The Science Behind Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" Success

Experts weigh in on the magic behind "Trap Queen"

Fetty Wap
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

I don't know what you're doing right now, but I'm sitting here wondering why I can't get Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" out of my head. I've tried everything. I've tried unhearit.com. I've tried unhearing it by listening to Beyoncé on repeat. I've even tried chewing gum. No dice. It just sits there, turning my brain to jelly. Sometimes, it can take every fiber in my musculature to keep from walking around singing, "I'm like, hey what's up, hello."

I've accepted that "Trap Queen" is irresistibly catchy and there's nothing I can do about it. If this problem sounds familiar, you're not alone. We're going to figure this thing out together.

First things first...

Who is Fetty Wap?

Fetty Wap (real name Willie Maxwell) is a rapper from Paterson, NJ. And no, he does not have 14 kids, as rumored. He has two—a newborn daughter and a 4-year-old son.

What Happened to His Eye?

He did not lose his eye to a shooting, another rumor making the rounds. As he told TMZ, that makes zero sense. He lost his left eye to glaucoma. Here’s what he told Pitchfork about losing his eye:

“I can't remember how old I was exactly, but I know I had my second surgery when I was 12. I had to get the bones restructured because I was getting older and it was growing bigger. I was actually supposed to go again when I was 20 but by that time I just didn't care about that sh!t no more.

I was still wearing the prosthesis, but then one day I was like, ‘I don't wanna wear this sh!t.’ It used to hurt my eyes.”

The Magic Behind the Success of “Trap Queen”

The still-climbing "Trap Queen" was  No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by the time Gucci Mane and Quavo hopped on a remix and Drake tacked on a remix of another Fetty song, "My Way." It was No.

2 as of this writing. I suspect that numero uno isn't too far behind.

Roll the highlight reel:

  • No. 2 on Billboard Hot 100
  • No. 1 on US Hot Rap Songs
  • RIAA Certified Gold
  • 63 million YouTube views
  • No. 6 on Shazam Top 100
  • A performance on The Tonight Show
  • A Drake remix

So how did a love note to a trap queen become the most popular rap song in the country? I'm not talking about the political machinations that may or may not be related to its ubiquity (you already know how I feel about "radio promotion"). For the purpose of this discussion, we'll focus on the mechanics of the song itself, i.e., why is it deeply resonant?

I invited a panel of hip-hop journalists, data analysts and music minds, and threw down a gauntlet: Tell me the secret to Fetty Wap's success.

Here's what they told me:

1. Women can sing along to it.

Virginia Nicholson, a Big Data Analyst for the Washington Post, explained to me that “Trap Queen” resonates because women can sing along to it. And everyone knows who really run the world.

“I would argue that one of the main reasons ‘Trap Queen’ is so popular is because it’s rare that a hip-hop song actually glorifies a relationship with a woman, rather than objectifying her. Women can sing along to “Trap Queen” and not feel bad about it.

As opposed to Chris Brown’s “Loyal” where women generally hate the fact that they find themselves victims of a catchy beat, singing along to the subject matter given Brown’s personal background. I would say that the chorus alone in Trap Queen makes it very likeable in this way.”

2. It takes advantage of an age-old tool.

Auto-Tune is central to the song’s success, adds Nicholson.

“The AutoTune is also a huge factor. When used correctly, auto tuning can change the tone of a song – more somber in the case of rappers like Kanye West or, as is the case with Trap Queen, smoothing out the song’s more urban themes into a fun, catchy and appealing sound.”

3. It's all about the hook.

Fetty is really good at crafting hooks, says Khris Davenport, Complex Pop contributor and former Do Androids Dance editor.

“Dude can write a hook. That's part of Young Thug's appeal, too; people know how to use those melodies over humungous trap beats. I don't know if anyone remembers the actual verse on "Trap Queen." I remember that "matching Lambos" and how she "works the damn pole."

Truth be told, Fetty could've spent most of that track doing that Future-ish singing sh!t if he wanted to. He has a few different hook-ready bits before he starts rapping that some rappers only dream of getting their hands on.

The Hook:

And I get high with my baby

I just left the mall, I’m gettin’ fly with my baby, yeaaahhh

And I can ride with my baby

I be in the kitchen cookin’ pies with my baby, yeaaahhh

And I can ride with my baby

I just left the mall, I’m gettin’ fly with my baby, yeaaahhh

And I can ride with my baby

I be in the kitchen cookin’ pies with my baby

4. It’s ripe for summer.

Davenport, who is also the founder of Rock the Dub, says it’s also in the texture of the song.

