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This week, the mask known as Tekashi 6ix9ine — a loudmouth, gang-affiliated, gaudy rapper with a cannon of hits on the Billboard charts — was shed and Daniel Hernandez was revealed. The artist and his crew were rounded up by the feds in November 2018 on racketeering and firearm charges. In a deal to skirt around a minimum 47-year prison sentence for his involvement in the crimes, Tekashi has been testifying against key members of his former gang: The Nine Trey Bloods. So far, he’s snitched on former associates like his manager Kifano “Shotti” Jordan and ex-bodyguard Anthony Ellison. He’s also informed the government of Trippie Redd and Jim Jones’ alleged gang ties, while on the stand. No stone was left unturned as he recounted robberies, shootings and various other crimes that happened since he was embraced by Nine Trey gang in 2017. Dave Chappelle would call this a perfect example of “when keeping it real goes wrong.”
From the time his viral hit “Gummo” was released, Tekashi worked intentionally to become hip hop’s biggest nuisance. He flaunted unlimited stacks of cash on Instagram, taunted other rappers by laying in bed with their girlfriends, and filmed himself strolling around in his enemies’ hoods. He did this all while challenging those who didn’t like it to “test his gangsta” and assured them that he wasn’t hard to find if they wanted to retaliate. The even rapper told us time and time again that there was nothing fake about the image he portrayed. But, those who had been paying attention knew that his gang affiliation was questionable from the jump. He claimed to be a Blood even when photos of him dressed in all blue Crip gear leaked. His ability to be forgiven for such clownery and still elbow his way into success was commendable in a sense. Ironically, his inexperience with the streets rendered him unable to recognize that his biggest threat was his own entourage.
Street credibility is worth more than gold in hip hop. So is controversy. Those two ingredients helped make rapper 50 Cent a commercial success when Get Rich Or Die Trying debuted in 2005. A character like Tekashi coming along to shake things up and agitate the state of gangsta rap seemed inevitable since pop culture trends are more often recycled than invented. Unlike 50, however, Tekashi was not street. Before the release of “Gummo,” he was just a high school dropout working at a Brooklyn deli. He had never been initiated into Nine Trey, but made a deal with the organization to financially back them in exchange for their protection. Tekashi knew he could count on the public’s obsession with thug life to propel his success, and thanks to us, it worked. “I knew the formula was to repeat it,” he said during the trial. “The gang image, like promote it.” Sadly, no one told him that playing with the streets is like playing with fire. His willingness to fold less than 24 hours after being taken into federal custody shows that the adage is true: There’s no future in frontin’.
Tekashi’s determination to be a fake gangsta is especially disappointing, considering he could’ve easily succeeded without it. His unique rhyming style and look caught attention. Critics cited his high-octane rap style as reminiscent of ‘90s acts like Onyx and DMX. The variety of rappers in today’s climate is also proof that you don’t have to be a hardened criminal to be taken seriously in hip hop. Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City chronicles his life as a youth growing up in Compton, who was actually trying to avoid getting caught up in gang life. The album is widely considered a classic because of its genius storytelling. Even acts like Lil’ Pump, Lil’ Yachty and Lil’ Uzi Vert — who pepper in controversial elements with vibrantly colored hair and provocative lyrics — manage to have successful rap careers without pulling the tough guy act. Had Tekashi chosen to be his naturally loud and trolling self without using gang life as a prop, he probably could have kept himself out of jail and the target could’ve been taken off of his back.
The rapper predicted that his first interview with “The Breakfast Club” would be their most viewed video on YouTube, and so far he is — marginally — right about that. Unfortunately, he turned out to be wrong about virtually everything else he said that day. The rapper’s red hot status on the charts was used to justify his relentless social media trolling. “Let me do what I’m doing because obviously what I’m doing is working,” he said to co-host Charlamagne, who attempted to talk some sense into the then 22-year-old. The conversation began to mirror an intervention, as C The God called in a pastor to pray for the youngster. “I hope you have a long career, but let’s see if you’ll be around next year,” he prophesied to Tekashi.
It sucks to be right about that kind of thing. But, the silver lining is this cautionary tale will hopefully show the youth that being a follower can lead you down all types of destructive paths. Following your gut, trusting your instincts, and being 100% authentically yourself is how you build the things that will last. Tekashi’s career will likely never survive the mass amounts of snitchin he’s done and continues to do right now. But, the streets have definitely spoken.
This goes to show that clout comes with a price, and most times, it’s not worth paying.