Many things attracted me to the hip-hop arts growing up as a shorty, but one of the things I gravitated to instantly was the idea of making music WITHOUT singing. I was a terrible singer, and even more insulting, participation in my district’s music program was NOT optional until high school. I had to fake my way through each and every choir performance, quietly imitating whoever was next to me, praying hard as hell that I would neither be seen nor heard. Rapping on the other hand was something I could CHOOSE to do. I didn’t have to sing, I just had to flow, and have something worth saying when I did. I enjoyed how different rapping was from singing. When rappers made fun of R&B and pop singers for being cornball I felt like they were saluting the rest of us who weren’t singers too.
Somehow in the last five years rap music has gone in entirely the opposite direction. Instead of being the cool alternative to singing, rappers have been sounding more and more like thinly veiled R&B artists. It may be that self-confessed rapper turned singer T-Pain ushered in this new era back in the 2000’s and it just took a while for the rest of the industry to catch up, but in 2015 it feels like every hot new “rapper” is somebody who sings up to 80% of the time and then drops a few bars in the middle of a track, and if you hear their radio hits you might not even know they were “rapping” at all. The most notable example of this is Future, but he’s so successful that intentionally or not everybody seems to end up imitating him. Even established rappers like Drake and Lil Wayne seem to spend more time singing than spitting bars on their songs now.
Fetty Wap is just the logical progression of taking this hip-hop shift to the furthest possible extent. Unlike a lot of recent singing rappers, Wap doesn’t hail from the Dirty South, instead coming to us from Paterson, New Jersey – which may be as good an indicator as any as to how ubiquitous the style has become. Even though the phrase “overnight success” is abused for promotional purposes by eager publicists, it really is true in Wap’s case given he only started making and recording music in 2013. In late 2014 his song “Trap Queen” hit the internet lottery and went viral, and 80 million listens later every record label came with their hand out looking to get a piece of the budding superstar. Ultimately 300 Entertainment (distributed by Atlantic Records) won the war, and given a talent roster that also includes Migos and Young Thug they certainly seem to be the “it” label right now.
Part of Wap’s continuing appeal may be noticeable in the video – the distinctive appearance he has due to his left eye being replaced with a prosthetic due to childhood glaucoma. It gives him that cachet of credibility with fans right away who don’t know his backstory but think just from seeing him that he’s “been through it” and is the “real deal” even as a singer. He also appears to spend a lot of time at the gym lifting weights – and that’s got to be appealing to the ladies in his fanbase (perhaps some of the guys too). He looks the part of a mid-1990’s era gangster rapper, but he croons his way through hits like “My Way” which have both nothing and everything to do with Frank Sinatra. Neither song sounds like the other but they both make the same point – I live how I want.
“Take you where you want to goooo
Flexing on your ex, I knowwww
He ain’t ever take you out
Barely even left your hoooouse
How dare that nigga run his moooouth
when his pockets in a drouuuught
The last single he put ouuuut
didn’t even make it ouuuut
And he dumb as hell and I swear his ass don’t think, ayy
If he disrespect, two shots and I won’t blink, ayy
Never really cared what the fuck these niggas think, ayy
I got deep pockets and I swear my s–t’s on sink, ayy”
Fetty Wap doesn’t do a lot of outside collaborations on this album, which actually makes sense given how quickly he’s come up, and how quickly everybody involved would have rushed to put his self-titled LP out. His friend Monty is on just under half of the tracks (regular or deluxe edition) and is pretty interchangeable for Wap – sing-songing his way through bars in the exact same manner as his compadre. Monty also hails from a clique called Remy Boyz, but the single “679” seems to have changed from the album and left some members of the Boyz other than Monty out. Perhaps there were licensing issues with the vocals – it’s hard to say.
The whole of the self-titled “Fetty Wap” album is remarkably inoffensive and uninspired. Those two things should be contradictory and somehow they’re not. “No Days Off” is what you’d think – Fetty stays “in the kitchen” and “karate kicking” because he takes no time off from his hustle, even comparing himself to Master P (another indication how Southern in origin most of today’s rap-singing is). “Couple Bands” is about Wap flossing his newfound wealth, “Boomin” is about how he and his RGF/Zoo Squad homies run things (one of his more “rap” songs actually) and “Again” is about how they’ll do it all again. “Coming from the trap all a nigga know is get it” states Wap in all sincerity, and if you’re looking for anything deeper than that from this 24-year-old you’re listening to the wrong album.
Now to bring this thing around full circle, I admit to total complacency when it comes to the rappers-turned-singers phenomenon. I’ve tacitly accepted it, and even though a lot of the content is lyrically vapid, there’s some of it I actually enjoy riding around listening to. I can say “there’s not much to it” like it’s some sort of indictment, but a lot of the rappers I grew up to weren’t super profound either. Public Enemy made the political statements, while EPMD snapped necks and cashed large checks. N.W.A. said “F— Tha Police,” while DJ Quik just wanted to get some trim “Tonite.” The mark of quality for a rap album is not necessarily to change the world with your words, though rappers who have a point to make might last a little longer in the fickle world of rap fan consumption. The thing I’m really trying to figure out is when we all stopped caring about rappers actually rapping, because Fetty Wap is marketed and sold as a rap artist, yet he barely even bothers to at all.