The man seemed almost too good to be true.
In Paterson, one of America’s poorest cities, a local pop star turned suddenly rich stepped forward as a community philanthropist.
Such was the image that the rapper with the stage name “Fetty Wap” wanted to project.
Today we know that this image was a lie. Fetty Wap, now 31, lived a double life that reflected his two names: Fetty Wap, the rapper turned community activist for good, and Willie Junior Maxwell II, Fetty Wap’s legal name. a drug dealer now headed to federal prison.
Fetty Wap’s fall is a tragedy on many levels: for him, for his family, for those who believed in his sincerity, and ultimately for the city he called home. But more broadly, this is also a story of how our culture too easily embraces celebrities, no questions asked.
To understand this arc of sadness, let’s turn back the clock.
‘In love with money’
In 2014, Maxwell, under the name Fetty Wap, scored a major rap hit with “Trap Queen,” a song in which he rapped about selling drugs and buying a Ferrari and a Lamborghini.
“In love with money,” Fetty Wap sang. “I will never let him go.”
The song was nominated for a Grammy and won awards from MTV, BET and Billboard. In a review, The New York Times praised “Trap Queen” as “bright and howling and verging on whimsical.”
In the late summer of 2015, with “Trap Queen” still at the top of the charts, Fetty Wap announced it would be giving a free concert to Paterson students and giving away backpacks and iPads.
“Without Paterson, it wouldn’t be Fetty Wap,” he announced, an understatement if there ever was one.
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Mayor of Paterson joey Torres, who would end up in jail for illegally ordering city employees to renovate a warehouse owned by his relatives, called the Fetty Wap concert a “homecoming party” and “a true rags-to-riches story, a gentleman that he never lost sight of what he wanted to do in life, and he persevered.”
Torres’ praise was another understatement. But that was the beginning of the love story between Paterson and Fetty Wap.
For the next three years, Fetty Wap cast himself as something of a civic savior, not to mention a rising music star. His face appeared in a car racing video game. He strutted down a runway during New York City Fashion Week. Paterson and other communities in New Jersey and New York rolled out the welcome mat.
A few months after the free concert, which included members of two of Paterson’s most violent gangs vowing a truce and sitting down together, Fetty Wap gave away several hundred Thanksgiving turkeys to city residents. Three days earlier, he appeared on a balcony at the Westfield Garden State Plaza shopping center in Paramus and threw $2,000 at shoppers.
In September 2017, Fetty Wap showed up in Hackensack and gave away cash to street kids. Tabloid-like digital video platform TMZ called him “Summer Santa Claus.”
Six months later, Fetty Wap, a Paterson Eastside High School dropout who says his family was forced to rely on food stamps during his youth in the city, was being compared to the easter bunny after he handed out gift cards to town residents just in time for them to buy new clothes and food for the Easter holidays.
“Anything I can do to help, especially with my hometown, I’ll always be there,” he told NorthJersey.com. “Going from having nothing to being able to do so much more than I did growing up to being able to live a different lifestyle really empowered me to help as many people as I could.”
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Gift card flyers even propelled Fetty Wap to a place in celebrity media nirvana. Page Six of the New York Post canonized him by declaring that he is “no stranger to giving back.”
However, not everything was so rosy. In fact, some worrying signs about Fetty Wap also emerged.
arrests and drugs
In November 2017, Fetty Wap was charged with driving while intoxicated and speeding on a Brooklyn freeway. Two years later, in Las Vegas, he was arrested on charges of beating up a hotel security officer. Later, a Las Vegas judge agreed to drop the charge if Fetty Wap stayed out of trouble.
Meanwhile, there were persistent concerns, expressed by Paterson educators and others, that Fetty Wap’s songs contained too many drug references. And finally, there was the not-so-small personal news that Fetty Wap fathered six children over seven years with six different women.
No matter. If the man showed up with money and gifts, why should anyone complain?
However, this past October, Fetty Wap’s celebrity streak came to an end. As he was about to take the stage at Citi Field in Queens for a music festival, FBI agents arrested him and charged him with being part of a Long Island-based conspiracy to smuggle large quantities of heroin, fentanyl and other drugs. to New York. Urban area.
Did this scheme include passing drugs directly to dealers in Paterson? Federal prosecutors did not say specifically, only noted in court that Fetty Wap helped distribute “much more” than 500 grams of cocaine in New Jersey.
The irony here is as obvious and ugly as the cracks in the streets of Paterson. Here was the alleged philanthropist, who presented himself as wanting to help people in need, now handcuffed and tasked with pushing the kind of substances that left behind a trail of hardship and death.
Fetty Wap was released on $500,000 bond. But earlier this month, after he allegedly pulled a gun on and threatened to kill another man during a FaceTime call, a federal judge revoked his bail and sent him back to jail to await the outcome of his trial.
However, Fetty Wap will not go to trial. Earlier this week, he pleaded guilty to the most serious charge against him: conspiracy to distribute and possess controlled substances.
The plea deal focuses only on cocaine and not heroin or fentanyl, but carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison, with a maximum of 40 years. As bad as it is, it could have been worse. Fetty Wap’s guilty plea allowed him to avoid a possible life sentence if he had been convicted of all the charges he faced.
Standing before a federal judge in Central Islip, New York, Fetty Wap testified that he “agreed with other persons to distribute cocaine” and that he “knew the conduct was illegal.” Prosecutors said Fetty Wap waived his right to appeal as long as he was sentenced to 10 years and a month or less.
In other words, Fetty Wap will go to prison for a significant number of years, leaving behind his false legacy and the children he fathered. His musical career, such as he was, is essentially over.
On the streets of Paterson, there were no memorials, no gatherings of fans to mourn the loss of his rap equivalent of the Pied Piper of Hamelin who came to town with offers of free concerts, free turkeys and other giveaways.
In court, after pleading guilty under the name Willie Junior Maxwell II, Fetty Wap turned to a small group of supporters before returning to his cell to await sentencing in several months.
“I love you,” he said.
Maybe he meant it. Maybe not. This was, after all, Fetty Wap. It seemed too good to be true.
Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for NorthJersey.com, as well as the author of three critically acclaimed nonfiction books and a producer of podcasts and documentaries. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in New Jersey, subscribe or activate his digital account today.
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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Fetty Wap: The Secret Life of the Paterson NJ Rapper Catches Up with You