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  • Dr. Obari Cartman

Fetty Wap is king, in the land of the blind: A photo essay

“Trap Queen” is just one more rotation in a very old minstrel cycle. You might blame Willie Lynch or Willie Maxwell (Fetty Wap’s born name), but I blame you: his audience, the uncritical masses, free market capitalists, white kids with a black friend, black kids hoping for their own way out, old people trying to look cool. And perhaps the worst of all, the rest of you that just never really thought about it that much.

“Trap Queen” video has 254 million views on Youtube. I'm responsible for a couple of those views. I've been using this song in conversations to teach young people how to decode messages in the media. Who knows? Maybe 100 million of those views were others doing the same.

There are definitely folk out here doing this work. Having these conversations. Supporting artists that use their power for good. But our voices can’t be heard over the choir, the bandwagon has too much momentum. There’s a brother here in Chicago with the Clear the Airwaves Project who's been protesting radio sponsors for years. But without numbers behind him, he’s just throwing a rock at a hurricane.

I heard “Trap Queen” all summer at BBQ’s, birthday parties, and all types of gatherings with young people singing along. White people love it. It’s not enough that Black people have endured so much pain for so long, the icing on the cake is that we celebrate our suffering with a smile on our face.

Fetty Wap’s self titled debut album was released less than a week ago, and it’s doing well. I listened to it, just so I could type this sentence sincerely. There wasn’t a hook melodic or beat catchy enough for me to stop thinking. I was trying my hardest to make out the words he was saying. I kept wondering if David Banner is right about white artists in hip-hop getting more lyrical while we’re just mumbling. One thing I could hear loud, clear and often was the name of his crew, 1738, which I hope he gets a product placement check for. His crew is named after a brand of Remy Martin cognac that he thought was the top of the line at the time.

Numbers are interesting to me, so I wondered why the liquor company picked 1738- it’s the year royal recognition of excellence was given to Remy Martin by the King of France. So then I wondered what was happening to African people in 1738...

In January of that year the Dutch West India Company ship called the Leusden was carrying 644 African captives when it got caught in a storm. The terrorists decided to trap the all the Africans below deck so they couldn’t escape and take the life boats. That was one of the largest mass murders recorded during the Trans-Atlantic People Trade.

The year 1738 holds memories of tragedy and triumph for Africans. One of the first free Black towns on so called US soil was established sometime between March and November of that year. Fugitive Africans who fled for sanctuary from the Carolinas and Georgia settled in an area two miles north of St. Augistine. The town came to be known as Fort Mose.

So maybe the Hatian flag Fetty Wap wears is a clue? Maybe he's a revolutionary, and "1738" is a foreshadowing to the revolt he has planned? Soon his crew may change their name to 1739, the year of the Stono Rebellion.

I still haven’t explained why I hate the song. It’s pretty simple. “Trap Queen” is about a guy inviting a woman he likes to join him in his crack selling business. It’s been called “the love story of the century” by the blind. But Fetty Wap himself said “If everybody was to catch on to the [references in the] song, it wouldn’t have been that big”. People clearly don’t know what he’s talking about:

I understand the need to have some of our art depict the grim realities of low income communities, but too much contemporary corporate rap moves beyond "keeping it real" and does more to glorify destructive elements of the lifestyle. It becomes a commercial for dysfunction. Convincing young people that selling drugs is a desirable career option. It makes drug culture look more like this:

Than this:

Then when drug dealers get caught, we have to make the connection between this:

And this:

Which makes this process more like auction block than job interview:

I think the Fetty Waps are oblivious to this stuff. Especially after all the accolades and money we give them. When I see Fetty Wap I still see the 17 year old that dropped out of high school because, as he explains (at the 13:42 mark) “I just felt like this isn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to listen to nobody. I had a real hard head. And low self-esteem.” There’s millions of those boys walking around this country. A handful are allowed to ascend to the limelight for a moment to distract the rest from this:

HBO recently aired a thoughtful documentary about the injustices embedded in our prison system. Several government officials in high places, cops, judges, the former attorney general, a past president and the current president all articulated very clearly how the system that employs them has destroyed Black and Brown communities. Particularly through the mass incarceration of folk committing the non-violent drug offenses that Fetty Wap and his Trap queen would be prosecuted for.

As I watched this from the perspective of those that see the system as broken I wondered about the others, that think the system is working perfectly. Fetty Wap is working for them. His music would be the soundtrack to their documentary. Which makes Fetty Wap on the opposing team. It’s the difference between giving him awards and boo’ing him when he comes on stage. It’s a hard line, but these are urgent times.

So what does that mean for all those that have supported “Trap Queen”? What does it mean to have the Roots back the white guy singing a cover of it? Or to see Jay Z and Beyonce dancing to it? Or Taylor swift? Or Kanye West? Or Kate Hudson? Does the song lose its venom when adorable little white kids sing it? Maybe someone explained to them what they were singing about: hey kids, a “bando” is an abandoned building in a low income community. There are lots of them because of unemployment and foreclosures. In the song the bandos are used as a crack den to distribute the poison the US government brought in as a biological warfare to dilute the power of these communities for generations.”

Fetty Wap seems like a nice guy. He has a genuine smile. I believe he wants to position himself to provide for his children. I believe he thinks his music is helping them: "Actually, the day I got signed [to 300], the first thing I did was call my son. I ain’t call my mother, I ain’t call nobody else, I just called my son, crying. He ain’t know what’s going on, I was crying telling him that I love him. He thought something was wrong. He was like, "What’s wrong?” I was like, ‘Nothing, I love you.’”

I just don’t think he’s thinking it through. He doesn’t want his son to do what he sing raps about, and he doesn’t want his daughter to be a Trap Queen. If we’re gonna make any progress towards a world where our freedom is paramount and our trauma isn't entertainment, then we all need to open our eyes, and ears, and be more intentional about supporting art that supports us.

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