Op-Ed: How Spanish-Language Media Is Complicit in 6ix9ine’s Rise in Latin Trap

Art by Alan Lopez for Remezcla

Tekashi 6ix9ine is one of the most talked about rappers in the game right now. The New York City-based artist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, who was born Daniel Hernandez, broke out of the SoundCloud pack with the shouty 2017 hit “Gummo,” a referential headnod to the shockingly nihilistic 1997 Harmony Korine film of the same name. In short order, the face-tatted and rainbow-maned 22-year-old racked up a number of other Billboard-charting singles, including “Kooda” and, most recently, “Fefe.” In 6ix9ine’s short ascent to stardom, he’s worked with some of contemporary hip-hop’s most notable stars, including Nicki Minaj, Offset, and Young Thug. Based on studio footage shared on Anuel AA’s social media, rumors of other collabs in the works with Arcángel and photo ops with Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, he appears poised to make big moves in the trap en español scene soon.

In 2015, 6ix9ine pleaded guilty to the felony charge of use of a child in a sexual performance. In this case, the victim was a 13-year-old girl, and at the time, he was 18. The circumstances of the incident, laid out in detail by Jezebel reporter Rich Juzwiak in December of 2017, involve three videos posted to social media in February of that year, which include simulation of a sex act by the rapper on the underage victim. Discovery of the offending clips by her mother two days later led to a criminal complaint, and roughly a week and a half later, 6ix9ine made a statement at an NYPD precinct in El Barrio.

By October of 2015, 6ix9ine entered into a plea deal that, if adhered to in the interim, would keep him from a prison sentence of up to three years. Among those requirements were obtaining his G.E.D., 300 hours of community service, and writing a letter of apology to the victim and her family, as well as not committing another crime for the next two years. Multiple adjournments have pushed his sentencing date further and further down the line, with his latest court appearance in the matter scheduled for October 2, three years since the original deal.

Of course, rappers copping pleas isn’t exactly unheard of, and throughout the genre’s history, hip-hop has generally celebrated criminality, both on record and in real life. Still, despite obvious concerns about a rapper with a predominantly young fanbase having a criminal record involving sexual misconduct against a minor, media coverage of 6ix9ine’s record has been inconsistent, even with the burgeoning #MeToo movement.

Media coverage of 6ix9ine’s record has been inconsistent, even with the burgeoning #MeToo movement.

Few pop culture and hip-hop outlets picked up on Jezebel’s reporting from late last year in any substantial way, with the best of them copy-and-pasting from the piece and the worst dismissively editorializing around it. A previously released video interview with DJ Akademiks, a Complex personality and social media influencer demonstrably supportive of the rapper’s career, allowed him to give a one-sided account of the events – replete with inconsistencies, including his own age at the time of the crime – and gave less scrupulous blogs an out in covering the news.

Since the Jezebel story broke, some publications have opted to continue writing favorably about 6ix9ine, assuaging their potential complicity in the rise of an admitted abuser by throwing in references to the 2015 case as an afterthought, particularly when reporting on his subsequent instances of running afoul of the law. Comparatively more fuss has been made at such sites about 6ix9ine’s beefs with Trippie Redd, one of the first artists to publicly denounce him over the case, as well as Chief Keef and YG. Others, including the one you’re currently reading, have deliberately avoided covering 6ix9ine altogether even as his growing popularity makes it challenging to continue to do so (Editor’s note: In the past, Remezcla has chosen not to cover 6ix9ine. Remezcla’s editorial team was concerned that giving a platform to a known abuser would make this publication complicit in his rise to mainstream fame, but we have since recognized that we have a commitment to keeping readers informed about his crimes).

In early August, the Manhattan District Attorney office submitted a letter to the court to recommend jail time and a sex offender registration for the rapper after he failed to meet the terms of his plea agreement, garnering the widest coverage of his case yet. Not surprisingly, even well-intentioned outlets seem to be playing it down, with New York Magazine’s pop culture vertical Vulture using the tone deaf term “partying” to describe the circumstances. Still, in Spanish-language media, 6ix9ine’s sex crime remains largely underreported or otherwise diluted. A review of key outlets indicates little-to-no serious reporting on the matter, focusing on his career largely from an entertainment or gossip perspective. You’ll find no mention of 6ix9ine at El Nuevo Día, Primera Hora, Diario Las Américas or even New York’s own El Diario.

