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Paterson NJ rapper’s secret life catches up with him


The man seemed almost too good to be true.

In Paterson, one of the poorest cities in America, a suddenly-rich, home-grown pop star 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 image was a lie. Fetty Wap, now 31, was living a double life that reflected his dual names — Fetty Wap, the rapper-turned-do-good-community-activist, and Willie Junior Maxwell II, Fetty Wap’s legal name, a drug dealer now heading to a federal prison.

The downfall of Fetty Wap 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 all too easily embraces celebrity, no questions asked.

To understand this arc of sadness, let’s turn back the clock.

‘In love with the 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 the money,” Fetty Wap sang. “I ain’t never lettin’ 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 “shimmering and yelping and borderline whimsical.”

By the end of the summer of 2015, with “Trap Queen” still at the top of the charts, Fetty Wap announced he would play a free concert for Paterson students and give away backpacks and iPads.

“Without Paterson I wouldn’t be Fetty Wap,” he announced — an understatement if ever there was one.  

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Paterson Mayor Joey Torres, who would end up in jail for illegally ordering city employees to renovate a warehouse owned by his relatives, called Fetty Wap’s concert a “homecoming welcoming party” and “a true rags-to-riches story, a gentleman who never lost sight of what he wanted to do in life, and persevered.”

Torres’ praise was yet another understatement. But such was the start of the love affair between Paterson and Fetty Wap.

Over the next three years, Fetty Wap presented 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’s 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 pledging a truce and sitting together, Fetty Wap gave away several hundred free…

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