Fetty Wap expands his sound on the uneven-but-enjoyable "Zoovier" tape.
Fetty Wap hasn't exactly been quiet in 2016, dropping over 30 songs before this week (not counting the ones on Money, Hoes & Flows, his fun, albeit fleeting, July tape with PNB Rock). What he surely hasn't been though, is dominant, especially in comparison to his Rookie of the Year-worthy performance in 2015. Not just "Trap Queen," but also "679," "My Way," and "Again" boomed out of cars all summer long, competing only with Future for dominance in publicly-audible popularity. If you haven't been paying close attention to him, it might seem like continued radio dominance is not his immediate goal, with the abundant amount of loosies suggesting that he's cool with coasting and recording "just for fun" joints. But delving into his Wiki page shows that 300 Entertainment has pushed four new singles since April 2016. Only the first of these, "Wake Up," charted, and it only peaked at #50 and took seven months to go gold.
Zoovier is decidedly not an attempt at reclaiming last year's glory. It's throwback street mixtape, complete with an overbearing DJ presence and a barrage of verses from varyingly capable unknown members of the crew, and although there's still several starry-eyed romantic bangers, Fetty's rapping is pushed to the forefront for the first time. Whereas last year's self-titled debut album didn't really have a wholly weak track, but tended to drag due to a uniform sound, you could almost predict that Zoovier would be the opposite before even pressing play. Indeed, we get a mix of melodic flex cuts, R&B/pop plays, and more in-your-face rap tracks in the vein of his 2015 freestyles from the jump, with the disparity most apparent between the bombastic "Shit I Like" and fuzzy T-Pain/Plies update "Shorty."
The tape's second half expands this palette even further, bringing in a wider variety of guests than we've heard the usually-insular Fetty work with in the past, namely ATL denizens Trouble, Juugman (fka Yung Ralph), 21 Savage, and Bricc Baby. It's not that Fetty's music has never previously had anything in common with Southern rap-- in fact, his idolization of Gucci Mane and similarities with some of Atlanta's more melodic artists is probably why he's been able to score more radio hits than anyone else from the Northeast in the past few years-- but he goes even further into that genre here. We get Zaytoven-esque beats on "Gucci" and the excellent "Island On My Chain," and then beats that recall Metro Boomin's work on "Strapped Up Shawty" and "King Zoo." Most of these play like good imitations rather than skillful reinterpretations, but it's still interesting (and maybe inevitable) to hear Fetty make good on all of the influence he's taken from the South.
Fetty's lyrics still falter at times due to his freestyle-only approach. When he was focusing more on melodies, it was easier to ignore that he leans too heavily on certain words and phrases (try to count how many times he says the word "rewind" on his debut album), but when he's in rapping mode on Zoovier, it's impossible to miss how much he name-checks blue hundreds, Poppa Smurf, and The Island. Despite that, his rapping has overall improved quite a bit from his early days, as he tries out new flows more successfully than Monty or guests like J. Porshea and drops the most substantive verses of his career. He begins "Island Boyz" by recounting his past trapping, and then closes it out with this nice "look how far I've come" conclusion:
"Now I'm doing shows, getting paid for some true shit
Dropped "Trap Queen" then we got the whole crew lit
RGF the island, taking bitches on a cruise ship
Only bad bitches who done Zoovie love to cruise with"
Since Fetty's early tracks pretty much exclusively focused on women and flexing, it's eye-opening to hear some of his actual backstory on Zoovier. "My only dream was ever trapping, ain't believe in rap shit," he raps on "Gucci," following up with "1000 yams was my goal, ain't need to cap this," suggesting that he is somewhat content with doing what he wants to musically without worrying about topping "Trap Queen."
It'll be interesting to see what happens from here for Fetty. His meteoric rise wasn't sustainable, and he's obviously recognized that, but how will his quiet 2016 affect his upcoming sophomore album, King Zoo? 300 has usually been pretty good about not forcing their artists to rely on features and pop plays, but with their biggest cash cow now seemingly devoted to doing his own thing while they continue to push out unsuccessful singles, I don't think it's a stretch to expect some out-of-character moments on Fetty's next album. Amazingly, last year's Fetty Wap was allowed to span 20 tracks without a single collaboration with a big-name artist or producer, but don't expect that to be the case going forward. 300's invested a lot of money in this guy, and they're gonna need to get some more returns ASAP after what they'd surely view as an unsuccessful year. The silver lining of all of this is that Fetty's expanded his skillset on Zoovier, so he should be able to play ball with a much wider variety of artists these days. Hopefully, him and his label are able to reach a happy medium wherein Monty still gets to guest on a few tracks, but the singles will feature more prominent rappers or singers.