Univision, the powerhouse that currently owns a number of former Gawker Media sites including Jezebel, mentioned the case as part of a larger timeline piece in the Entretenimiento section about the “controversial” 6ix9ine last month, even linking to Juzwiak’s piece. Yet the author not only got the artist’s age at the time wrong, but also pushed the legally indefensible argument that he was unaware of the victim’s age at the time. Of the remaining four mentions of the artist on the site, two are about the rapper being assaulted and robbed in Brooklyn last month, while a third is about his arrest on a separate charge in Houston, notably for allegedly choking a 16-year-old boy at a mall.

The decision not to report on 6ix9ine in our social media-addled times means that many Spanish speakers are either unaware of or misinformed about his crime.

Over at Univision’s Comcast-owned rival Telemundo, a brief video report about the July robbery overlooks his case as well, despite being the only thing on the main site about him. Their Billboard En Español property is equally as light on said coverage. Similarly, Rolling Stone’s Mexican web presence is devoid of 6ix9ine, and Noisey’s Spanish-language content makes sole mention of him as part of a translated report on A$AP Yams Day.

Other publications in Spanish are apparently no exception to the trend. At Chile-based blog Poustaone recent piece reduces the case to social media trolling by his detractors, while Jenesaispop makes brief reference to it in a story largely about the robbery and his Nicki Minaj collab. Mexico’s Sopitas mentions 6ix9ine in a brief piece about the country’s most streamed artists in 2017, while Mundo Hispánico focused its attention on cars the rapper may or may not own.

Regardless of reason, the decision not to report on 6ix9ine in our social media-addled times – in which short attention spans and fake news run amok – means that many Spanish speakers are either unaware of or misinformed about his crime. While that state of affairs makes it easier for fans to dismiss the case as simple allegations or steadfastly side with their problematic fave, it also leaves the rising Latin trap movement and its artists vulnerable to criticism and potential professional setbacks. Considering existing concerns about misogyny and gender-based violence in the male-dominated trap en español talent pool, a perceived insensitivity or ignorance around working with known abusers could pose problems, both from listeners and media outlets alike. But more than just bad business, it reflects a painful reality: the music industry continues to neglect and abandon victims of gender-based violence, especially if it means compromising a profit-making opportunity.

That brings us back to Anuel AA. Fresh out of federal prison on weapons charges, the Puerto Rican sensation is following in the footsteps of Gucci Mane’s legacy with the surprise release of Real Hasta La Muerte, an album recorded both over the phone while incarcerated and in person during a halfway house stint in Miami. It’s entirely possible that he and the people around him, like so many young rap listeners, are not familiar with the details of 6ix9ine’s New York case (Remezcla reached out to Anuel AA’s representatives for comment on his knowledge of 6ix9ine’s case, but they did not respond to requests by press time). With Jezebel‘s Rich Juzwiak remaining as the primary journalist covering this story and no equivalent parallel in Latin American media doing similar heavy lifting, other artists, promoters, and industry figures in the region may continue to work with Hernandez.

The music industry will continue to treat victims of gender-based violence and sexual assault as an afterthought.

Urbano artists may want to rethink that move. Several English-language hip-hop artists have faced criticism for making tracks with 6ix9ine. Most recently, Nicki Minaj took some barbs online from her predominantly femme fanbase, as well as from Azealia Banks and an editorial at Forbes around the premiere of their collaboration “Fefe.” Coming right before the arrival of Queen, a new album that now marks the lowest first week sales of her career, the controversy doesn’t seem to have helped the full-length’s rollout. The producer of the “Gummo” beat, Pi’erre Bourne, distanced himself fully from 6ix9ine, claiming the music was given to the artist by rapper Trippie Redd without his permission or blessing.

We’ll likely know 6ix9ine’s sentence in a matter of months in a New York court. His post-2015 crimes, inability to successfully obtain a G.E.D., and notorious social media antics make it unlikely that he’ll escape punishment, even as he continues to assert his innocence outside the parameters of his plea agreement. Regrettably, with little public knowledge of what happened to his underage victim, imprisonment will likely only add to his fame, both in the U.S. and Latin America. More collaborations with Latin trap artists could threaten the genre’s potential growth in the general market, creating a missed opportunity for narrowing the segregation between the Latin and mainstream music industry. And perhaps most importantly, the music industry will continue to treat victims of gender-based violence and sexual assault as an afterthought.