WWith his colorful rainbow hair and prominent facial tattoos, it’s hard not to stare at rapper SoundCloud and viral sensation Tekashi 6ix9ine. The 24-year-old, who collaborates with Nicki Minaj and Kanye West, would not want otherwise. More than his actual music, the self-proclaimed “supervillain” on social media, a former member of the gang and a convicted criminal is known for his shocking online antics and contradictions with the law. For him, no publicity is a bad advertisement ̵
Advertised as both an “investigative documentary” and a “gangster story,” the film follows the rapper’s life from childhood to his arrest in late 2018 on charges that included attempted murder and armed robbery. A year earlier, he had teamed up with the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods, a violent subgroup of the East Coast prison gang, to strengthen his image and credibility on the streets. Gummo, his 2017 music video featuring cameos from several of the band’s members, exploded in popularity. Things quickly escalated. He rode the cocktails of the associated disgrace to break the internet before going too deep. He quickly went through a number of convictions and a shortened prison sentence thanks to his cooperation with the authorities, and today 6ix9ine has reached a record low as one of the most despised figures in hip-hop.
“I was trying to find the moment when cyberbullying turned into real violence,” director Vikram Gandhi told the Guardian. “It’s one thing to have the symbols and the image of gun violence and gang affiliation. It’s about when the border is crossed into something else – physical violence, people getting hit in the face, groups going around people shooting at people – then you already know it’s no longer a show. “
Fascinated by the new generation of SoundCloud rappers, so divorced from his own hip-hop concept in New York, Gandhi discovered 6ix9ine in 2018 and took his camera at the time of his arrest months later. Somehow a joker, Gandhi knows a thing or two about posing for attention. In his 2011 documentary Kumare, he portrayed himself as a spiritual guru and won a number of followers, although he was a fake. In 69, he discarded the costume and immersed himself in the life and times of the famous figure, whose fictional persona became too real for his good.
Before its rise, 6ix9ine was Danny Hernandez, the first generation of New Yorkers born to immigrant parents from Mexico and Puerto Rico. Raised into poverty by a single mother and traumatized by his father’s absence and the murder of his stepfather, Hernandez spent a difficult childhood in the shadows of anonymity before discovering the power of Instagram and YouTube. “When I found out he grew up in Bushwick, near where I live,” Gandhi told the Guardian in a video interview. “I realized I knew exactly the neighborhood he was from and the bodega he worked in.”
Drawing on past interviews, social media posts, audio recordings, videos, court documents and transcripts, Gandhi invokes the digital spirit of Tekashi 6ix9ine without ever talking to him. The rapper’s team ignored Gandhi’s interview requests and recently condemned the documentary. But for the director, 6ix9ine’s collaboration never mattered. “When I started, I didn’t know if he would get out of prison. He could have been convicted much longer. I made the film whether it came out or not, ”Gandhi explains. “When making long-term films, you will always have a narrative arc that is beyond the control of some people. I think [6ix9ine] tends to do interviews where he can manipulate the story. He lives so much of his life online anyway. There he really exists. What would you tell me but not say already? ”
In fact, Tekashi was able to absorb the bad press and turn it into something positive, knowing that attention is the currency of fame. From his early days, when he designed clothes with obscene words drawn in large, bold letters, to the push of buttons in music videos and high-ranking beef social media, he knew that provocation would garner “likes.” In fact, his persona relies on continually improving himself in an endless game of courage. In his first non-prison music video, Gooba, he portrays himself as a rat, immediately acknowledging his new reputation as a whistleblower and raising his profile. The film outlines the timeline of its various sentences and contradictions, but despite the scandal, it bounces back, revealing a cold, casual attitude toward its accusers and those it has betrayed or harmed.
“None of the information we share is new. But with [the film] we give a human face to many people who have just been portrayed as pawns in the past [6ix9ine’s] history, ”says Gandhi. He interviewed neighbors and former friends who knew Hernandez before throwing signs at the gang in front of the camera. But the most touching of Gandhi’s subjects is Sarah Molina, the ex-girlfriend and mother of Hernandez’s daughter. Molina paints a cursed portrait of her handsome ex-husband as a physically abusive partner and an indifferent father, too addicted to fame to care for anyone but himself. “For everyone in the film, [6ix9ine] is an unlocking person. Almost everyone I interviewed who was close to him struggled. It was as if they were all talking about a good friend who fucked them. “
A warning story about the destructive forces of the search for fame in the age of social media, Tekashi’s story can recall the story of another American villain experienced in manipulating the media. “Dave Chapelle said it once.” [Donald] Trump was elected because we chose the Internet troll as our president. I don’t think anyone at the time could have imagined that the attention he was given could actually win him over. “Gandhi says.”[With Tekashi 6ix9ine], the hip-hop world and the internet created a troll and gave it fame and fortune. We are all complicit in this paying economy. “
Asked about the objection some have to reinforcing people who have proven themselves unworthy of the spotlight, Gandhi shrugged: “I have no answer as to whether the film is good or bad for society, or good or bad for society. [6ix9ine’s] career. All I can do is take a topic that is taboo and open it. I think we should turn to things instead of canceling them. Why did this thing happen? If you’ve been obsessed with the story or someone who regrets being a fan, you can watch the movie and say, “This is what happened.”