clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The astute ties that bind 6ix9ine, new-age rap, and the art of trolling

With his continued commitment to being the wildest man in the room, is he at fault for doing it, or are we at fault for continuing to acknowledge it?

Artist // Instagram

"…in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand."

The Dark Knight is heavily revered in filmmaking and comic circles for its weighty dialogue, thematic shrubbery, and willingness to pound the concept of darkness over viewers heads without allowing them to gasp for air in the process. In one of the most telling scenes from the film, Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth use an old adversary of the latter to offer much needed context to the at-the-time rising threat of The Joker. Alfred recanted to Bruce the story of a bandit in Rangoon in loving detail, carefully explaining his delectable deeds and framing him as a mysterious, uncaring figure unconcerned with the ways of the world, preferring to deal in anarchy as opposed to reason. When Bruce appears, unmoved and understanding of Alfred's story, his all-knowing butler gets close and personal, eyes still mystified in love for the man that he himself didn't understand. "Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

6ix9ine brandishes a wolfish grin, tattoos etched across the creases of his face, making him look older than his 22 years. His hair is a mangy mane of faded rainbow colors, his canine grills (teeth) equally a unique shaded an assortment of random hues, undoubtedly to strike fear in the hearts of detractors and to double as a cool fashion statement because, cool. There's a sheepish, humble element underneath the facade, etched over his resting facial expression — like he's straining to keep it from surfacing. There's a sharp divide in his Instagram, Twitter (which he's seldom on) and interview personalities: he's Dr. Jekyll-like tranquil when in the professional setting; wild and rambunctious in one-minute social media intervals.

Making sense of 6ix9ine has been the D'agapeyeff Cipher that music critics have been hard at work on for a while now. He's a confirmed pedophile, oddball eccentric, and certified anarchist. He's often the sum of disparate parts — each day, a new headline comes out that falls in one of the three categories. When he's not getting into legal trouble — he just assaulted an officer last week, for crying out loud—he's riled up another artist out of the woodworks to a social media boast match of who's got the bigger chest. He's choking fans out in local malls and running off with dangerous looking jeweler's bracelets. He might as well shoot a biopic now; the way his career's panning out, we may need to make it an anime series with multiple seasons.

And yet…he's out here flourishing, still. Calls for protests about his past, along with his legal troubles occasionally dipping into his pockets (to the tune of a $5 million headphone deal), haven't hindered him going platinum, handing out money in the Dominican Republic, and… *gulp* being the King of New York. For the self-claimed Most Hated, he's perhaps the most successful upcoming rapper under 25, besides Lil Pump.

Troll culture has been ingrained in the internet's sodality for a little over 24 years, according to The Daily Dot. It became integrated into mainstream's lexicon somewhere between 2011 and 2012, a series of serious crimes to thank for it. That's when its definition, for the uninitiated, someone who's picking with people for the heck of it, became applied to hip-hop artists that were purposefully bad or controversial. Lil B The Based God received first honors, Soulja Boy second, Odd Future third. Over the years, with creating conversation being the way to sneak into the game, trolls have become as common as death and taxes — we accept that they're always going to be there, whether we like it or not. Instead of shunning those who do it for kicks and giggles, we add them into the general conversation which, in turn, causes record labels to add them to their conversation. Then when the jokesters hop on social media and show off the fruits of their hilarious labor, the public gets angry that they're the moneymakers while others, who they perceive to have real talent, struggle to support their dreams.

At the narrow intersection of trolling and talent, 6ix9ine exists. He's a capable rapper, may I dare say, carving out a unique niche that's about the kinetic energy, not the actual music. Laying his platinum singles out into one track would sound like an ongoing exercise in adolescent frustration, the lack of acceptance being the fueling force for his incessant rage. But the other side, the trolling is what we know him for. It's what has enabled him to be in the position to be in the spotlight, to command attention, to generate conversation. With his continued commitment to being the wildest man in the room, is he at fault for doing it, or are we at fault for continuing to acknowledge it?

What made "GUMMO" the instant hit it was — besides being named after a 1997 film that fetishized weirdness as much as it did semi-nude child actors—the blatant weirdness that comprised every waking second of it. Blood flags on neighborhood goons were understandable, but on middle-aged women? A non-black gang-banging rapper with purple, straightened hair that would make Katt Williams jealous, bellowing the "N" word around a black ensemble and getting away with it? The incredulous look that left people speechless watching it, powered its word-of-mouth transmission across the blogosphere. It was Trolling 101: make something so crazy that no one will believe it's real and you won't have to market it — everyone else will.

