There’s a solid chance you’ve seen the name 6ix9ine or Tekashi69 pop up in a headline recently. Maybe, for example, you saw him post a video to Instagram Thursday in which he says he “fired everybody” who worked for him, from his publicist to his manager to his booking agent.
In the same post, he announces that he canceled his entire tour.
“The American dates is not happening. It’s not going down,” he says. “Austin, Texas, I think I was supposed to there today. I’m not going to there.”
You may, fairly, have some questions. First, does he have two names? (Yes, though for our purposes, we’re going to refer to him as 6ix9ine.) Is he a musician of some sort? (Yep, he’s a rapper.) What’s the significance of the number 69, which appears in both of his names and is tattooed all over his face? (Erm, well, we’re pretty sure you can figure that one out yourself.)
Let’s start at the top.
Who is this guy, and why should I care about him?
He’s on the radio and has become pretty reliable tabloid fodder, so it might be useful to know the name (you know, for dinner-party conversation and whatnot).
Born Daniel Hernandez, the 22-year-old grew up in Brooklyn, where his young life was marked with tragedy. His father was murdered in 2009, and he was expelled from school in eighth grade. He said in an interview that he chose not to continue his education after and “to help my mom pay the rent” by working odd jobs and selling weed.
He began rapping in 2014 without any aspirations. “I started rapping for fun, to be honest with you,” he said. “I didn’t really want to be a rapper or whatever.”
During the next few years, his music attracted a growing fan base. But 6ix9ine’s real breakout came in 2017 when an Instagram selfie went viral on Reddit and Twitter. In the photo, the rapper, with four tattoos on his face reading “69” in various fashions, sports long, rainbow-colored hair and a rainbow grill on his upper teeth. It soon became a meme.
Though 6ix9ine was mired in controversy (more on that in a minute), he become one of the most famous of the SoundCloud rappers — which refers to artists who released their music through the streaming service SoundCloud — second only to XXXTentacion, the 22-year-old rap superstar who was fatally shot in Florida in June.
Fans embraced both because of their “their willingness to deviate from the norms of the movement that birthed them, and also from hip-hop’s prevailing sound,” music critic Jon Caramanica wrote in the New York Times. “As a rapper, 6ix9ine is a boxer — he thrives on rasp and repetition, as if constantly looking to pick a fistfight."
Soon after his photo went viral, 6ix9ine released his official debut single “Gummo,” which rose to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. His status as a mainstream pop star was cemented in July, when he released the song “Fefe” with Nicki Minaj, which soared to No. 3 on the charts.
Hmm, what was that about controversy?
6ix9ine is no stranger to interactions with the law, though the most infamous incident came in 2015 when the rapper pleaded guilty to one felony count of use of a child in a sexual performance.
The incident occurred on Feb. 21, 2015, according to the criminal complaint, which was obtained by Jezebel. Three videos were passed around social media that featured the rapper, then 18 years old, and another man with a nude 13-year-old girl.
According to the complaint, in one video, 6ix9ine makes inappropriate movements behind the child while the other defendant engages in a sex act with her. In another, she is seen sitting on 6ix9ine’s lap.
When questioned, the rapper told the police, “When she came in she asked me how old I was and I told her I was 18 and I assumed she was older. The way she was asking made me think she was older.”
The rapper signed a plea deal with several conditions, including that he remain out of legal trouble for two years.
Spoiler alert: He didn’t.
Though his music career was soaring (despite the 2015 incident), 2018 wasn’t a great year for the rapper. In January, he allegedly attacked a 16-year-old fan in Houston’s Galleria mall after the boy tried to take a video of him. In May, according to Pitchfork, 6ix9ine was “charged with two misdemeanors: operating a vehicle without a license and facilitating aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.” Then the very next day, at the 77th Precinct of the New York Police Department in Brooklyn, he reportedly attacked an officer by squeezing his hands against his handcuffs causing the officer “to suffer swelling and redness to [his] fingers and, to suffer substantial pain, to fear further physical injury.”
In the midst of all this, an 18-year-old woman named Martha Gold told the online outlet babe.net that “that at age 17, she had an ongoing sexual relationship with” the rapper.
Though prosecutors claimed that he didn’t hold up his end of the plea deal, in October, the rapper escaped jail time stemming from the 2015 incident.
He’s been back in the news this week for two reasons. First, he reportedly accepted a plea deal for attacking the Brooklyn police officer. Secondly, an arrest was made in connection to a July incident when he reported to New York police that two men forced him from a car and stole his jewelry, the AP reported.
Wait, so people still listen to this guy?
Yep. Not only is he popular, but he’s also essentially a mainstream artist now. He recently filmed a music video with Minaj and Kanye West, for example (though it was interrupted by a drive-by shooting).
As a whole, hip-hop hasn’t reckoned with sexual assault within its community the way other industries have, despite the rise of the #MeToo movement. Artists like R. Kelly, who has had several pieces written about his alleged abuse of young women, haven’t seen their careers suffer like those of Kevin Spacey or Matt Lauer.
And you’ll only hear more about 6ix9ine in the coming weeks: His first studio album, which includes features from Minaj and Bobby Shmurda, is set to drop Nov. 23.