Hip-hop has long been a hotbed of controversy, and from Drake’s ‘culture vulture’ accusations to Blueface’s inability to find the beat, the genre has had its fair share in recent years. But the rainbow-haired, slick-mouthed New Yorker 6ix9ine currently appears to be the king of controversy. And his recent release from jail for “good behaviour” and comeback single, ‘GOOBA’, has put the rap world in a frenzy.
The song itself, and its accompanying music video, isn’t anything special. Using his signature screaming atop his usual raving trap beat, 6ix9ine seemingly raps whatever misogynistic and ignorant lyrics he can think of (“Your bestie is a dick sucker, I big dub her / As-salama-lama alaykum, you big hater”, he manages). True, 6ix9ine shows some new versatility in the middle of the song, speeding up his flow. But aside from the flashing of his ankle monitor and his posing as a cartoon rat for a few seconds – a comment on the criticism he has faced, more of which later – ‘GOOBA’ is pretty stereotypical stuff, featuring loads of twerking and diamonds twinkling.
Yet this stereotypical video did atypical numbers: 6ix9ine broke the record for the most views in 24 hours for a hip-hop video on YouTube. It amassed 43 million views in its first day; the record was formerly held by Eminem’s Machine Gun Kelly diss track ‘Kill Shot’, which was watched by 38.1 million people in the same period. Just four days later, ‘GOOBA’ is on a staggering 142.5 million YouTube views. Why? How?
There’s an element of rubbernecking here, a widespread curiosity at what 2020 will look like for the man born Daniel Hernandez. The 24-year-old – who in 2015 faced a child sexual offence charge that was dropped in 2018 – infamously avoided serious jail time last year when he testified against New York’s TreyWay gang, with whom it was claimed he had been heavily associated with. He faced 47 years for his involvement with Treyway; his testimony cut his sentence down to two years. In the end he served 13 months.
The rapper claims to have been robbed, assaulted and betrayed by the gang. In an Instagram Live clip, he asked his 19.9 million followers why he should be loyal to a gang who had abused his trust. This sparked a huge debate on social media, with rap stars such as Snoop Dogg and Ohio rapper Trippie Redd chiming in; both denounced 6ix9ine and referred to him as a “rat”.
Given that ‘snitching’ goes so heavily against the grain of hip-hop’s anti-establishment ethos, it’s no wonder that the 6ix9ine debate has divided rap fans. Was he justified in ‘snitching’, or should he have maintained a code of silence? This boils down to what we want from transgressive hip-hop stars. When hip-hop was created in the 1980s it was, fundamentally, intended to ‘stick it to the man’ and allow deprived voices to be heard within the Bronx borough, which was blighted by police corruption.
There’s an inherent loyalty to one another within the scene, and against authority. In this way 6ix9ine is the most transgressive figure in hip-hop, alienating both sides by defying core values that the genre’s held for 50 years. He’s not just anti establishment – he’s anti-anti-establishment too.
Honestly 6ix9ine really did make some valid points defending himself on live pic.twitter.com/E09BCMMIBk
— (@smuckersbytyler) May 8, 2020
Despite this, given that 6ix9ine has cited pretty compelling reasons to abandon TreyWay, some fans have taken to social media to express their sympathy for him. “6ix9ine really did make some valid points defending himself on live,” one wrote. And, besides, if you had to choose between freedom and 47 years behind bars, wouldn’t you snitch your way out of that sentence?
This is the crux of the matter. It’s baffling to watch so many rap fans denounce 6ix9ine for testifying against a gang that they themselves would never, ever get involved with, and for evading a jail sentence that would devastate anyone’s life. Isn’t it hypocritical to say that this rapper should hit the self-destruct button while you go about your cosy, safe existence? This reduces rappers to characters for our entertainment and denies that they’re human beings with the same fears as the rest of us.
The point is not to excuse any of 6ix9ine’s repugnant behaviour, but to recognise that it’s dehumanizing to expect him to serve 47 years in prison just because it suits our image of what a rapper ‘should’ be. 6ix9ine is not a good rapper and, considering the last few years, there seems to be little evidence that he’s a good person (apart from a recent attempt to give $200,000 to children’s charity No Kid Hungry, who declined the donation), but he has exposed the flawed logic that runs throughout rap fandom.