In the eight months since 6ix9ine's first song came out, he's released three more videos and his debut project Day69, containing eight new songs in addition to the music he'd already released. For any other artist that's not signed to a record label, this kind of paucity would see his early exit from the rap game's circle of importance. But every time that his mentions seem to dwindle and we begin to wonder what happened to 6ix9ine, he pops up in the midst of a new controversy, or he's squashing one. He just attacked a police officer, according to recent reports. It must have been about that time again.

To say that assaulting an officer of the law is trolling, I'd be operating under the belief that 6ix9ine will campaign about the arrest on social media and insight yet another conversation, this time about the proper treatment of officers, all while inciting beef against Ice T since he played a cop in New Jack City and Law and Order. That could sound ludicrous, but then again, that's what is considered normalcy nowadays. Maybe unspoken, but the spectacle is what's monitored. But since the publications are going to cover it no matter what, could 6ix9ine really ever make a bad publicity move?

As it stands, there's no decent argument that can be made for gaining fame and fortune the old-fashioned way, through hard work, as opposed to the quick and romanticized comeuppance fantasy that exists today. Boonk trolled the world by committing robberies (rumors have run rampant over the past couple of months whether they were authentic or not) and other idiotic activities in public places, only to stop once he'd acquired the attention he so desperately sought; now he's a new-age rapper in the vein of 6ix9ine. Bhad Bhabie trolled both white and black America by displaying the worst of both racial identities in her ongoing campaign to be the most despised iconoclast in history, earning her enough attention to drop a hilariously low-brow song "Hi Bich" that ended up getting her signed to Atlantic Records.

Meanwhile, it took Meek Mill years of diligent rapping on the corner in crowded circles for him to see a taste of the success that comes so easily for new-age rappers committed to garnering laughs instead of talent. Across the country, you'll find mounds of hardened artists that have become grizzled and indifferent to the new-age movement that they can no longer be a part of, all because of a deep-seated commitment to making it the right way instead of making of fool of themselves. Now, as they prepare for their tenth straight day at their day job and check their empty email inbox, they wonder if they, too, should have dyed their hair, harassed fast food employees, and acted extremely ignorant to attract the internet's gaze.

I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a fan of 6ix9ine's particular brand of gangster. I love a good troll — I've become conditioned to the theatrics on display by new-age rappers and creatives. I find it fascinating how bold and senseless we've become, accepting ignorance as an indicator of talent and potential success. I feel guilty for perpetuating the problem, yes, even by writing this, playing right into 6ix9ine's nefarious agenda. But the music industry, particularly record labels, are to blame. When you see artists that have a tenth of the talent as musicians you know personally being signed to lucrative deals, while your peers wonder exactly what they're doing wrong in their own pursuit of success, you feel like a jackass suggesting that they emulate some of those same actions. In a perfect world, I should be able to relay to them that their talent will take them farther than histrionics ever could. But alas, "Gummo" has over 200 million views on YouTube, "Unorthodox" by Joey Bada$$ has 9 million. I'm one of the guys that repeatedly presses play on "Gummo" when I want a good laugh. Yes, I'm a part of the problem.

On March 23, 6ix9ine, in his most relaxed voice and demeanor ever caught on camera, told Charlamagne Tha God, Angela Yee, and DJ Envy, during his interview with Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club, that his conversation with them would be their most watched interview ever. The indifference displayed by the team blasted their internal scoffs at him whilst he sat smugly, relaying a statement that sounded crazy to anyone who didn't understand the art of trolling. Just by saying that would come true, he ensured even more traffic to the video from bloggers eager to ridicule his claims across the globe. Within 24 hours, the video amassed four million views. Now, it sits at 10 million views in almost two months. There's only one other video ahead of it — Birdman's infamous "respeck"-flavored conversation that incited memes on a scale previously unheard of in hip hop circles, and it was uploaded two years ago. To out-troll the master troll, the Power 105's triumvirate of radio veterans enlisted comedian Gary Owens to cosplay as 6ix9ine, but his interview only garnered 2.7 million in the same amount of time.

The lesson to learn here is that, as much as 6ix9ine, or any new-age rap artist, continuously commits idiotic acts to keep a steady stream of attention coming their way, we the consumers are to blame because we continue to deem these acts important. As long as we do, this brand of work (and I use that term loosely) will continue to rake in the heavy dollars, while genuine practice and perseverance will fall to the wayside. Let's reward someone for doing the work, not the race, and see how it reflects on the next generation. Trolling may appear meaningless, but its purpose is to attract attention. Remove the importance and what do you have?


More by Trey Alston:

Sign up for the newsletter Join the revolution.

Get REVOLT updates weekly so you don’t miss a thing.