, though.”

It’s impossible to point to exactly why “Trap Queen” has the staying power that it does. It’s infectious and overwhelmingly positive for a love song framed by drug production. And, gasp, Fetty sings pretty much every bar. As he says — almost defensively — he’s followed it up with “679,” “My Way” and “Again,” becoming the first rapper to have his first four songs appear in the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks Top 10 simultaneously.

The cuts all appear on his upcoming LP, and make up the bulk of his five-song, 20-minute set in Denver. The Paterson throng — the size of a small grade-school class — tells me to follow them to the show, ushering me off the bus and through the backstage area. It all happens as fast as Fetty’s rise, one person pointing me this way, the next nodding her head another. All of a sudden, I find myself onstage with the whole troupe. Guys are partying, hopping around and snapping selfies. Some actually rap.

Fetty and Co. keep the energy high — perhaps not that difficult for an interval of five songs. It’s early, just after 7 p.m., but the arena is full and the female-heavy audience sings along with all of the songs — not just the closer they know is coming. Clad in a head-to-toe Chicago Bulls sweatsuit accessorized with gold chains, Fetty takes a towel as he comes off the stage. He’s soaked in sweat. A few feet from the exit, he stops his friends to chastise them for not hitting a cue on time. He’s clearly taking it all pretty seriously — most of the time — as are those around him.

After the show, Mike Goon, Fetty’s hypeman-plus (he also raps here and there), is bouncing off the walls with an ear-to-ear grin between the Fetty bus and French Montana’s. Earlier, they had laid down some tracks in the latter’s traveling studio. “He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, so whatever he wants me to be, that’s what I’m gonna be,” Goon says of Fetty. “I don’t consider myself a hypeman; I consider myself an entertainer and a musician. I play my position — it’s like a basketball team. Before you were on the bench, and now the coach says you’re in the game.” Back on the Fetty bus, a couple of gents fire up NBA 2K15 on the Xbox One.

Goon grew up near Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, and once he met Fetty, he moved to Paterson, where he says, “Strangers show me more love than my neighbors [did].” As he gleefully explains his niche, he repeats a common mantra from others on the tour bus: “It’s a blessing.”

“I’ve roughly seen half a million people,” says Goon. “Who’s not gonna be excited about that? It’s lights, it’s music. People are chanting and dancing. And you get paid for it, at the end of the fucking day,” he tells me. “I gave up trouble. I came up from the gritty streets of New York City, where all we knew was how to get it: stealing and robbing. Where I’m from, they expect you to be dead or in jail. When they see you onstage with Taylor Swift, it’s beyond. It’s fucking amazing. It’s a movie. You never want to take it for granted or fuck it up.”

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Fetty’s DJ echoes that sentiment. Backstage eating a few sliders, Big L — not to be confused with Harlem’s Big L (R.I.P.) — says, “It’s a dream come true.” He has his Apple MacBook at the table, making some changes to his chosen program, Scratch Live. L, whose first name is Lamar, grew up in Paterson where, he says, “There’s a lot of violent stuff.” Ditto for Monty, Fetty’s right-hand rapper, who rocks a John Elway jersey onstage to ingratiate himself to the crowd, many of whom just watched the first Broncos game of the season. Monty appears on six of the new album’s tracks, and says he has a record of his own on the way, tentatively scheduled for a November release.

“Everywhere you see Fetty Wap, I’m there,” says Monty. “Most everybody come from the hood: These ain’t no new niggas. Everybody from Paterson; everybody was there from the beginning. We part of the zoo. Every state we go through, we fuck it up and leave.”

“Even if the album don’t go anywhere, that doesn’t mean nothing to me,” says Fetty. “I did what most people said I wouldn’t do. And I overcame, I guess you could say, a lot of rookie boundaries. I just shot past what a lot of people expected. Selling the album is what I’m supposed to do in the music industry, not what I wanted to do.

“Even if the album don’t go anywhere, that doesn’t mean nothing to me. I did what most people said I wouldn’t do. And I overcame, I guess you could say, a lot of rookie boundaries.”

“For the most part, I don’t really have a story to tell. It’s the same story; everybody come out with the same story. They came from nothing, they got something and now they have everything. It’s the story everybody already knows about. I just figured, why keep telling people that they ain’t gonna get the chance to live this way? About how much money I got? About how many cars I own. Why can’t I just put it in a way that they don’t really know what I’m talking about, but they’re just singing along? I don’t depend on lyrics for my music. If I did, it’d be a lot longer process for me to make music. And, on top of that, I’d have to be a storyteller, and I’m not a storyteller.”

