By Lisa Snowden, Special to the AFRO
A few weeks ago my son, who recently turned 10, sat down next to me on the bed where I’d been working.
“Mommy, I want to be a Soundcloud rapper,” he said.
My husband and I closely monitor his internet usage (or at least we thought we did), but even so, my little boy and his eight-year-old sister have been walking around our house singing out loud the censored version of rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine’s hit “Gummo.” And I didn’t even know it.
Such is the power of the internet. Such is the power, it seems, of 6ix9ine.
If you spend any amount of time online, especially on social media, you’ve probably seen 6ix9ine. He’s a skinny, pale guy with a face full of tats, rainbow hair, and a rainbow grill to match. He’s perfectly meme-worthy.
“After you defeat all the Soundcloud rappers, you gotta face this n*gga as the final boss,” one such meme reads, with a picture of the21-year-old Brooklyn native laughing and holding a cigarette below.
The rapper has over four million followers on Instagram, and his videos rake up thousands of views. In Internet-world, he’s gold. Those eyes and ears have generated a more real-world level of success, too. In early March, “Gummo,” on which 6ix9ine flows on a somewhat lazy beat using a voice that sounds like he’s been smoking since elementary school, debuted in the top five on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums Chart. “Pop these n*ggas like a wheelie n*gga, you a silly n*gga,” the rapper, who is definitely not Black, rhymes.
And beyond the debatably controversial death threats he makes in his songs (“whole squad full of f*cking killers, I’m a killer too,” he raps on “Billy”), there are darker dealings that have followed 6ix9ine over the course of his short career. Namely, a series of videos he recorded and posted online that involved a 13-year-old girl.
The website Jezebel published documents showing that the rapper, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, pleaded guilty to one felony count of Use of a Child in a Sexual Performance. The girl is seen nude, performing a sex act on another man while 6ix9ine records, and, later, sitting on the rapper’s lap.
Writer Rich Juzwiak deftly unpacks any defense that Hernandez has made for the videos or his subsequent punishment. “6ix9ine is prone to pointing out repeatedly, despite entering a guilty plea to a felony, that he is a free man,” Juzwiak writes. “The answer is in his plea agreement. The document, dated October 20, 2015, states that his sentencing was to be adjourned for two years until October 20, 2017. (It has since been adjourned further and as of now is scheduled for January 30, 2018,”
In the meantime, the rapper was ordered to get his GED, undergo mental health treatment, and serve one year of interim probation, among other things.
None of this has stopped his success, and in this way, although his rise to fame feels very of-the-moment, his ability to stay relevant despite these allegations is a tale as old as time. Just look at R. Kelly, who very recently was accused of grooming a young woman for a cult and knowingly giving her an STD, in addition to the mountain of allegations involving his inappropriate relationships with young girls that has been growing for decades now.
Also not surprising: the way 6ix9ine has so ably been able to profit off of Black culture without being Black.
In his videos he is surrounded by Black people, none of whom seem to take issue with his very liberal use of the word “n*gga.” He’s taken part in the normal back-and-forth over who runs things that most rappers do, but he’s also been co-signed by some of the biggest ones.
“50 told me next time I say I’m the king of New York to say it LOUDER,” reads the caption on an Instagram photo of 6ix9ine and rapper 50 Cent.
In my day (the almost-40 mother of two writes), even Eminem faced backlash when an old recording caught him dropping the n-word in a rap.
Actually, there is very little about 6ix9ine, save those allegations, that seems controversial at all. He has rainbow hair, yes, but rap has come a long way from baggy jeans and Timberlands. Grills are the norm to the point that even Beyonce’ wears them.
According to court documents, 6ix9ine said that a lot of the things he does are just for shock value.
“The SCUMBAG persona is just for shock value. It started when I started making clothing with the words ‘HIV’ and ‘p*ssy’ on it. They got famous and went viral. Bam. Because ‘p*ssy’ and ‘HIV’ worked, the SCUMBAG69 hashtag would have the same shock value,” he’s quoted as saying.
He’s monetized that shock value in a way that, thanks to the internet, has never been done before.