For as long as we learned who 6ix9ine was, we knew the kind of person he was. This rainbow-headed, face-tatted young Brooklynite presented himself as a villain, a veritable comic book baddie for a new generation of hip-hop listeners. Capped off last week by testimony in open court against his gang-affiliated business associates and friends, the Latinx rapper’s fall from grace was an inevitability that anyone with half-opened eyes could’ve seen. So now, as public sentiment against 6ix9ine seems all-but wholly negative, it begs the question why it took snitching, as opposed to his admitted sex crimes, to end his reign in rap.
One year ago, 6ix9ine had one of the biggest songs in the country. With production by Murda Beatz, who’d scored Drake his third No. 1 career hit as a lead artist on the Billboard Hot 100 a few months prior, “Fefe” paired the rapper with New York hip-hop icon Nicki Minaj for an ominous yet poppy take on the prevalent trap sound blowing up the charts. Eventually logging more than 700 million views, the corresponding music video featured all three artists flexing and cavorting in a Instagram-ready balloon room replete soft serve, super soakers, and, of course, scantily clad ladies. Reaching No. 3 on the Hot 100, “Fefe” proved his highest charting and biggest selling single, earning octuple-platinum certification from the RIAA in recognition of some 8 million units in sales and streaming equivalents.
Obviously, a lot has changed for 6ix9ine since then. Following a November 2018 arrest on federal criminal charges alongside a number of his known associates, the artist born Daniel Hernandez soon began cooperating with authorities, leading up to his testimony against alleged members of the Nine Trey Bloods set in Manhattan’s Thurgood Marshall Courthouse last week. Full of salacious details and high profile accusations, his answers and commentary in open court led to countless news stories and social media chatter in an already intensely publicized case. Memes abounded, with jokey posts outing various celebrities as gang members and others about snitching in general blanketing Twitter feeds.
As the proverbial dust starts to settle and the fate of 6ix9ine and his former associates is soon to be decided, it begs the question of how we got here in the first place. The almost universally condemning attitudes towards him in recent months and especially in his public debut as a cooperating witness present a stark contrast to the quantifiably elevated status he enjoyed beginning with shouty 2017 breakout singles “Gummo” and “Kooda.” Bolstered by obnoxiously colorful and socially audacious public image, his flicker of fame could have conceivably fizzled out like that of similarly online personalities like Riff Raff or Slim Jesus or Stitches. But at a time when a new generation of rappers from Bad Bunny to Lil Uzi Vert were poised to upend the hip-hop establishment, viral figures became desirable partners to lend clout to artists new and entrenched alike.
One of the first to seemingly latch onto 6ix9ine was Fetty Wap, who after a string of Hot 100 hits in 2015 found his commercial prospects floundering by the start of 2018, with single after single failing to connect in the way “Trap Queen” and its immediate successors did. With Bronx-bred rising star A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie in tow, they released “Keke” that January, which gave the New Jersey singer/rapper a major chart win. That summer, both “Fefe” with Minaj and “Bebe” with the then-recently freed Anuel AA dropped, bestowing greater notoriety and success on 6ix9ine in English-language rap, musica urbana, and pop at large.
Though there were exceptions, many of hip-hop’s most notable names seemed keen to work with 6ix9ine, not the least of which being Kanye West, whose own image had been harmed by aligning with Donald Trump and figures in the deeply problematic MAGA movement like Candace Owens. That team-up ultimately came to pass on the 2018 album Dummy Boy, which also included features by Gunna, Lil Baby, and Tory Lanez with beats by hitmakers such as Boi-1da and Tay Keith.
What tainted these collaborations was what was known about 6ix9ine already ahead of their recording and release, namely that he was an admitted felon in a sex crimes case involving a teenage girl. Back in 2015, he plead guilty to the charge of use of a child in a sexual performance. The case involves three videos posted to social media in February of that year, which included simulation of a sex act by the rapper on the underage victim. He was 18 at the time; she was 13.
Whether or not 6ix9ine’s fans or his documented list of hip-hop pals like it, these are all facts–much of which was publicly available information as of December 2017 when Jezebel reporter Rich Juzwiak published a detailed account on the case. Even if Fetty and Nicki and Ye happened to miss that article, and the rambling video interview the rapper did with personality DJ Akademiks, there were already red flags raised. Just before “Gummo” began taking off, 6ix9ine’s former friend and rising rapper Trippie Redd had made public some of the details too, using the word “pedophile” to describe his erstwhile collaborator. Yet so many well-known names in the music business chose to ignore all that and enrich themselves by capitalizing on the success of 6ix9ine. And in the rare case where these people were called out for doing so, the responses ranged from silence to defensiveness and the spread of disinformation.
Though some outlets refrained from or generally shied away from covering him in a positive light, others followed his exploits and gaffes actively, slapping a “controversial” qualifier on him as an insufficient catch-all to encompass only his bad behavior but his sex felony convictions against a child. With the bar lowered considerably by media company consolidation, click economy pressures, and a discernible dearth of journalistic standards in the music space, most publications didn’t start aggressively covering 6ix9ine’s criminal court woes until the feds took him in. Only then did we learn that his offenses against the opposite sex weren’t limited to the teenager in that 2015 case, but that he had a documented pattern of domestic violence ranging from 2011 through 2018.
With all the talk of cancel culture in the “Me Too” era, uplifting and exploiting a young Latinx artist who clearly and increasingly posed a threat to anyone who came willingly into his orbit should never have happened. Hip-hop, in English and in Spanish, has a long history of accepting criminality as a hard fact of life, but community standards involving the protection of our own people–our children, no less–from predators didn’t seem to apply. Rather than punishing 6ix9ine for what he did in 2015, the industry promoted him to a young fandom deeply susceptible to fake news and convenient narratives.
As a result of this willful negligence and craven opportunism by artists and outlets we’re meant to trust and respect, hip-hop listeners and talking heads appear more offended that 6ix9ine cooperated with the feds than what he did to a girl barely old enough to be in high school, as well as to countless other young women we are only just learning about now. And while that narrative shift suddenly puts everyone on the appropriate side of hip-hop history, doing the right thing came too little and too late.