The speakers get turned up, and the soundtrack is almost exclusively Remy Boyz–related, with Fetty Wap rapping on many selections. His associates are clearly what really matter to him. Fetty Wap is obviously not the first popular musician to lift his buddies up, but he’s as committed to the piggyback as they come. Is it satisfying to take his friends along for the ride? Says Fetty, “Hell, yeah, this shit feel good.”

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Hot 100 Chart Moves: Fetty Wap Matches a Mark Last Achieved By the Beatles


Fetty Wap 2015

Fetty Wap performs during the One Hell of a Night Tour at DTE Energy Center on Aug. 16, 2015 in Clarkston, Michigan.

Scott Legato/Getty Images

The rapper’s first three hits rank at Nos. 8, 9 & 11, equaling an honor previously earned only by the Fab Four.

As previously reported, OMI’s “Cheerleader” posts a sixth total week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (dated Sept. 5), while iconic rap act N.W.A makes its first Hot 100 appearance following the buzz of its hit biopic Straight Outta Compton, as the film’s title track, originally from 1988, enters at No. 38.

Fetty Wap, “My Way,” feat. Monty
Hot 100 Music Festival performer Fetty Wap just misses charting three simultaneous top 10s, as “My Way” drops 8-11, after reaching No. 7. His “679,” featuring Remy Boyz, and “Trap Queen” rank at Nos. 8 and 9, respectively. Still, three hits in the top 11 at once is impressive: he’s the first artist to boast three concurrent hits that high, all as a lead act, since Ariana Grande a year ago; on the Aug. 30, 2014, chart, her “Break Free,” featuring Zedd, zoomed 18-4, “Problem,” featuring Iggy Azalea, dipped 6-7 and “Bang Bang,” with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj, dropped 9-10.

The last solo male with three songs in the top 11 at the same time, all with lead billing, prior to this week? Chris Brown, on May 10, 2008. Fetty Wap joins Brown and Usher as the only solo males to achieve the feat in the Hot 100’s 57-year history. He’s the first male soloist to do so with his first three chart entries.

And, amazingly, only one other act overall had charted three concurrent songs in the Hot 100’s top 11 with its first three charted titles, all as a lead: the Beatles. On the Hot 100 dated March 14, 1964, in fact, the Fab Four’s first three hits on the chart monopolized the top three: in order from the top, the iconic singles “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You” and “Please Please Me.”

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Pepper 2015 Tour

Pepper mugs

Upcoming Shows
Date Venue Location
Jun 12 Thunder Valley Casino Resort Lincoln, CA
Jun 18 The Republik Honolulu, HI
Jun 20 Kona Brew Company Kailua Kona, HI
Jun 26 Summerfest Milwaukee, WI
Jul 16 Sleep Train Amphitheatre

Chula Vista, CA
Jul 17 Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre

Irvine, CA
Jul 18 Concord Pavilion

Concord, CA
Jul 19 Texas Showdown El Paso, TX
Jul 21 Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

Bagwell, TX
Jul 23 Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre

Maryland Heights, MO
Jul 24 Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn at White River Snake Park

Indian Park, IN
Jul 25 Meadow Brook

Rochester Hills, MI
Jul 26 TD Echo Beach

Toronto, Canada
Jul 28 Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica

Cleveland, OH
Jul 29 PNC Pavilion

Cincinnati, OH
Jul 31 Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing

Philadelphia, PA
Aug 01 Sherman Theatre Summer Stage

Mt Pocono, PA
Aug 02 PNC Bank Arts Center

Holmdel, NJ
Aug 04 Constellation Brands Marvin Sands PAC

Canandaigua, NY
Aug 05 JBL Live at Pier 97

New York, NY
Aug 06 Mohegan Sun

Uncasville, CT
Aug 07 Blue Hills Bank Pavilion

Boston, MA
Aug 08 Pier Six Pavilion

Baltimore, MD
Aug 10 Red Hat Amphitheater

Raleigh, NC
Aug 11 Uptown Amphitheatre at the Music Factory

Charlotte, NC
Aug 12 Family Circle Cup Stadium

Charleston, SC
Aug 14 MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre

Tampa, FL
Aug 15 Klipsch Amphitheater at Bayfront Park

Miami, FL
Aug 16 St. Augustine Amphitheater

St Augustine, FL
Aug 18 Ascend Amphitheater

Nashville, TN
Aug 19 Power & Light District

Kansas City, MO
Aug 20 FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island

Chicago, IL
Aug 21 Del Mar Summer Concert Series Del Mar, CA
Aug 22 Reggae on the Rocks

