Throughout his brief, meteoric career, the rapper known as Tekashi 69 (or 6ix9ine) has devised himself as a recalcitrant adversary, intending to incite conflict for himself. He lures law enforcement agencies with guns and money. He was playing live in bed with some rapper girlfriends.
But on Wednesday at a federal courtroom in Manhattan, the personality of 6ix9ine disappeared. In his place was the attentive, cordial Daniel Hernandez, Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. He was there for a purpose that his alter ego probably never intended: to testify against his former crew, The Nine Wings of the Gangsta
Mr. Hernandez's turn as a star witness for the federal government is a staggering turn in his career. For hours on Wednesday, the Instagram star sat at the witness stand and eagerly described the inner workings of the notorious Nine Trey Island Band.
The contrast between the cheeky rapper seen on social media and the man on the stand was awesome. Mr Hernandez was calm, sometimes leaning on the panel, as he walked around the jury throughout the life of the gang.
He hugged Nine Trey in 2017, he said, after the band helped launch their multiplatinum single "GUMMO". The music video for the song – starring Nine Trey members – immediately went viral.
"And I knew the formula was to be repeated," said Mr. Hernandez.
He outlined the hierarchy of Nine Trey in court, listing his leadership by name. He paused often to translate street slang for jurors and described the gang's lengthy attacks, including one case where they raved and attacked another rapper, Trippie Redd.
At one point, Mr. Hernandez listed the gangs of other rappers.
On several occasions, Mr Hernandez imitated the voices of nine members of Trey and made the conversations he had previously had with them. He went to troubled countries so specific – his choice of a jacket during a particular episode of a gang, for example, that prosecutors had to redirect him.
It seems his determination to fail briefly when he recounted his alleged abduction last July from Mr Allison, an incident that Mr Hernandez said stemmed from the Nine Trey fight over who in the band's hierarchy will control his music career.
"There were crazy thoughts going through my head," he said Wednesday, his voice silent as he described being held hostage in a vehicle in Brooklyn.
The incident that was widespread at the time was the beginning of Mr. Hernandez's rallying with Nine Trey.
"I'm tired of being blackmailed," he said Wednesday.
Four months later, Mr. Hernandez publicly relinquishes his former manager, Kifano Jordan, Mr. Allison, and the Nine Trey gang. A few days later, law enforcement officers arrested them and numerous others suspected of being members of nine trays.
Within 24 hours, Mr. Hernandez struck a deal with prosecutors who, in return for their cooperation, agreed to lobby the judge to reduce his sentence.
Wednesday's trial is part of a wide-ranging racketeering and firearm case prosecutors filed against the gang on nine-thirds last November.
n. Hernandez's testimonials provided a rare window into the intersection of street gangs and rap, two notorious guarded worlds that Mr Hernandez abandoned, but explicitly in his midst.
On Wednesday, rapper Meek Mill tweeted that Mr Hernandez was an "Internet gangsta". The rapper Snoop Dogg called him "rat". 6ix9ine, the rebel hero he built remains unclear.
Prosecutors said earlier that he may have to enter the witness protection program. His lawyer claims that the character of 6ix9ine was an act and that his embrace of the life of the band was intended only to accelerate his career.
In court this week, Mr. Hernandez was asked to decipher what appeared to be threatening texts from "GUMMO" aimed at rival Trippie Redd.
"It's a song to, for example, someone I didn't get along with," he said. "I don't know. I thought it was cool at the time."