The Rise and Fall of 6ix9ine: The Boy Who Cried Clout
The rapper’s contentious social media persona, criminal controversy, and thirst for beef helped him ascend, and also led to his downfall.
There’s been much said about Brooklyn rapper 6ix9ine’s brazen antics over the past year. The rainbow-haired, controversy-stirring artist has been called a master troll by hoards of supporters, “brilliant” (yet timorous) by Chuck D, and “the smartest dude in the music industry” by DJ Paul. What hasn’t been mentioned enough, however, is that he’s been so thirsty for “clout” that the chase lead him straight to prison.
After narrowly avoiding jail time two weeks ago on a 2015 charge of use of a child in a sexual performance, the 22-year old rapper, born Daniel Hernandez, was arrested in a sweeping FBI, ATF, Homeland Security and NYPD gang indictment on racketeering charges. Though 6ix9ine has only been affiliated with the Nine Trey Blood Gangsta set he deemed “Treyway” in the past year (he was previously Crip-affiliated, and recently denounced Treyway altogether), he was implicated in numerous violent incidents. 6ix9ine is facing six counts in Monday’s indictment, which carries a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison. Now, he could be facing life behind bars.
6ix9ine has called himself “the hottest artist in America” off the strength of his “GUMMO” hit and ten other Billboard Hot 100 charting tracks, including “FEFE” featuring Nicki Minaj and “Get The Strap“ with 50 Cent. He’s stayed in the headlines through ceaseless beefs with numerous artists, who he’s antagonized through threatening Instagram clips telling them to “suck his d*ck” or “test my gangsta.” J. Cole has said he’s “fascinated” with the 21-year-old’s “willingness to ‘do whatever, say whatever,” but that avidity for spectacle did him in. His endless chase for viral “clout” led him to associate with Nine Trey Blood members for protection and perceived credibility. They “held him down” during his numerous beefs, but also helped take him down. In recent months he’s tried to shed the set-tripping, glamorized gangsta image he pushed forth in his music videos as mere marketing, but it was too late to separate himself from the crew.
The New York State’s DA’s office recently cited his “acknowledged membership in a violent Blood set” in a letter requesting that he serve jail time for failing to meet terms of his plea agreement after being convicted of his 2015 charge. The then-18-year-old 6ix9ine was arrested in March 2015 after he uploaded sexually explicit videos depicting him with a 13-year-old girl “smacking her on her buttock,” standing behind her “making a thrusting motion with his pelvis” and letting her sit on his lap in her bra and panties, according to Jezebel’s account of the criminal complaint. The plea deal included stipulations that he should write a letter of apology to the girl and her family, complete his GED, and not commit any “crimes or violations.”
But violation has seemingly been 6ix9ine’s middle name. There have been more allegations of involvement with underage girls. Earlier this year, the now-18-year-old Martha Gold alleged she had a sexual relationship with 6ix9ine last year, when he was 20 and she was 17. Along with getting into an airport fight at LAX, he’s facing three misdemeanors on top of the federal charges. In January, he was charged with assault for allegedly choking a 16-year-old boy who was filming him in Houston. In May, he was charged in Brooklyn with operating a vehicle without a license and facilitating aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle after parking by a fire hydrant.
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He also stirred up gang-related beef with Game, YG, members of San Antonio’s Tango Orejon gang, members of LA’s Sureno gang, an LA Crip set, Chief Keef, and the entire Chicago Drill scene. He’s had his name linked to multiple shootings, including one involving Chief Keef in midtown Manhattan and “Set Trippin” rapper Casanova at their hometown Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Shortly after the incident at Barclays, 6ix9ine made a video mocking Casanova while laughing and reciting his lyrics with former manager Shottie.
That Barclays shooting was referenced in the indictment, which ensnared Shottie as well. 6ix9ine is also implicated in an April armed robbery in Manhattan and a July incident in which the FBI alleges “he ordered a hit on a rival” which, according to TMZ, left an innocent bystander shot in the foot. 6ix9ine has contended that his abrasive, flag-waving image flouted in menacing songs like “BILLY” was just “trolling,” but the justice system doesn’t have a sense of humor.
