It’s easy to under-appreciate the run Fetty Wap had in 2015. The immediate and massive success of his career without the backing of a major artist stands as one of the most remarkable achievements in the music industry in years, but Fetty somehow managed to make it look simple. After bootstrapping his single “Trap Queen” to the top of the Billboard charts, he repeated the feat three more times with “My Way,” “679,” and “Again” in no small part through self-promo on SoundCloud and social media. His self-titled debut album went platinum, and he became a hugely in-demand hooksmith and feature artist. And so 2016 seemed like Fetty’s to lose.
When he announced that he would be joining the cast of Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood this season, it was hard to stop the sinking feeling of the wrong path taken. The series, which debuted the third season of its Hollywood iteration Monday night, is known best for propping up the careers of past-their-prime rappers. Coming off his major hot streak, this designation hardly applied to Fetty. Why, then, was he stooping to that level?
Sadly, Fetty has become tabloid fodder ever since he accidentally impregnated former Love and Hip-Hop star Masika Kalysha; she gave birth to their child this March. Since then, their bitter and petty social media feuds have been catnip for gossip outlets like The Shade Room and Baller Alert. They first made headlines after he denied the baby was his at all. They reconciled, but she’s since publicly called him out for being an absentee father. He fired back at her, calling her overdramatic and an inexperienced parent, on Twitter. The whole situation is a mess, and a seemingly self-imposed one at that.
This is a real concern because it comes at a pivotal moment in his career. His buzz has cooled considerably since the top of 2016, when his seemingly never ending stream of hits and guest features began to slow. This normally wouldn’t be a huge problem—everyone needs a break—but it coincided with all the drama, and now he’s joining the reality show circuit. He’s still had some success this year—“Wake Up” performed pretty well on the radio and his Fifth Harmony collaboration “All In My Head (Flex)” was a big moment—but it’s been very much overshadowed by his non-musical extracurriculars.
Love & Hip-Hop has a decidedly mixed record when it comes to the music careers of its stars. Remy Ma, Omarion, and Joe Budden have all engineered some type of comeback after appearing on the show, but its role in that success is tenuous at best. Love & Hip-Hop might have brought her back into the conversation after her release from prison, but Remy came back because Fat Joe and her delivered a hit with “All the Way Up.” Omarion’s “Post to Be” was a smash, but it was carried to success largely on the memeing of Jhené Aiko’s line “But he gotta eat the booty like groceries.” And we all know that Joe Budden’s Drake savaging, rather than his fight with castmate Consequence, is what helped earn him headlines again.
On the other hand, the career downturns associated with the show are too numerous to count. Ray J, Soulja Boy, Waka Flocka Flame, Jim Jones, and more all joined the cast well after their major wave of popularity subsided. The show helps them to remain relevant and keep them in the public eye, but it’s hardly adding anything to to their music careers. On the contrary, being seen as a reality star instead of a musician is often a surefire way to have your credibility called into question. Consider that Nicki Minaj’s ex Safaree Samuels is also joining the series this season, or look at the career trajectory of Flava Flav after his many forays into the reality world.
What’s even worse is that Fetty’s reality TV debut comes on the heels of a positive career step for him. Although some of his 2016 loosies failed to connect, his PnB Rock collaborative mixtape Money, Hoes & Flows was solid, a nice effort that switched up his style a bit and reminded us that he has an impeccable ear for catchy songwriting.
His decision to join the Love and Hip-Hop: Hollywood cast is ultimately more frustrating than anything. Fetty built his career on being an easy person to root for. He came off the streets of Paterson, N.J. to deliver earworm hooks, denounce the haters who shamed him for his appearance, and achieve huge success without early cosigns. Nowadays, amidst all the tabloid drama and social media feuds, it’s becoming too easy to forget what made him so special in the first place. Fetty Wap doesn’t need to be a reality show star to be successful, he just needs to remind us why we all fell in love with him in the first place.