Words by Frannie Kelley
Photographs by Polina V Yamshchikov
February in New York. Everywhere was cold. Outside could only be described as brick. Inside, we kept checking to see if the space heaters were turned on. The heat coming off Fetty Wap was actual and factual, though. Two days before we gathered in Brooklyn, Kanye had called the Paterson, New Jersey, rapper onstage during his Fashion Week show — the one Drake couldn't get into. That's how Fetty got his Boosts. The night before he was out with Flex. "Trap Queen" was banging all over the city all through All-Star Weekend. Baauer, busy working on his new album, made time for Fetty on the strength of that song alone. “I love it. It’s incredible,” he told us. “It’s a great tune.” It's the love song we deserve.
“Trap Queen” rang out through our studio, too, as Fetty’s entourage steadily scrolled through Instagram and Facebook and everything else so that three minutes didn’t pass without “Hey what’s up hello …” trickling from a phone speaker. This bothered nobody. “It’s been in my head,” said Baauer. “I’m just hearing it over and over again. I’m trying not to be weird and singing it, humming it all the time.”
Baauer knows something about heat, too, but of a different variety. When "Harlem Shake" swept the nation, its producer was largely left out of it. In a sense, that drop just got away from him. He and Fetty do share a rare knowledge and pressure — once the world has taken your song, once we've all crossed over into some mass delirium that prescribes your song for most situations (and all lituations) regardless of your intent, context or personality, you maybe make some money but you also run the risk of getting stuck. And when the tide recedes, the expectations that are left on the beach of your career have basically nothing to do with reality.
Might as well do whatever you want then. "If I don't like it, it ain't gon' like me," said Fetty, when we asked him how he knows what beat to write to. The night before Baauer had asked Dubbel Dutch to come by the studio and see if they could come up with anything, not that they’d ever met before, and just because he liked that Popcaan album so much. Dubbel Dutch had thrown out a synth line that Baauer worked into a hypermelodic beat he thought Fetty would hear as familiar.
Fetty radiates the grateful confidence of the newly arrived, standing in the eye of his career, when nobody doubts his knowledge of self. While his track record is short enough to be nothing but astronomically successful. The conversations between producer and artist were simple and efficient. Baauer had found some cinnamon toothpicks, so he was good. Once Fetty had his requested sweet trail mix he was happy. They decided to first work on a beat Baauer had made off a Girlicious sample, a made for TV girl group. The track was loopily feminine, and Fetty stood at the board, tasting it, measuring it, mumbling sentence fragments and tapping at his phone.
Artwork by FKRO
When he had enough he looked around for Montana Bucks, who’s been his partner for years. He gestured him over and whispered the hook in his ear. “I help Wap do what he do,” said Monty. “I’m there with him wherever he go, to every show. I’m here behind him 110%.” When Fetty ran his idea past Monty, it wasn’t so much that he was looking for approval as much as he was sharing the necessarily solitary act of imagination.
Fetty’s melody was cozily reminiscent of “Trap Queen.” At first it wasn't astonishing, and then all of the sudden it was. He laid a third harmony over himself and the whole room came to life, like when ET made the geranium bloom for Drew Barrymore. The song became 3D, physical. Everybody looked up and smiled. It was potential and resolution and proof. You stay in the studio for days straight because you might get 10 seconds like that.
Nobody thought he and Baauer were done. It was so calm and easy, what was happening between production and vocalist. There was no reason to not put in more work and there was the other track still, the one Baauer had made with Dubbel Dutch, and with Fetty in mind. This time when Fetty huddled with Monty the song he sang was about their bond, and the single-minded focus of their group, and about his son. It’s about how he has the chance to turn something that is his into something that is all of theirs, about what’s possible because of “Trap Queen,” because at 4:30 in the morning on a November day of 2013, Fetty Wap heard something. “I knew as soon as I heard the beat,” he says. “Everybody gonna turn up with me. It’s gonna be different.”
“I just wanted to move to Miami, man, take my son, ride down South Beach,” he says. “Stuff like that don’t happen for me. Stuff like that don’t happen for none of us, really. We still live in the same spots. When the lights over and the cameras done — we leave the shows with all these superstars we still go back to our same neighborhood. I still go back to my $30,000 car. We just enjoying the experience. People don’t get to live like this every day.”
But just then, right as he’d figured out what he and Baauer could make together, his voice gave out. He could hear the song in his head but he couldn’t get it out of his throat. All seemed lost. Fetty called his other right hand man, his engineer, Peoples, who diagnosed Fetty instantly, over the phone. He knew exactly how many steps Fetty’s voice was off; he knew the tuning fix. He told him he needed rest. That was not on the table. Fetty’s presence was required at the Barclays Center. Another superstar, this time Chris Brown, wanted to pull him onstage.
So the next weekend the mountain went to Peoples, in Clifton, New Jersey. It started snowing hard right when we pulled up. Peoples was ready to go. He had been recording and mixing Fetty since the very brief period – “like a day” — when Fetty was rapping in the traditional manner. Back then Peoples heard a little ad lib, the one millions have now heard in the opening moments of “Trap Queen.” “I was like, ‘What was that?! You should sing more,’” he remembers. “I was like, ‘I think you’d be a star if you sing.’”
Fetty jumped in the booth and in short order had Peoples shaking his head. “He always finds the loophole,” he said. “He’ll do one melody and, then within the two minutes we’re recording, he’ll find another melody in the beat. It’s a spark right there. I’m like, ‘Just keep doing what you was doing.’”
“I never thought I was gonna be no singer,” said Fetty, even though he did sing in church as a kid. “Ain’t nothing wrong with being a singer. It take a lot to be a singer. It’s hard. I commend them.” He listens to Gucci Mane mostly, says he gets a lot of his flows and vocabulary from him. “I make fun music, if that make sense.”
"A lot of artists are so stuck in their persona," said Peoples. Fetty just calls everybody buddy, in the Moly from Friday After Next voice. What we’re really dealing with in the combination of Baauer and Fetty Wap is two men who have the hook to thank for everything. Two men with no use for pretense. Both born under good signs. "He just needs to keep doing him," says Baauer. That’s what promise is.