Morrison, CO
Aug 23 Usana Amphitheater

Salt Lake City, UT
Aug 25 Iselta Amphitheater

Albuquerque, NM
Aug 27 Idaho Center Amphitheater

Nampa, ID
Aug 28 Cuthbert Amphitheater

Eugene, OR
Aug 29 Marymoor Amphitheater

Redmond, WA
Aug 30 Marymoor Amphitheater

Redmond, WA
Sep 26 Summer Ends 2015 Tempe, AZ
Dec 15 Closer to the Sun

Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Dec 16 Closer to the Sun

Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Dec 17 Closer to the Sun

Álvaro Obregón, Mexico
Dec 18 Closer to the Sun

Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Dec 19 Closer to the Sun

Puerto Morelos, Mexico



Kaleo Wassman – Vocals/Guitar
Bret Bollinger – Vocals/Bass
Yesod Williams – Drums

“It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done as a band to make this record,” says guitarist/vocalist Kaleo Wassman of Pepper, in speaking on the recording process of their new self-titled album. “It speaks loudly and widely to a broader audience while maintaining everything good about the band, which, first of all, is our positive attitude.” After releasing five albums, Pepper has opened a new chapter in their storied career. Drummer Yesod Williams adds, “This record feels very cohesive in a way our past releases maybe didn’t. I think it’s an album that can appeal to everyone, as well. We’ve been pigeonholed in the past so this is an opportunity to transcend all that and spread our wings even wider.”

The trio, who formed in 1997 and moved to the mainland from their hometown of Kailua Kona, Hawaii in 1999, pressed pause after the release of their fifth album, Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations, in 2008. There was a sense of fatigue and disunity amongst the three musicians, who took some time off from music both apart and together before rejoining to create an EP, Stiches, in late 2010. The songs on that release re-energized the group, revealing an urgent desire to make a new album that reflected where they are in their lives and career now. After some tour dates in support of the EP, Pepper sat down and focused on their sixth album, a self-titled released that swings open the door on this new chapter.

The musicians went into the studio with Matt Wallace, a producer known for his work with Maroon 5, O.A.R. and Faith No More, in early 2012. Matt helped focus the group’s vision and expand their musical knowledge base, an experience the band members compare to being in their own version of college. The album was recorded in various studios over the course of a year, honing in on Pepper’s re-defined self-identity and how that focus was reflected in the songs.

“We learned so much,” Yesod says. “Matt help us really focus on the art of songwriting. He sat in the room with the three of us with a fine-tooth comb and went over every word, every melody, every sound. He showed us that it’s important what you do play as well as what you don’t play, creating both spaces in the songs. We learned how powerful simplicity can be. Plus, we had such a good time recording this album and I think that shows.”

The resulting album, self-titled to accentuate where the band feels they are presently, broadens Pepper’s style, veering into new sonic territory while still retaining all the fun elements that make the band so beloved by their fans. The ever-present sense of life surges through the tracks, bolstering the sense of optimism throughout. The party anthems, the beach hang melodies, and the boisterous rhythms are all there, each song carefully crafted to best express these sunny moments by the ocean.

“This album is basically 12 snapshots of where we are,” vocalist/bassist Bret Bollinger says. “There are songs that will remind you of your favorite Pepper songs, but by the end you’ll hear some unexpected things. You’ll realize that the songwriting is so much more refined. And there’s laughter in the background of the songs. That’s how good the vibe is on the record.”

Pepper has toured extensively with groups like 311, Slightly Stoopid, Flogging Molly and Sublime With Rome, and spent several summers on Warped Tour – and this live sensibility shows. You can almost feel the sand in your toes and the sun on your back as the album progresses, the musician’s amiable personalities palpable beneath the island rhythms and mellow tones. The band’s music – both live and on their releases – is really about enjoying life and being grateful for each experience, a sensibility that’s very familiar to the three musicians currently in their career. From their 1999 debut Give’n It to their 2006 standout album No Shame, which was recorded with 311’s Nick Hexum, No Doubt’s Tony Kanal and Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary, Pepper has embodied not only a style of music but a lifestyle, one that’s most easily found on beaches across the world, but also one that’s relatable to anyone anywhere.

Released via their own label LAW Records, their universal appeal has led their music being placed in various movies and TV shows, including Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Good Luck Chuck, as well as several video game soundtracks. The band’s story to date has been a prolific one. But as Pepper turns the page into a fresh chapter with this new album, it’s clear that the band’s passion for music and life will continue on for years to come.

“We’re so blessed to be in this position,” Kaleo says. “We want to do the best we can with it. We had humble beginnings in our small town in Hawaii and we’re still that same humble band. We don’t take any of this lightly. Every day I wake up and think about how I have the best job in the world. The level of gratitude and happiness I have that we’re able to do this is incredible and I hope people can hear that when they listen to our new songs.”

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