Music

‘Trap Queen’ 10 Years Later: How Fetty Wap Went Diamond & Then Lost It All

Today marks the 10th anniversary of when Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” was released independently on streaming services.

I remember where I was the first time I heard the song on the radio. I was sitting in the parking lot of the Plaza 46 Shopping Center in Woodland Park, N.J., in my mother’s car picking up some Chinese food at Imperial 46. It had to be around 8 p.m. because I had Hot 97 on and Flex was spinning. The next thing I know, he starts talking about one of the most requested songs right now and dropping bombs. He then played the song I had been hearing for weeks whenever I would come back to my hometown of Paterson, N.J.

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By this time, the record had already racked up close to 1 million streams on SoundCloud due to Fetty and his label, RGF Productions, pushing it via Facebook and word of mouth. “Instagram was just pictures back then. [On] Facebook we would get three or four shares a pop,” says RGF owner Nitt Da Gritt. “Instagram was the new kid on the block, so we promoted on there eventually. We pulled up to schools and we did free parties, printed up merch. That was basically the plan.”  

Before “Trap Queen” took over pop radio, RGF Productions worked the song on the road, performing shows at small bars and clubs, baby showers, birthday parties and sweet sixteens, making real money in the process. “What independent artist you know making $10,000 to $16,000 a week?” Nitt asks after running down a laundry list of ways they were able to generate revenue while the song was going crazy locally. RGF member Monty confirmed this to Complex in 2015, saying, “From Paterson to New York, we were doing shows. We were already traveling and grinding off our mixtapes — we went everywhere. ‘Trap Queen’ didn’t go crazy yet, but Jersey and New York knew it.”

Fetty Wap (born Willie Junior Maxwell II) and Monty met around 2005 when they were just teenagers. They hung out, smoked weed all the time, and eventually started making music together. “I was rapping, but he really wasn’t making music back then. I influenced him to rap around 2010,” Monty told Complex. “I used to go to the studios all the time, so he’d just be with me.” (Fetty and Monty were unable to respond in time when contacted to speak for this piece.) During the early months of 2014, Fetty found a beat on YouTube and made a rough draft of a song called “What’s Up Hello.” He then played the song for Nitt while they were hanging out and smoking in Paterson’s Eastside Park — a collection of ballfields where locals hotbox in their cars while taking in some high school or little league baseball.

The RGF label boss was immediately grabbed by the song and made sure to buy the beat. The YouTube page where Fetty found the original beat was owned by a producer by the name of Tony Fadd who happened to be based in Belarus. Nitt went to Fadd’s YouTube, found his SoundClick store, and tried to buy the exclusive rights to the beat. “I tried to buy him out, but he wouldn’t let me. He sold me the limited rights instead,” Nitt tells Billboard over the phone. (Billboard reached out to Tony Fadd via email for this piece but didn’t get a response.) 

This would become a headache for the newly successful independent label, because the Belarusian producer already sold the exclusive rights to the beat to someone else. So when “Trap Queen” took off, the beat’s original owner, Danish artist Lazar Lakic, took them all to court in 2015. What followed was a court case that dragged on for several years until a settlement was finally reached. 

The other producer credited on the song is Brian “Peoples” Garcia, a local engineer Monty knew from his early studio sessions. Peoples is the guy behind the official version of the song that is now certified diamond by the RIAA. “Monty played it for me, and I was like, ‘Yo, you should let him re-record it with me,” he tells Billboard. “I rearranged the original beat, and I gave Fetty some direction. He was kinda rapping it and I kept telling him to sing it.”

According to Peoples, it took them about two hours to record and they uploaded the finished product on SoundCloud the same day in March 2014. Everyone in the studio felt like they had a hit record on their hands. “He was just hitting that sh– on the money,” Nitt said in 2015. “Everybody was in the studio, and we knew we had something on our hands.” Peoples felt the same way, telling Billboard, “I knew it was a hit from the door. I said, ‘This is a smash, bro.’” 

