Tekashi 6ix9ine is in a lot of trouble. The Monday before Thanksgiving he was picked up by the feds and indicted on racketeering charges. His trial will not take place until next September, but he could be facing up to life in prison. In the midst of this chaos, his album that was set to release on Black Friday was delayed, then it was leaked, and then it was officially released last week. And it’s doing big numbers. Dummy Boy debuted at number two, and moved over 60,000 units in its first week. The interesting thing about 6ix9ine is that it seems like the reason for his success has little to do with his music and everything to do with why he’s facing life in prison.
6ix9ine never really had any interest in being a rapper. He said so himself on popular hip hop podcast, No Jumper: “I didn’t really want to be a rapper or whatever. I just thought of making music because everybody was like, ‘You look mad cool.’” Early on he cultivated a persona that was intentionally jarring and provocative. His first viral moment was when he wore a long goofy shirt emblazoned with slurs. I mean, just looking at him you can tell what he’s about. You don’t get “69” tattooed on your body over 200 times if you want to fly under the radar.
6ix9ine’s charges stem from his affiliation with the Nine Trey Gangsta Blood street gang, but he didn’t link up with them until 2016. Before that, he was making music that was well-received in Eastern Europe but unknown in the States. He was signed by a label in Slovakia and even did a tour over there. Then his appearance turned him into a meme, and soon he was making music with a burgeoning Trippie Redd. When he returned to Brooklyn, where he’s from, the story is that a mutual friend introduced him to Kikano “Shottie” Jordan—a prominent member of the Nine Trey Bloods who was indicted with Tekashi. Many street rappers use music as an opportunity to leave a gang lifestyle, and a good example of this are the people involved with Quality Control Music (the label responsible for Migos and Lil Baby); but 6ix9ine used a gang-affiliation to give himself street cred and shift his persona from a weird curiosity to a legitimate gangster rapper.
The first song of his that really blew up was “Gummo,” thanks to the video which has over 300 million views on YouTube. The song is angry and hard and 6ix9ine’s voice grovels about shooting and robbing people. In the video, he and his ostensible gang—all wearing red bandanas to signify their affiliation—stand on the stoop of a brownstone in New York and mime gunshots and show us bags of weed. I was really into it when I saw it, and I thought 6ix9ine’s delivery was an interesting addition to a Soundcloud rap landscape that was integrating many elements of punk rock.
Then it came to light that he was charged for “using a child in a sexual performance.” Stemming from an incident where he recorded a thirteen-year-old girl performing sexual acts on his friends and put it on Instagram, everyone started calling him a pedophile and shunning him. I thought he was done. But he kept blowing up. People loved his villainous Instagram persona. He said he was untouchable, and challenged Chief Keef to come kill him. He was beefing with everybody. And suddenly people like Nicki Minaj wanted to work with him, not only despite his antics, but likely because of them. But while he was on the periphery of a huge, mainstream music career, he was still being crazy and essentially snitching on himself on Instagram. People warned him—like Charlamagne on 6ix9ine’s first Breakfast Club interview—but he felt invincible.
Then somebody from his gang kidnapped and robbed him, and that seemed like a turning point. He evaded jail time in his myriad court cases, and he began trying to rehabilitate his public persona, to an extent. He was handing out cash in the Dominican Republic. And there were indications that he was moving away from his gang ties. Before his arrest, he was on The Breakfast Club, once again, talking about how he had fired his whole team—which included Shottie Jordan—and apparently they were not happy; there were taped phone calls where gang members talked about “super violating” Tekashi (which still strikes me as an odd way to phrase a threat). The feds believed there was a hit out on him, and so they sped up the indictment and filed an incomplete report when they picked him up.
That brings us to his album, aptly and ironically titled, Dummy Boy. It’s a testament to the time we live in wherein an album created by someone so intriguing, living such a chaotic life, can be for the most part totally boring. The album is fine. It’s definitely bolstered by the persona of 6ix9ine, and it’s difficult for me to believe anybody would be listening to this music and that an all-star lineup of features would want to hop on these tracks, if 6ix9ine wasn’t the provocative cultural mainstay he’s been in the past year.
The most inexplicable features, to me, are Nicki Minaj’s and Kanye West’s appearances. Both are on this album twice. Nicki’s first verse is on “Fefe” which was dropped as a single earlier this year and is very catchy and artistically bankrupt (see: “eeny, meeny, miny mo/I catch a ho, right by her toe”), though her verse is okay. And yet, Nicki still put this song on her album as a late addition bonus track to ensure that Queen wasn’t a streaming dud. (Can you imagine that? The highest selling female rapper ever, having to use a phoned-in song with a kid with 69 tattooed on his face who nobody had heard of until last year, just to remain relevant?) Needless to say, Kanye stayed true to his 2018 form, rapping juvenile, cringe worthy lyrics like, “That pussy get wetter than yours/that head is better than yours” and “They tried to say I wasn’t black no more/about as black as Macklemore.” But I guess that’s who Kanye is now.
Most of this album is 6ix9ine utilizing what has worked for other people, sonically, this year—like “Tic Toc,” which sounds like a song Lil Baby left off “Drip Harder,” and the “Zeze” steel drum knock-off, “Kika,” which features a palatable Tory Lanez. And that’s the thing about this whole project: it’s merely palatable. 6ix9ine cedes most of the air time to the features, and that works to his benefit. There are even two Reggaeton-lite songs with Anuel AA wherein 6ix9ine welcomely raps in Spanish. But it doesn’t really matter.
People are going to listen because of who he is, and this album probably would’ve been even bigger if he were out and promoting it. On the No Jumper podcast, Lil Xan said, “I fuck with Tekashi, he’s a genius” and he went on to say that his position on the charts proves “he’s fire.” 6ix9ine certainly exploited the possibilities of streaming, in which having your name known is much more important doing anything musically important. Maybe he’s a genius for that. Or now that we see how he’ll probably end up, maybe he’s just a Dummy Boy.