America's unhinged hormone warriors are never going to stop fighting for their right to party. Still, it's not too late to protest the viral contagion that has selected Tekashi 6ix9ine's Day 69 as the new soundtrack for that crucial rite of passage. Born Daniel Hernandez in Bushwick, Brooklyn, the 21-year-old rapper is the latest heat rock to skip across the ISPs of boundary-testing, (mostly male) adolescent music fans. But with this debut mixtape (which debuted in the Top Five of the Billboard albums chart), 6ix9ine's squall feels desperate not long after impact. Shrieking about abusing women and drug-related violence, namechecking Bloods and Crips to affirm his hood credentials, he makes Migos sound like Maya Angelou.
Sure, the James Bond-ish synth strings, Stranger Things ambience, gunshot sound effects, and simple 808 clap of Top 20 hit "Gummo" (created by Pi'erre Bourne, who also produced Playboi Carti's hit "Magnolia") are hauntingly catchy. But this is 6ix9ine's show, as he makes painfully clear by repeatedly dropping a clip of him screaming "SCUMGANG!" in an attempt to hype his SCUMGANG69 brand. Posturing and cackling to decreasing effect, he careens around the record like a demented Muppet having a manic episode.
In the Internet-borne hip-hop world which has incubated 6ix9ine, heat rises and dissipates rapidly, so an instinct to constantly stoke the fire is baked in from the start. Previous "SoundCloud Rap" cause celebres/mega-trolls XXXtentacion and Lil Pump exploited various social-media platforms (including YouTube and Instagram) to scandalize potential fans and publicize their lo-fi DIY music. Such is the case with 6ix9ine's rise to prominence. Hernandez first grabbed online notice as a streetwear provocateur – sporting sweatsuits emblazoned with "PUSSY" and "HIV" – before gradually transforming into "Tekashi 6ix9ine," adopting a hardcore punk- and dark metal-influenced trap style from underground New York City grinders like ZillaKami, Cameronazi, Thraxx, et al., while incorporating rainbow hair extensions, a rainbow grill (also worn by ZillaKami), oversize face tats, and outlandish costumes. His music at that time, especially with ZillaKami ("Yokai," "Hellsing Station"), was a delirious roar, so frenzied that it seemed to vibrate your computer monitor or phone. He served as a colorful yet racially ambiguous anime hand grenade in a scene challenging the distorted melee of XXXTentacion's crossover hit "Look at Me."
6ix9ine's dodgy stage-dive into the spotlight launched when he joined up with Ohio emo-goth rapper Trippie Redd, signing with Trippie's label Strainge Entertainment, the Capitol-distributed company founded by the son of Universal Music Group Chairman/CEO Sir Lucian Grainge. Trippie gifted his new labelmate with the "Gummo" beat (never consulting with Bourne the producer, who objected afterwards), yet when evidence emerged that 6ix9ine had taken part in a video featuring a nude, 13-year-old girl, Trippie denounced him. It was later revealed that 6ix9ine, then 18, had accepted a 2015 plea deal from the Manhattan District Attorney's office after admitting his guilt on three felony counts of "use of a child in a sexual performance." All this unseemliness only created more buzz, adding to a clickbait trashpile of meme-ish stunts, gang-related beef, and cancelled shows.
Day 69 is the rapper's chance to redirect his narrative. And though gruffly barked speaker assaults like "Billy" and "Kooda" display his maniacal, metalhead mascot appeal, they also reach peak effect, as have the shticks of so many gimmicky acts, when enhanced by visual accompaniment. In the videos for both tracks, shot on Brooklyn streets, the rapper is surrounded by mostly African-American youth, who are seen wearing red or throwing up the hand sign or red bandana that represents the Nine Trey Bloods gang ("Billy" or "Billy nigga" is slang for a Bloods loyalist). They posit 6ix9ine as the blunt edge of an embattled community's diffuse rage, a mad prankster run amok. At least, that's the goal.
result, heard over Day 69's 11 tracks – counting the stray "Gummo"
remix featuring Offset – is a grim dud. Unlike similarly cartoonish figures,
like Onyx or Waka Flocka Flame, 6ix9ine flashes no humor or attempts at
phrase-making or, um, songwriting. Lex Luger is not in the studio showering him
with anthemic shrapnel. His overly reverbed flow is little more than an
uncontrolled gusher of bullying faux-menace ("Don't start no shit won't be
no shit" is one playground-style attempt). We even have to endure absurd
dabs of sweetener via pop-friendly guests Fetty Wap and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie,
who mouth inanities like "Bitches suckin' dick and givin' top on the
regular" or "If I'm a player, you a slut, ooh yeah." The whole
project has the whiff of a third-tier Nü Metal act, like Crazy Town or
Alien Ant Farm, but without any pop candy for teenaged girls. Instead, we get
toxic bellowing from a stunted kid whose hustle has peaked. If we can learn
nothing else from this debacle, it may be that it's time for any artist tagged
as SoundCloud Rap to rebrand, pronto.