6ix9ine & Nicki Minaj Got Their No. 1 Single — But at What Cost?

“Until we dismantle capitalism, the music industry will continue to promote reprehensible acts in the name of a dollar.”
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Tekashi 6ix9ine and Nicki Minaj’s “TROLLZ” went No. 1 on Billboard this week. The infamous duo displays noteworthy chemistry on the record, but they also had a few other things working in their favor: numerous signed merch bundles, four different versions of the song, two diehard stanbases who incessantly streamed it, and (possibly), fake YouTube streams.

6ix9ine, his co-star, and his record label, 10K Projects, pulled out all the stops to get the 808-driven record to the top of the Hot 100 chart. “TROLLZ” follows “Say So,” Nicki’s May collaboration with Doja Cat, which earned the veteran star the second No. 1 single of her career. Nicki is now the first woman rapper of the 21st century to debut at No. 1. To recap: Nicki Minaj went her entire career—roughly 15 years—without topping the Hot 100 chart once, and then did it twice within two months—but at what cost?

Both Nicki Minaj and 6ix9ine have framed their No. 1 record as an incredible achievement. But it’s actually a collective failure that demonstrates the amorality of capitalism. Two weeks ago, the music industry staged a blackout in solidarity with Black people protesting police brutality and systemic inequality. But now a label run by Elliot Grainge, son of Universal Music CEO Lucian Grainge, is capitalizing off of an artist who fed the disproportionately Black prison industrial complex and jokes about it. The recording industry is predicated on making shrewd ploys to top the Hot 100, but this instance has a particularly rancid stench.

10K Projects and 6ix9ine wanted a No. 1 record. Nicki Minaj knew her presence could help him achieve that goal. The Barbz, Nicki Minaj’s infamous fan base, relentlessly ran up the numbers and purchased the bundles for no other reason than “TROLLZ” is a Nicki Minaj product. This behavior, which is not new, further highlights how stan culture is materialism. Despite 6ix9ine’s numerous abuses to so many people, consumerism apparently makes him too lucrative not to invest in.

In October 2019, 10K Projects re-signed 6ix9ine to a record deal reportedly worth more than $10 million. At the time, 6ix9ine was incarcerated for numerous charges stemming from a federal RICO case against members of the Nine Trey Bloods street gang. He was given a light two-year jail sentence in December 2019 because of his considerable cooperation. 

That same month, Grainge told Variety he re-signed the artist because “Tekashi knows how to get under people’s skin,” and that “he is an addictive, charismatic human being.” The statement reflects Grainge’s lack of empathy for all the people 6ix9ine has made suffer.

6ix9ine’s ex-girlfriend, Sara Molina, has accused him of repeated abuse. He was charged with the use of a child in a sexual performance after fondling a 13-year-old Black girl in 2015. He put a $20K hit on Chief Keef after an online war of words—then snitched on Brooklyn rapper Kooda B for the crime. His former friend, Billy Ado, alleges that when 6ix9ine gave out his address in a threat for people to “test his gangsta,” his mother was living at the house. No one is exempt from his wrath.

Still, Grainge surmised to Variety, “I’m not giving 6ix9ine a second chance, just an opportunity. The rest is up to him.” 

Most artists would die to have this kind of opportunity. 6ix9ine’s “GOOBA” was promoted with a massive billboard in New York’s Times Square. Music manager Scooter Braun alluded to paid views for the “GOOBA” video, noting that YouTube investigated a video the week of “GOOBA’s” release that had “six times the amount of paid bot activity than the normal video. That video was not ours.”

6ix9ine asserts that “TROLLZ” broke the YouTube record for a debut hip-hop video with 46 million views in 24 hours. But YouTube clarified the number is actually 32.5 million views and also told Forbes, “We are no longer counting paid advertising views on YouTube in the YouTube Music Charts calculation. Artists will now be ranked based on view counts from organic plays.”

It certainly appears 6ix9ine has been afforded the kind of extreme marketing reserved for top tier artists, but even so, he still had previously failed to earn a No. 1 record. That’s where Nicki comes in. The two previously collaborated on “FEFE,” a syrupy 2018 record 6ix9ine admitted he put little effort into. But he isn’t in the game to be a revered artist; he’s in it for the stats. Nicki Minaj’s work garners numbers not just because of a charismatic mic presence that far outshines 6ix9ine, but because of a fan base that supports her every move.

The Barbz worked on one accord to purchase autographed “TROLLZ” merch bundles and all four versions of the record, which were available at a discounted cost of 69 cents. One of her fans tweeted, “this is our #1 y’all. WE did this together AGAIN!!” They even had “TROLLZ” parties, tweeting variants of one accounts’ demands to “stream ‘Trollz’ only for Nicki so she can debut #1 & be the first female rapper to do so since Lauryn Hill.” But is that distinction worth being associated with 6ix9ine to achieve? There’s no such thing as “only” supporting Nicki on a collaboration that will also help 6ix9ine’s career.

Nicki Minaj’s fans’ laser-focused desire to run up the numbers exemplifies the inhumanity of stan culture. American consumerism conditions us to pursue products to fill holes we have trouble plugging internally. Corporations like labels, fashion brands, and media outlets commingle to prey on that urge.

Through headlines and billboards, these corporations make our faves larger-than-life products and capitalize on our desire to invest in ideas bigger than ourselves. In the case of the Barbz, it’s the idea of helping Nicki Minaj maintain supremacy. Her success fulfills their sense of self-worth, which means more to them than whoever the victims of 6ix9ine’s actions are. But in that devotion to self-worth through Nicki, they’ve not just betrayed their morality but made her a sentient logo, absolving their favorite artist of the very human need for a moral compass.

That’s how we get collaborations like “TROLLZ” without anyone calling foul. Until we dismantle capitalism, the music industry will continue to promote reprehensible acts in the name of a dollar, artists will continue to sacrifice their integrity for a check, and fans will continue to patronize out of blind allegiance. 

6ix9ine likely doesn’t care about any of this. He soon will be gloating on an Instagram Live session that clogs your social feed. His accolades aren’t a result of love or even musical enjoyment; they’re a cold machination of capitalism.

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