“It has that perfect "bae is a dime but is also hood as fvck" vibe for the summer weather. Tracks like this are the definition of LIT, and Fetty shines on anything he starts to harmonize on (Baauer's "Promises," for example). End of the day, it's that goddamn sangin.”

5. It’s the melody.

John Gotty, who heads The Smoking Section, says it boils down to simple melody.

“Blame Kanye. I'm not an 808s [808s& Heartbreak] fan by any means but dude tends to be one of the few artists who sets the bar in terms of what's acceptable. Yes, I'm fully aware that countless others were singing on records way before 'Ye. But, for the current generation, he sang first and made it okay. Others followed and really tightened up the approach to the point where we have sing-songy types like Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan and Fetty who feel comfortable enough with themselves and the audience to sing all of their thugged out thoughts. And if you want to go back pre-Ye, go ahead and give Ja Rule his credit for creating a lane that serves as an inspiration to this day.

The Bridge:

I’m like, “Hey, what’s up, hello”

Seen yo pretty ass soon as you came in that door

I just wanna chill, got a sack for us to roll

Married to the money, introduced her to my stove

Showed her how to whip it, now she remixin’ for low

She my trap queen, let her hit the bando

We be countin’ up, watch how far them bands go

We just set a goal, talkin’ matchin’ Lambos

Got 50, 60 grand, 500 grams though

Man, I swear I love her how she work the damn pole

Hit the strip club, we be letting bands go

Everybody hating, we just call them fans though

In love with the money, I ain’t never letting go

6. It’s the production.

Brandon Caldwell, editor-in-chief and founder of Day and a Dream, says the production plays a pivotal role.

“The first thing you hear are those island-style synths. It's light, not too threatening and nowhere near the programmed in your head trap drums that seem to popular every other near mainstream hit of today.”

7. It’s a hard scrabble love story.

According to Caldwell, Fetty comes across as gentle compared to other singing rappers.

“Fetty Wap, unlike any other singing rapper out at the moment, decides to ask a question. An offer, almost too gentle and sweet. You don't get people literally asking women questions with a bit of sincerity attached to it. Then there's those rough additives of telling a woman that she's pretty and backing it up with a bit of direction. It doesn't take you more than 40 seconds and then the chorus before you get to the realization that this, a song about a woman who helps you sell drugs in a rather f--ked up situation is the greatest hard scrabble love story you'll hear all year.”

The Verse:

I hit the strip with my trap queen 'cause all we know is bands

I just might snatch a 'Rari and buy my boo a Lamb'

I just might snatch her a necklace, drop a couple on a ring

She ain't wanting for nothin' because I got her everything

It's big Zoo Wap from the bando, without dinero can't go

Remy boys got the stamp, count up hella them bands though

How far can your bands go?

Fetty Wap I'm living fifty thousand K how I stand though

If you checking for my pockets I'm like...

8. It resonates with the trap queens of the Instagram age.

Charne Graham, managing editor of What up Windy, says it’s because Fetty's lyrics truly resonate with the modern trap queen who captions her IG photos with rap lyrics.

“It’s catchy like the song you’ll hear while making your plate at the BBQ, every time you go to a club or simply turn your radio on. It really reminded me of a modern day version of Three Six Mafia’s “Ghetto Chick” or The Lox’s “Ryde or Die, Chick”.

"This being Fetty Wap’s first breakout song says two things: he loves the ladies and he’s smart about it by calling them queens. I feel like the trap goddesses and trap queens of the Internet need lyrics to caption their Instagram photos with, and Fetty Wap has the answers. I especially like the guy talking at the end of the track. He reminds me of Birdman when he was known as Baby in the old Cash Money days."

9. It sidesteps the standard radio rap formula.

Marco Torres, who contributes to the Houston Press and LA Weekly, says the beat deviates from the usual radio rap fare.

“Right from the start, the track just sounds different than the current rap standard formula laid out by Mike Will-Made-It or DJ Mustard. Then the vocals begin and Fetty's voice has a distinct, tortured cadence and tone. Of course, any big hit these days requires the approval of the female fan base, so including the lyrics about "riding for my baby" and calling her your queen does wonders for radio rotation, downloads, and strip club play.”

10. It’s too goofy to hate.

And, finally, a comment from an anonymous observer: We'll just call her Cookie.

"It's simply too goofy to hate. The hook is so chirpy and happy. It's infectious. And the more you hear the song the better it sounds. Content wise, it's actually a pretty solid love story. Outside of their shared goals being illegal as f--k, that's a pretty healthy, functional relationship. And we haven't had that in rap in a very long time. My personal experience is that it's been fun to make fun of, which opens you up to letting it grow on you a bit."