The arrest cements his status as 2018’s prime study in cognitive dissonance. He has acknowledged a fear of jail, but also tread a collision course with prison by doing everything he could to violate the terms of his plea agreement within a city with a well-documented perpetual microscope on rappers. He’s framed his antics as merely trolling, but he also told Chief Keef to “read about what happens when n*ggas beef wit us,” referring to Nine Trey’s real-life violence. He cultivated a career that most young artists would dream of with a Billboard top five debut album, numerous Billboard-charting hit singles, high-profile collaborations, and inroads into a hot, new subgenre, but he sustained that career with behavior, and associations, that flushed it all down the toilet.
He’s now facing the same plight as previous Brooklyn phenom Bobby Shmurda, who was swept up in a gang indictment of Crip set GS9 in 2015 and sentenced to seven years in prison. The two rappers will be inseparably linked as musical casualties of the NYPD’s gang indictments, but their predicament isn’t a one-to-one parallel. Bobby grew up with his fellow GS9 members in his Flatbush neighborhood, while 6ix9ine sought out a relationship of mutual convenience with mostly older Treyway members. Bobby’s story was the classic case of growing up in a predicament where he felt he had no options but to gang bang, but 6ix9ine assumed his hood-Suicide Squad persona in a bid to merely feign allegiance with the gang, inciting violence to further his own agenda of fame. Bobby couldn’t escape the trap, but 6ix9ine’s fervor for “clout” lured him to it.
His contentious behavior attracted over 15 million followers on Instagram. Millions of teens got vicarious thrills watching his tomfoolery — but the FBI was watching too. Last week, he announced that he severed all ties with his former Nine Trey affiliates, but it was too late for him by that point. During a September raid, the FBI had already found items stolen in a previous robbery and an AR-15 rifle in his home, and implicated him in multiple shootings. He admitted on The Breakfast Club that Feds had been parked in front of his house surveilling him. He noted that “this is beyond us now,” and wondered aloud to the trio, “what can I do?”
There’s nothing much he can do at this point except fight his charges and acknowledge he made his own bed. He had become a master of kamikaze marketing. His rise as a music star and social media personality was binded to the spectre of an inevitable crash and burn. Whether it was detractors calling for his incarceration for sexual misconduct or bloodlusting fans who gawked and spectated confrontations he was involved in or rap OG’s like Fat Joe who’d try to warn him about where his detrimental deeds could land him, there was a looming allure of finality at the root of his relevance.
There are thousands of young artists vying to separate themselves from the pack with similar behavior, and their attention-seeking actions will only become more extreme. The labels who enable and benefit from their self-sabotaging behavior won’t inform them, but they’d be wise to learn from 6ix9ine’s circumstance as an example of the consequences of going too far with “clout chasing.” Police departments have historically lusted to target rappers. It makes no sense for artists to make it easy for them by attaching themselves so inextricably to people actually doing the violent things they rap about. He wanted to piggyback off of their reputation to build a media enterprise, but instead, he got swept into the criminal enterprise. The beleaguered artist experienced the benefits of portraying himself as a gangster through worldwide stardom and relationships with legends like Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, and 50 Cent. But this, as mobster Henry Hill lamented in Goodfellas, “is the bad time.”
Just like Hill, 6ix9ine’s so-called friends turned on him in the end. New York Daily News reports that he was offered protective custody by the FBI on Saturday after their wiretap of the Nine Trey set discovered that there were plans to “super violate” aka kill him after he publicly denounced them. It’s possible that he only avoided fatal tragedy — but still has a host of problems on the horizon.
6ix9ine got Judge Felicia Mennin, the sentencing judge in his child sex case, to believe that “there are people who deserve to be in jail but Daniel Hernandez is not one of them.” Mennin contended in her probation sentencing that, “you can’t punish people for the way they choose to market themselves.” Now, he and his legal team are facing the tall task of convincing a Federal Judge and jury of the same thing.
Andre Gee is a New York-based freelance writer with work at Uproxx Music, Impose Magazine, and Cypher League. Feel free to follow his obvious Twitter musings that seemed brilliant at the moment @andrejgee.