There is no artist in our contemporary rap landscape who better personifies the fundamentally hollow sport of “clout-chasing” than Bushwick’s own Danny Hernandez, better known to the world as goony, rainbow-haired rap troll, Tekashi 6ix9ine. The rise and fall of 6ix9ine has unfolded as one of the most appalling sagas in the history of rap: Hernandez staked his claim as an artist of minimal talent and maximum aggression, willing to say and do the awful things that his competitors wouldn’t say or do. After narrowly beating a case where he was charged with three counts of the use of a child in a sexual performance, Hernandez essentially paid his way into New York’s Nine Trey Bloods gang. It was a decision that brought about lethal, life-endangering consequences that very nearly landed the belligerent SoundCloud rapper in prison for the rest of his life. 6ix9ine was linked to various violent robberies across Manhattan before he ended up ratting on his former partners, thus securing a drastically reduced sentence for himself. If you can believe it, Hernandez served the remainder of his sentence on house arrest.
It is tempting to wonder if 6ix9ine’s tumultuous, larger-than-life career could have been adapted into a feature film; if nothing else, the grimy criminal milieu and stomach-turning pangs of dread that this clueless former bodega clerk must have felt when he found himself ensnared in the doings of a real-deal criminal organization sounds like the kind of gritty yarn the Safdie Brothers would dream up. In its own roundabout way, “69: The Saga Of Danny Hernandez” answers the question of what a 6ix9ine movie would look like, and the answer is this: this troll doesn’t need any more free publicity.
Tekashi 6ix9ine has been called many things, a snitch, an alleged pedophile, and a less-than-talented rapper among the more polite descriptors. He is very rarely described as dull, but that’s more or less what “69,” now streaming on Hulu, turns out to be. Director Vikram Gandhi’s curiosity in regards to the 6ix9ine phenomenon is certainly genuine, and in his defense, it’s a story that reads, at first glance, as too cartoonishly over-the-top to actually be true. And yet, the stranger-than-fiction developments covered in Gandhi’s documentary actually did occur: 6ix9ine did actually endanger a child during a rancid, evil “stunt” that he later broadcast to his social media followers, he put out a hit on Chicago drill rapper Chief Keef, and post-prison, he has cut records with high-profile artists like Nicki Minaj and Akon.
The question remains, why should we care? Why should we give this cretinous brat the time of day, when all he’s done is fill our feeds with disgusting “content” that is empty in its attempts at provocation? A more intellectually curious documentary might have interrogated the “why” of how Tekashi 6ix9ine rose to prominence. What’s missing here is an examination of the broken cultural conditions that have to exist in order for a monster like Tekashi to thrive (in that way, 6ix9ine is like Lonesome Rhodes from “A Face In The Crowd,” but for the age of TikTok).
In his latest film, Gandhi, a former VICE News correspondent, posits the oft-repeated thesis that SoundCloud rap is essentially the 21st Century answer to punk rock: in other words, it’s a nihilistic, lo-fi minimalist subgenre that exists primarily as a rejoinder to a mainstream sound that has grown bloated and stale. While it’s hard not to agree that MAGA apologist Lil’ Pump, on his best day, doesn’t hold a candle to The Ramones on their worst, the thrust of Gandhi’s argument ultimately falls flat because his assertions that 6ix9ine was actually some kind of stealth marketing genius are naïve at best and dangerously limited at worst.
“The Saga of Danny Hernandez” spends time with 6ix9ine’s former collaborators, plus the mother of his child, his former driver, and even a few of his erstwhile underworld associates. The film even makes time for a brief interview with Hernandez’s long-estranged biological father, and yet “69’s” attempts at humanizing its inhuman subject are, in spite of Gandhi’s noble intentions, ultimately half-hearted. 6ix9ine isn’t someone worthy of our sympathy. This is a guy who physically abused the mother of his kid, exploited the abuse of a minor for his own gain, and inadvertently sentenced men whom he considered friends to lengthy prison sentences partly due to his own stupidity and short-sightedness. In that sense, there is more than a shade of Donald Trump in Tekashi 6ix9ine. Like Trump, no one really knows what 6ix9ine is good at, only that he likes to be everywhere all the time. He worships the pursuit of profit and the bullying of others above all other things. He doesn’t care if you love him or hate him, but the one thing you cannot afford to do is ignore him. What “69: The Saga of Danny Hernandez” accidentally confirms is that life would be so much better for all of us if everyone chose to collectively ignore its central subject. [C-]