There were rappers who were singing in 2014, but none of them sounded like Fetty. The production from Peoples automatically piques your interest before Fetty’s unique voice draws you in like a hood siren leading you to the stove. Within a couple of weeks of being posted on SoundCloud, the “hood love story,” as Fetty described it, was inescapable locally, and by August it was everywhere, landing RGF a deal with Warner Music Group’s 300 Entertainment and suddenly catapulting Fetty Wap into superstardom. “Trap Queen” was so big at the time, Fetty was invited to perform at Clive Davis’ famous Pre-Grammy Party in 2016 — a party with all the biggest celebrities every year that this time also featured an unknown kid from Paterson, N.J. I was there covering the Grammys; seeing Fetty and RGF at that event was when I knew it was for real. Their lives changed dramatically in less than 18 months.

“I started noticing it was a huge hit when it hit Billboard,” Peoples says of the song climbing the Billboard Hot 100. “I was like, ‘Yo, we’re about to have a No. 1 record.’ And then that Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa song about Paul Walker came out [“See You Again”] and we were stuck at No. 2.”

The song stayed on the chart for 52 weeks. Fetty managed to get 12 other songs on the Hot 100 since then, proving he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. And while his debut album, Fetty Wap, went platinum and he scored multiple platinum and gold singles, Fetty and RGF were never able to make another hit on the same level of “Trap Queen” — a near-impossible task in the first place, but after setting the bar that high out of the gate, the pressure was on the rapper to catch lightning in a bottle over and over again.  

Part of the reason Fetty cooled off was his team’s insistence on chasing the formula they believed made “Trap Queen” a success. Peoples said he brought up these concerns, but they fell on deaf ears, and eventually RBF stopped working with him. “There was tension with everybody, bro,” he says with a tinge of disappointment. “They were trying to re-create the same thing; they weren’t letting it be genuine.”

He doesn’t regret anything, though. Fetty changed his life. “I worked on the whole album, so I’m doing pretty well,” he says referring to Fetty’s major-label debut. “I’ve worked with Selena Gomez, I’ve worked with Tori Kelly, I had a No. 1 out in London with Little Mix, ‘Sweet Melody.’ I do a lot of pop music.”

Nitt and Fetty also fell out, but due to money management issues and creative differences. Following the Paterson rapper’s arrest on Oct. 29, 2021, for his involvement in drug trafficking, the two traded jabs over social media and did high-profile interviews with industry insiders: Fetty with Fat Joe and Nitt with Akademiks. Both blamed the other for the soured relationship. “He’s bad with money,” the RGF label head says. “Since 2014, I would tell him, ‘Save your money, Wap. Save your money, Wap.’”

Despite all his success, by 2018, Fetty started having money issues. Since he became a rap star, he told Akademiks, he bought 72 cars for friends and family and, due to a dislike of hotels, had multiple apartments in cities around the country including LA and Miami. The Paterson rapper also admitted in the same 2018 interview that he went to the bank to withdraw $100,000 but couldn’t. He flew out to California and upon landing, went to the bank to take the money out but was told it was on hold. “I think for like six months, I was broke,” he admitted to Akademiks.

Once the music and show money slowed down, Fetty shifted his focus to illegal activities. According to the indictment, he — along with five others — ran a bicoastal drug trafficking ring, which used the United States Postal Service and cars with hidden compartments to ship drugs from the West Coast to Long Island, N.Y. “Desperate to keep up with his financial obligations, Mr. Maxwell became involved in the instant offense for a few months in the spring of 2020,” Fetty’s lawyers wrote in a letter to the judge asking for a lenient sentence. Fetty plead guilty and was sentenced to six years for helping to distribute heroin, cocaine and fentanyl across state lines.

The ride was officially over.  

Looking back at it all now, Nitt says he’s still “always happy to talk about it — we made history.” The lives of everyone involved in the song changed for the better in April 2014. “Trap Queen” is one of only 129 songs that have been certified diamond, and RGF still has its deal with 300 Entertainment. And while they’re not on the best of terms, Nitt and Fetty are still in business together: “Wap is still signed to me, and I still have the partnership with 300.”

For now, Fetty has to pay his debt to society while plotting his comeback. And Nitt knows he has to make another hit.

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