Up and coming rappers feigning a “hardcore” background or criminal reputation is nothing new, and the genre itself has a long history of stars who were actual gang members, drug dealers, or other societal rebels reputed for criminal behavior.
The mystique is so ingrained in the mythos of the culture that some modern rappers have even taken to staging incidents or taking part in, at least apparently, illegal behavior in order to earn “street cred” and engage fans. One of the more prolific purveyors of this fast-track to fame is the Brooklyn-born rapper 6ix9ine, who used social media to promote an image of being a “proud public menace” or a “super villain” who thrived in a culture of violence.
Almost daily, the rapper posted new incidents and commentary online, promoting his image, along with his boisterous tracks. In fact, the rap efforts actually began after 6ix9ine built a following for these videos. He has said, in recent candid interviews, that he never necessarily intended to have a rap career at all. Recently, the rapper has admitted that all the violence and bravado was just an act, a persona he wore to gain attention and, he hoped, fame.
The public ate it up, giving the rapper millions of views and millions of downloads as well. Now, though, that work has led to what some are calling its inevitable conclusion. Daniel Hernandez, the real name of 6ix9ine, has been arrested and charged under federal racketeering statutes for actions undertaken in the company of people who, it turns out, were actual criminals.
Now, because of his association with these individuals, Hernandez is being charged with crimes including narcotics trafficking, shootings, and other violent actions. Based on reports from the courtroom and in interviews, it’s clear the narratives Hernandez created to earn himself fame quickly grew beyond his control. To him, it was all a means to an end, but, in the end, those means could mean real time in prison… and the end of a career that, only a year ago, was being hailed as one of the most meteoric rises among the new generation of internet-first entertainers.
Under the harsh lights of the courtroom, separated from the adoring fans on YouTube and social media, Hernandez is pleading that the justice system sees him not as a “menace” or a “super villain,” but as a kid trying to find himself as an artist. The final judgment, though, is out of his hands… and that’s a lesson to everyone who puts messages out into the public square: you can influence public perception, but there comes a point when it becomes very difficult to control.