By Kieran Press-Reynolds
For a while, Daniel Hernandez, better known as Tekashi 6ix9ine, truly was the “King of New York,” a title the hip-hop celebrity gave himself. When his Nicki Minaj-assisted hit “FEFE” dropped last summer, you could hear it blasting from what felt like every speaker across the five boroughs. Sadly for him and his subjects, he is no longer the king. He has been deposed, on account of being deposed – in court! On Feb. 1, 2019, he pled guilty to nine counts in an ongoing federal court case.
Criminality was always a part of 6ix9ine’s public image. Even before achieving notoriety, all the way back in February 2015, he was charged with engaging a 13-year-old girl in a sex act. Criminal complaints describe 6ix9ine, who was 18-years-old at the time, making physical contact with the girl, who was nude, and watching her engage in oral intercourse with a friend. 6ix9ine then posted videos of it online.
It is as horrific as it sounds – and even worse, he has spread misinformation about the incident ever since, arguing he never touched the victim. Depravity characterized his entire career – other notable lowlights include a shooting in June 2018, when 6ix9ine ordered an affiliate to gun down rival Chief Keef and a meeting in October between 6ix9ine and his business manager, which ended in shots fired when his entourage was denied access into the restaurant. In parallel with his real-world exploits, 6ix9ine’s violent and misogynistic lyrics offer vicarious hypermasculine thrills. In a world where it is normal for a music video to surpass 300 million views – a seriously astronomical figure – it says a lot about today’s culture that such videos feature appalling humans like 6ix9ine.
He is part of a newer rap wave commonly referred to as “ignorant rap,” which includes other stars like (the now dead) XXXTentacion and Lil Pump. In some ways, ignorant rap is the musical equivalent of the alt-right, an Internet-based fringe ideology that champions anti-political correctness, conspiracy theories and a general sense of mistrust towards what one perceives as “the establishment.” What separates these artists from past gangsta rappers – because criminality is nothing new in rap (Snoop Dogg was charged with murder shortly before his first album dropped, although later acquitted; Lil Wayne was jailed for gun possession; the list goes on) – is in their use of social media.
Using tools like Instagram Live, 6ix9ine aestheticized his entire life. I remember one specific occasion last year, when he went live during school. He was taking a math test and asked his followers for the answers. It seemed hilarious to me at the time and even relatable, but now I realize the danger in it. Essentially, he turned his entire self – Daniel Hernandez – into Tekashi 6ix9ine; that is, more so than probably any other rapper in history, he disappeared completely into a fantasy character. Treated like a meme with his rainbow hair, face tattoos and belligerent demeanor, 6ix9ine was a creature to be ridiculed. That made it easier for people who, at first glance might not engage with or even notice his music, to share and interact with it.
It felt shameless. That resulted in the mainstream acceptance of someone who is truly despicable. It’ is more dangerous, too, because not everyone can discern that 6ix9ine is terrible. For kids born post-2000, who have social media as a natural background atmosphere and constantly flit between different absurdities on the internet, it is especially easy to forget that he is a real person who has done real things – really awful things. When 6ix9ine says that the accusations against him about the underage girl are fake, amid larger political tensions like the Brett Kavanaugh allegations and Donald Trump’s history of microaggressions towards women, it influences young kids, who see him as someone who is funny and makes music they enjoy, to adopt the same mindset.
Perhaps 6ix9ine’s true selling point was that he was part of a gang – the Nine Trey Gangsters, a subset of the Bloods. That gave him so-called “street cred,” but ultimately proved to be his downfall. The crime he is most often scorned for, the child sex charge, actually only left him with four years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service – no jail time. Apparently, the judge thought his monstrous reputation was a front – a deflection he has often spouted in the face of the law (for example, he claims that he posted the videos of the adolescent girl online for shock value, to promote his “scumbag persona”). In the end, it was his activity with the Bloods that sealed his fate. In November, 6ix9ine and five of his associates were arrested by the Federal Government on racketeering, gun and drug charges. He pled not guilty to all of them.
No one quite knew what would happen. On one hand, it did not feel real – 6ix9ine had an album due to come out the Friday after his arrest, and considering how often he was discussed in the news, always stirring up new drama, it felt like another drop in the pool. But this situation was worse than before; the indictment specifically listed the gang as a “criminal organization” and 6ix9ine was denied bail. Over the past couple months, an ominous silence set in. January 2019 felt exceptionally empty in the hip-hop sphere. For once, 6ix9ine’s rainbow hair (so rainbow you could play a round of Candyland on it) was not finessing the spotlight.
On Feb. 1, 6ix9ine pled guilty to nine counts, a stark reversal of his November denial. He has admitted to a multitude of criminal activities, including helping “members of Nine Trey attempt to kill a rival gang member,” among other things. Reports indicate that 6ix9ine will cooperate with prosecutors, a fact that has brought him a considerable amount of criticism. He has been labeled a “snitch” and publicly shamed for selling out his gang affiliates. Even more recently, 6ix9ine has been under fire from supporters of 21 Savage, whose arrest and deportation is rumored to have stemmed from information that 6ix9ine gave federal agents.
I’ve been disappointed by the public reaction. Focusing on 6ix9ine’s snitching strips him of any real responsibility for what he has done – which is, truly, that he has not only wreaked havoc on New York City, but on the minds of millions of amenable kids. I’m not particularly fixated on the charges – because rappers will always want to use the imagery and the lore of guns and drug selling, and that’s not necessarily a barrier to making ethical art; performers like Migos and Travis Scott make wondrous, psychedelic music largely concerned with those very things. The danger lies in 6ix9ine’s attitude towards women and the modern conception of “persona” itself. By presenting himself as a meme, 6ix9ine normalizes a world where it is okay to identify with and even idolize true perverts.
While no one knows exactly what the outcome of this story will be, it is clear that 6ix9ine will not be coming out with any music for a while – and that is a good thing.