Is Fetty Wap dumbing down hip-hop?

The latest rash of discussions about hip hop's decline surround a buzzing, chart-topping New Jersey rapper.

If you read the headline and breathed a deep, sad sigh of resignation, you're probably like me — a lifelong hip-hop fan disappointed with the constant bombardment of negativity towards the genre and its mainstream buzz acts, and the broader implications this makes about the people who choose to listen to them. The latest rash of discussions about hip-hop's decline surround Fetty Wap.

Some background first:

After only producing music for two years, Fetty Wap (real name Willie Maxwell II) went from hawking mixtapes on the corner in his hometown of Paterson, N.J., to dominating the Billboard charts with tracks like "Trap Queen," which first gained national traction via social media sites like Vine and Instagram and music streaming site Soundcloud (where it currently has more than 80 million plays). When venerable NYC-based DJ Funkmaster Flex discovered the track and started playing it on his Hot 97-FM radio show, he introduced "Trap Queen" to the mainstream. Nearly a year after its initial release, Kanye West has admitted "Trap Queen" is a favorite, and thanks to Billboard calculating YouTube plays into its chart totals, the song has become a bonafide hit; No. 2 on both the Hot 100 and the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts, No. 1 on the Rhythmic charts. Another track he first premiered on Soundcloud, "My Way," proved equally successful after Fetty scored a feature spot from Drake for the remix; it clocked more than 100 million views on YouTube. Fetty even earned a coveted spot among XXL's 2015 Freshman Class, which, in past years, has featured Chance the Rapper, Schoolboy Q, B.o.B., Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, YG and J. Cole, among many others.

He knows how to pen a hit, as his accelerated ascent to stardom proves, but is Fetty Wap really deserving of all the hype? Do hits equate to quality?

Fetty Wap detractors claim he doesn't deserve the recognition, that his singing is more akin to an obnoxious off-key howl, that he isn't even really rapping in his songs. His devotees disagree, claiming he's offering something different that can and should be appreciated — a unique middle ground between the serious thought-provoking rap of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, and the hazy, auto-tune style of Young Thug and Future. Opinions are subjective, of course, and none of them really matter, since it doesn't look like he's going away any time soon. Fetty Wap has become a fixture on the radio, the first hip hop artist with four Top 10 singles on the Billboard Rap Songs chart all at once. Eagerly awaited by hip-hop heads and casual listeners, Fetty Wap's self-titled debut peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in its first week with over one billion paid streams.

But — does his album live up to the hype?

Yes and no. Fetty Wap plays it safe in his first full-length outing, sticking to the formula that helped him blow up in the first place, what he affectionately calls "Trap&B." The collection is fun and catchy, but basically rehashes elements of his other hits; it's like 65 minutes of "Trap Queen" and all her clone-like sisters (77 mins for the deluxe edition). There aren't any lyrical gymnastics, and the subject matter is typical of what you hear dominating mainstream hip-hop lately — party music about having fun with friends, chilling with your girl, blowing money, and trapping out the bando. Fetty comes off as a one trick pony because of its lack of variety, depth and lyrical quality — he takes no risks and while that ensures that every song at least sounds good, it makes for monotonous listening and leaves you feeling spiritually empty. However, the people listening to his music aren't searching for deep meaning in their dance floor jams, and for what it is, the album serves its purpose; made for being played at clubs and parties, or as the soundtrack to a turn up session. Not bad, just not terribly great, either.

Perhaps his fast rise to fame can be blamed; he hasn't had a chance to explore other sounds and see what else works for him. And in Fetty's defense, plenty of other rappers are far more guilty of objectifying women and glorifying drugs in their songs. Even if Fetty picked different topics, he wouldn't change this aspect of mainstream hip-hop. Sex, drugs and money have been prevalent themes for quite some time now, and some rappers have built entire personas based on those themes. The whole image of Rick Ross (who coined his name from former drug kingpin Freeway Rick Ross) is based on living lavishly, hustling drugs, and spending money all while having the "baddest bitches" by his side. Even Drake, who's known as "soft" and generally panders to women, has a healthy measure of objectifying lyrics ala last year's "Only,” which finds him flowing about how he'd like to get down with Nicki Minaj (who's consistently claimed they have a brother-sister relationship) and how “she was sitting down on that big butt, but he was still staring at the titties though.” ("Baby girl, you're so damn fine though" from Fetty Wap ode "679" pales in comparison.)

Fetty even seems like a lightweight compared to Future, who "took a piss and saw codeine coming out." For the length of his last solo album DS2 (Dirty Sprite 2), he's regularly raps about dealing and using drugs (lean, specifically), having sex with groupies and getting paid, hinting only briefly at the negative side effects of his lifestyle. While Fetty may not be as hardcore, he and Future are one in the same. Future's album was No. 1 in the country and it was played in every club, backyard barbecue and house party banger this summer, and Fetty Wap's album, which debuted at No. 1, will be following in its footsteps this fall.

So is Fetty Wap dumbing down hip-hop or not?

No. No single rapper has the power to dumb down such a diverse genre as hip-hop, and it’s ridiculous to think such a thing is even possible. He isn't to blame for the influx of fun, meaningless club music, either, nor are the listeners dumb for liking it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying Fetty Wap’s music, nor is there anything wrong with not enjoying it, either. It's what's popular and selling right now. Fetty Wap found his own niche within it, and right now, he's sticking to it. 

Fetty Wap might not be your cup of tea, but if you want depth, lyricism, and quality hip hop not confined to all the stereotypical rhetoric and money-waving bravado, there's a Big K.R.I.T, Kendrick Lamar, Logic and Lupe Fiasco for every Fetty Wap, Future and Rick Ross. The mainstream might oversaturate the airwaves with turn-up tunes, but the internet has broken open the hip hop world, and listeners can very easily find fine quality alternatives to the mainstream.

I'm just sayin', we got options.

— Andrea McCray is a lover of all things hip-hop, and has been a serious fan since age 13. She especially loves dissecting the lyrics and poetic devices that rappers have to offer. Andrea is currently working towards a degree in media studies at USF, and she also writes about hip-hop and other genres over at Queen of the Turn Down.

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