August 24, 2018 wasn’t Fetty Luciano’s first time performing at Barclays Center. Four years earlier, after the summer of “Hot N—a,” he and his older brother Rowdy Rebel were Bobby Shmurda’s hypemen during Power 105.1’s Powerhouse concert that October.
That breakthrough, which brought a still-cutthroat side of a gentrifying Brooklyn to a mainstream audience, had just surged into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, and Bobby was a rising star from a city starving for them.
The smartphone screens that illuminated the arena that night in Brooklyn weren’t there in August. Barclays was well-lit on its own, because it was showcasing the championship of Ice Cube’s BIG3, a league composed of retired NBA stars. Fetty Luciano’s halftime performance on the court was also a re-introduction.
Sitting at a glass circle table in Def Jam’s New York offices months later, the 23-year-old gruffly recalls running through the hot-headed Bobby Shmurda-featuring banger “Computers” to give the audience a sense of familiarity, before performing some of his own material. His black winter hat hides his ponytail of braids and covers just above his eyebrows, so there’s a stone-faced matter-of-factness when he points out the obvious differences between the two shows. He’s now the lead act of GS9, the East Flatbush crew Bobby and Rowdy claimed. Neither are free men. “It’s all the same thrill,” Fetty says, comparing the gigs. “it’s just that I’m not with my brothers at the moment.”
In October, two months after that Barclays show, Fetty Luciano released his debut mixtape, Story to Tell. The project is the first to come from the GS9 crew since the 69-count indictment on conspiracy, weapons, and narcotics charges that’s imprisoned Bobby and Rowdy since December 2014, and led Fetty — government name Remy Marshall — to plead guilty to conspiracy in the fourth degree. Fetty started rapping during that prison stint, after Rowdy and his father, Jaime Marshall, heard a few of his bars on the phone. He’s spent the past year continuing to learn how to rap while carrying the weight of the GS9 name.
“The next step is keeping the name alive before Bobby and Rowdy even touch the streets,” Fetty says. “We don’t want them to come home, and they come home to what we were doing a few years back. So we want to keep that name alive.”
Jaime describes Fetty as a 14-15-year-old version of himself — more laid-back and observant — and Rowdy as him at 17-19, a rapscallion who says, “I don’t give a fuck… I wanna live good like other dudes do, too.” A lifelong East Flatbush native, he’s lived through many of the central Brooklyn neighborhood’s harsh iterations, but noticed a change when he returned from “hustling” in South Carolina to a more stable life for his kids’ sake in the mid-2000s: Gangs were growing. He’d hoped his relationships with parents would ease tensions, but to no avail. “As soon as I move back in the hood, I was fighting kids with my kids,” he says.
The Marshalls did find passions as they got enveloped in the streets themselves. Jaime discovered Rowdy’s rapping ability in a YouTube clip of his then-teenage boy (sporting a regular Caesar instead of his signature carousel of braids) holding his own within a hardcore rap cipher. Fetty Luciano found his calling in basketball, playing guard at Thelma J Hamilton High School.
Jaime’s hardness peels off when he speaks of his boys’ basketball lives — he takes a deep pause before talking about their skills, eulogizing a reality turned fantasy. According to him, Rowdy, a solid player in his own right, was gifted ball-handling ability and court vision; Fetty had a long-range jumper. They’d engrain their specialties into one another, but Rowdy and Jaime believed Fetty was the one who’d go somewhere with basketball. But the December 17, 2014 raid effectively ended that dream: Police arrested Fetty at his home one morning as he was getting ready for school; authorities would capture Rowdy, Bobby, and several other GS9 members at New York’s Quad Studios that evening. College scouts were supposed to visit his school, according to Jaime and Fetty.
“Out of my boys, I wanted him out ASAP,” Jaime says. “Because if anything happened to him, I know you ain’t gonna see Rowdy anymore. He felt a way that his brother was locked up and his basketball career went left. He felt responsible.”
Story to Tell’s cover features Fetty looking down at himself handcuffed sitting at a half court line. But in conversation he doesn’t come across sentimental for hoop days, or much of anything. Fetty left prison and began parole on Dec. 8, 2017, and it may appear that being released before Christmas would at least a minor consolation. It was not. “I already missed three of them, so I didn’t give a fuck about Christmas,” Fetty says. “Certain things don’t excite me anymore — Halloween and Christmas and all of that is for the kids. Like I said: I’m only worried about getting money and feeding my family.”
Fetty got to work, linking up with Canarsie-bred producer RicoBeats (Nicki Minaj’s “Roman Reloaded”; Pusha-T’s “Exodus 23:1”) to get started on new material. RicoBeats, who took a liking to Fetty after hanging with Rowdy, found his lack of experience and how behind the times he still was to be a challenge at first. “Our first three sessions I had to tell him, ‘Yo, this is not three or four years ago, man. That flow is not even poppin,’” RicoBeats says over the phone. “We had that issue our first couple of sessions, but after that, he got it.”
The result is a project that plays out like a sampler. Fetty dabbles in radio-packaged melodies (“The Wave,” a psychedelic flex anthem) and straightforward drill (the playfully sinister “On the Wall,” which features Bobby Shmurda’s vocals on the hook). He doesn’t commit to any lane, but that’s by design: Fetty isn’t as concerned with artistic expression as much as he is with shooting until he finds out which version of himself hits net. “I’m still trying to find out who I can be,” he explains. “The first song that I get a hit off of is going to determine what I am and who I am — because this is what they want to hear.”
One of the few indicators so far that Fetty Luciano could be onto something is that two Story to Tell cuts — ”On the Wall” and the Gunna-featuring “FASHO” — have cracked six figures in Spotify streams, though that success may be in part due to the songs’ high-profile guests. Fetty should have time to gain more traction on his own: Though he has the understandable urgency to keep GS9’s name on people’s playlists in his brothers’ absence, “Computers” and “Hot N—a” remain mainstays on DJ playlists, well after they’ve exited the charts.
A key difference between 2014 and now, however, is that there’s currently a far greater number of New York rap artists raiding the Hot 100, including Cardi B, Tekashi 6ix9ine, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie and Sheck Wes — making a 2018 Brooklyn breakout feel like a little bless of an achievement. But as with Christmas, Fetty has more important things to worry about than NY supremacy anyway.
“Other people can look at it as a competition but I don’t,” Fetty says with slight indignation. “I don’t want to be the King of New York, I don’t want to be the n—a with the most money in New York—none of that. I just want to be able to get mine and feed my family.”