Prosecutors Cite Fetty Wap’s Lyrics In Seeking Harsher Sentence: ‘Glamorized The Drug Trade’
The filing came amid increasing scrutiny on the practice of using rap lyrics as part of criminal cases against the artists who wrote them.
Federal prosecutors want a judge to sentence Fetty Wap to as much as nine years in prison after the rapper pleaded guilty last year to drug charges, citing lyrics they say “glamorize the drug trade” and arguing that the court needs to “send a message” to kids.
The filing came just a day after lawyers for “Trap Queen” star (real name Willie Junior Maxwell II) asked for just five years, arguing that he only turned to crime to support family members as his touring income dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In their own brief on Thursday, prosecutors told a darker story: Of a successful musician who had already earned millions but chose to “supplement his income” by selling “drugs he knew would ruin lives.” In a particularly notable move, they pointed to Fetty’s music itself, arguing he had used his “fame, sizeable platform and influence to glamorize the drug trade.”
“Before his arrest, the defendant became famous singing about his experience cooking crack cocaine, selling drugs and making substantial money from those illegal endeavors,” prosecutors wrote, also citing a recent song that they says contains coded references to drugs. “Even after his arrest and while awaiting trial in this very serious federal drug case, the defendant continued to glamorize the drug trade.”
The use of rap lyrics in criminal cases is a controversial tactic. Critics say references to drugs and violence are stock elements of hip hop and should not be treated literally — and that by doing so, prosecutors infringe on free speech and sway courts with unfair evidence. Lawmakers in California recently enacted a law that sharply restricts the practice, and a similar bill has been proposed to do so in federal cases.
But in Thursday’s filing, prosecutors repeatedly referenced Fetty Waps works. Pointing to “Trap Queen” – a song that reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 – they claimed the rapper had “admitted” to a probation officer that it was an “ode to a former girlfriend who assisted him a cocaine base distribution operation.” They also cited the music video for that song, claiming Fetty had “enlisted young children who stood behind him while he idealized selling drugs.”
Now, with the rapper facing a prison sentence for selling drugs, prosecutors said the judge has a “responsibility to send a clear, unambiguous deterrent message” to fans of his music.
“Young people who admire the defendant and are considering selling drugs need to be sent a message that selling drugs is not a glamorous lifestyle and, if they participate in that trade, they will receive lengthy prison sentences,” prosecutors wrote. “That message is even more important in this case, as the defendant has promoted and profited from his drug dealing through his fame and music.”
Fetty Wap was arrested in October 2021 at Rolling Loud New York, after prosecutors unveiled an indictment against him and five others. Prosecutors claimed group had shipped more than 100 kilograms of the drugs from California and distributed them on Long Island, contributing to “the addiction and overdose epidemic we have seen time and time again tear people’s lives apart.”
In August, Fetty admitted to participating in the scheme, pleading guilty to a single charge of conspiring to distribute at least 500 grams of cocaine. He faces sentencing next week by U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert.
The sentence requested by prosecutors on Thursday — between 87 and 108 months – is the same as what’s suggested by federal sentencing guidelines. But it came just a day after attorneys for Fetty Wap said he should face only five years, the minimum sentence allowed under the law.
In that filing, his lawyers said the rapper “realizes the terrible mistake he made” and is “truly sorry for the loss and hurt he has caused.” They argued he only turned to crime amid the pandemic, as his touring income dried up: “Desperate to keep up with his financial obligations, Mr. Maxwell became involved in the instant offense for a few months in the spring of 2020.”
In their own filing on Thursday, prosecutors said Fetty was perhaps not quite as reformed as his attorneys had claimed. They cited an incident last summer in which the rapper’s bail was revoked for pointing a gun and threatening to kill someone on a FaceTime call in which he called someone a “rat.”
“The defendant’s conduct while on bail is also extremely troubling,” the prosecutors wrote. “While none of us is clairvoyant, the defendant’s possession of a firearm and threatening conduct while on bail is a concerning predictor of future behavior.”
An attorney for Fetty Wap did not return a request for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.