Vulture published Amos Barshad’s “The Making (and Unmaking) of Tekashi 6ix9ine” profile in April. The excellent essay explains how independent Slovakian rap label FCK THEM helped Daniel Hernandez transform into raging Bushwick rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine.
Yaksha, the label head of FCK THEM, told Barshad he remembers what Hernandez declared the day they met in person: “Bro, I will be the biggest artist from New York.”
Tekashi 6ix9ine aimed to be enormous. That was always his goal. Following the breakout success of his 2017 single “GUMMO,” every song, antic, and headline inflated the 23-year-old rapper’s name. Imagine Pinocchio’s nose, but instead of lies, controversy increased the size of Hernandez’s outspoken, disputatious persona.
Ironically, lies brought about his undoing. A real boy, he wasn’t.
To the surprise of no one, the gang-banging, war-ready character 6ix9ine portrayed was something of a farce. Yes, technically, he was a member of the Nine Trey Bloods. But their union wasn’t any different than Alvin Johnson’s (Nick Cannon) “relationship” with Paris Morgan (Christina Milian) in the 2003 teen-comedy Love Don’t Cost a Thing. In both cases, clout is exchanged for economics. In both cases, when fantasy and reality began to blur, the truth came out.
6ix9ine told his truth under oath in a Federal Manhattan courtroom, where he stood as a government witness against the Nine Trey Bloods. After his November arrest on racketeering and firearm charges—which carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 47 years in prison—the boy who cried “Tr3yway” shouted a different tune. The tune of an informant. The one song a rapper isn’t supposed to sing.
To snitch is to commit an act of backstabbing. Unlawful organizations and rap music view this kind of betrayal as taboo. In rap, a genre where brotherhood is paramount, there’s no room or respect for rats.
6ix9ine isn’t the first person to snitch, but he’s possibly the highest-profile rapper to garnish attention for snitching. The general reaction to the tabooed act has been an equal amount of humor and contempt. On Twitter, his name trended as his face became a meme. The bold-as-brass hilarity found in his silly, viral videos permeated the court case. He wasn’t just a rat; he was entertainment, a tattooed-face Mickey Mouse.
Mickey Mouse isn’t the best parallel to Tekashi 6ix9ine, though. A better likeness is the character Rupert Pupkin from Martin Scorsese’s 1983 film The King of Comedy. Pupkin, much like 6ix9ine, is obnoxious, self-centered, and infatuated with popularity. He’s also a comedian. To successfully perform his comedy act, live on television, he devises a cartoonish criminal plan. Rupert’s reasoning is simple:
“Better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime.”
The King of Comedy concludes by showing how Rupert Pupkin’s trifling crime made him famous. The kind of fame that’s awarded money and attention. Being the king of comedy had little to do with being the best comedian, but being the most visible. The bigger the risk, the bigger the visibility. That’s what 6ix9ine did; he took a chance by swimming with sharks because they looked good on camera. Regardless if they ate him alive or not, the world would be watching.
In September, TMZ reported that 6ix9ine plans to reject witness protection upon his release from prison. If true, the only logical reason is so that he can continue being Tekashi 6ix9ine. How can a rapper’s career proceed after snitching? Could this have happened in the 1990s? Careers were ended for far less back then, but there wasn’t a case like 6ix9ine—where entertainment is valued over the code. We also didn’t have readily available outlets to view the clowns deemed disgraceful.
Viral didn’t stop after 6ix9ine was sentenced to four years of probation after pleading guilty to the use of a child in a sexual performance. Viral didn’t stop after 6ix9ine admitted to years of domestic violence from 2011 to 2018. “GUMMO,” “FEFE,” or any of his other Billboard Hot 200 singles continue to rack up streams amidst every 6ix9ine controversy.
Upon release, a criminal attorney told blog site HollywoodLife that with time served and his plea deal, Tekashi could be eligible for supervised release within the next year. If he continues the act, will our eyes avert from this train wreck? Will our ears?
Quality isn’t why people press play on 6ix9ine. His raps aren’t impressive by technical standards. Again, Tekashi's goal was to be the biggest rapper, not the best. He makes the kind of rap that replaces craft with chaos and thoughtful lyricism with explosive intensity and simplistic melodies. Contemporary, post-Chief Keef trap is nothing new or innovative, but on Spotify alone, he has more than 12 million monthly listeners.
6ix9ine is cut from the same cloth of rapper who follows in the footsteps of Waka Flocka Flame’s 2009 dismissal of lyricism. Except, of course, Waka is real. As the son of Debra Antney, an early manager of Gucci Mane, Waka found himself inside a recording booth. But before he began cutting records, the Brick Squad General lived what he wrote. On “Bang,” the fourth track on his highly influential debut, Flockaveli, Waka Flocka raps, “I’ll paint your whole town red, make your little brother scream soowoo! Make your little sister scream soowoo!” We believed him.
In a way, “Bang” represents the compelling cool of a gang. It means having something to shout, something to claim, something to represent. What fun is it to scream “SQUAD” if you don’t have one? That’s what Tr3yway did for 6ix9ine—it provided him an identity. To be King of New York, he needed a roundtable. He needed men who could add weight to his threats and cool to his bravado. All of that is gone now, but he’s retained all the attention.
In 2019, it’s not about being the best; it’s about being seen. Popularity comes with the most immediate rewards and validation. What if the future mentality of the music industry is that of Rupert Pupkin? That it’s better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime? Are these the thrones we will watch?
By Yoh, aka Clout Don’t Cost A Thing aka @Yoh31