Prosecutors said the rapper, best known for his hit “Trap Queen,” glamorized drugs — and sold them even as he made millions from his music.
By Karen Zraick
May 24, 2023
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Fetty Wap, a New Jersey rapper who shot to fame with his hit “Trap Queen,” an ode to a romance entangled in the drug trade, was sentenced to six years in federal prison on Wednesday for trafficking narcotics across the country.
The singer, whose legal name is Willie Junior Maxwell II, 31, had been in custody since his bail was revoked in August, after prosecutors said he had, while on a FaceTime call, displayed a firearm and threatened to kill someone. He subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine.
On Wednesday, he appeared before Judge Joanna Seybert at the federal court in Central Islip, N.Y., to receive a sentence one year longer than the minimum. Mr. Maxwell waved to about 20 family members and friends who attended the sentencing as he entered the courtroom wearing a beige jumpsuit, his dreadlocks pulled back from his face.
His lawyer, Elizabeth Macedonio, argued that Mr. Maxwell had been supporting many relatives and children and that he had needed money to sustain them once the pandemic ended live entertainment. Mr. Maxwell himself apologized to the communities and families of drug users he hurt.
“I only ever wanted to help my family,” Mr. Maxwell told the judge. “I never asked myself if it was all-the-way right.”
Prosecutors had argued for a longer term, saying that he had used his fame to “glamorize the drug trade” while making millions from his music after “Trap Queen” was released in 2015. They pointed to the use of children as extras in the song’s music video and noted the ample media attention the case had received.
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Christopher Caffarone, a prosecutor, on Wednesday asked the judge to remember the “collateral consequences” of drug abuse and pointed out that many people suffered during the pandemic, but “they didn’t turn to peddling poison.” Judge Seybert called the case one of the most difficult she has had to decide in 30 years on the bench, noting that Mr. Maxwell overcame obstacles to achieve “unbelievable fame” — only to throw it away. She noted his loving, supportive family, many of whom had written to her, and his relationship to his children. But his crime was serious, and his actions while out on bail raised serious questions, she said.
“The thing you cannot escape is that there were other choices,” she said.
In March, one of Mr. Maxwell’s co-defendants, Anthony Cyntje, a former New Jersey corrections officer, was sentenced to six years for acting as a courier of cocaine. Maxwell’s remaining four co-defendants pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
Mr. Maxwell, who hails from Paterson, N.J., and lost his left eye to congenital glaucoma, was at the height of his musical success when he was selling drugs. “Trap Queen,” featuring his distinctive mix of singing and rapping, had reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in May 2015. The music site Pitchfork described his “devilishly melodic singing voice” as a “warbling, lightning-shocked instrument.” He was nominated for two Grammys the following year and appeared on the VH1 reality show “Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood.”
In court Wednesday, Ms. Macedonio laid out the obstacles Mr. Maxwell had previously faced, including constant bullying because of his glaucoma and drug addiction before the start of his music career with the group Remy Boyz. Then “Trap Queen” hit the airwaves.
“Suddenly the kid from Paterson, the kid who was supposed to go nowhere, was in the national spotlight,” she said.
She noted that the accusations only involved a six-month period of activity about three years ago and accused the prosecutors of trying to use his fame against him in their argument for a longer sentence, saying it showed “a complete disconnect” between law enforcement and the music world.
Since August, he has been held in protective custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, because of concern he would be targeted for his fame.
After Mr. Maxwell’s arrest, he hustled to take on as many gigs as possible to make money for his family before what he knew would be a lengthy prison sentence, she said.
Even as the case was pending, Mr. Maxwell released a slow R&B jam called “Sweet Yamz.” Prosecutors said that was code for drugs.
A correction was made on May 24, 2023 : An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a Fetty Wap song. It is “Sweet Yamz,” not “Sweet Yams.”