Tekashi 6ix9ine was cheated. Or at least that’s what he wants you to believe. 

The controversial and ever-aggrieved rapper has spent much of his time since returning home from prison getting mad at someone or something. First, it was his former Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods compatriots. Then it was other artists: Meek Mill, Rich the Kid, and Snoop Dogg. He also got into it with a charity. Now, his latest target is Billboard. More specifically, the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

6ix9ine posted a nearly four-minute video to Instagram on Monday afternoon, just before it was announced that his song “Gooba” would end up at No. 3 on the chart, behind Ariana Grande’s “Stuck With U” and Doja Cat’s “Say So.” 

The rapper made a number of claims in the clip, but there was one main overall thrust: “Gooba” should have been No. 1, and Ariana Grande bought her way to the top.

The most notable part of the video is 6ix9ine’s statement that the sales of 30,000 units of “Stuck With U” are traceable to just six credit cards. His clear implication is that this was a coordinated effort by Ariana’s side to boost her standing on the chart. He claims to have found this out via an “ongoing investigation,” but provided no details about who was conducting it, or any proof of the results. Complex reached out to 6ix9ine’s label 10K Projects and his publisher Create Music Group for more information, but we have not heard back as of this writing. 

Grande responded on Instagram and Twitter to what she called “strange accusations.” 

“My fans bought the song. Justin’s fans bought the song,” she wrote. “Our fans bought the song (never more than four copies each, as the rules state).” She also threw some shade at 6ix9ine, making sure to send “congratulations to all my talented ass peers in the top ten this week. Even number 3.” She took pains to point out the gender dynamics—that 6ix9ine had called her out while never mentioning Bieber’s name. On Instagram, she wrote about people who are “racking their brain thinking of as many ways as they can to discredit hardworking women (and only the women for some reason…)”

Justin Bieber went more in-depth in an Instagram Story. 6ix9ine had painted in conspiratorial terms that 60,000 units of “Stuck With U”’s sales came in at the very end of the chart’s reporting period. But Bieber explained that it happened that way “because we don’t disclose our numbers until end of week.” He added, “That’s called strategy.” Billboard attributed the last-minute surge to Grande and Bieber offering signed CDs of the song on May 14 (see below for details), and noted that 6ix9ine had done something similar to goose sales on the last day of the tracking week as well, offering a CD single/digital download bundle.

As for the credit card issue, Bieber was unequivocal: “That is a lie. The rules are clear one credit card can buy max 4 copies. Anything over that the entire amount gets thrown out. Nielsen company checks this and found all our sales were legit.”

Late Monday night, Billboard itself responded to 6ix9ine's claims. They also denied that anything irregular happened, writing, "Billboard and Nielsen Music/MRC Data conducts audits on all sales reported with access to purchase-level detail, and works with data partners to recognize excessive bulk purchases and remove those units from the final sales total. All titles this week, as in every week, were put under the same scrutiny."

There were other, more concrete parts of 6ix9ine’s argument: He showed a spreadsheet of unknown providence claiming that “Gooba” received 50,330,566 streams, and yet he said Billboard only counted 31 million streams towards their chart, meaning that nearly 20 million streams were “illegally disqualified” from consideration. 

It turns out he’s mistaken. The 31 million number had two possible explanations, neither of them nefarious. First, according to a chart projection 6ix9ine himself showed in an earlier IG video, he got 31 million ad-supported streams (Billboard said in its statement that it has nothing to do with those projections). According to Hot 100 rules, ad-supported streams (think YouTube, or the free tier of Spotify) only count for two-thirds of a stream each, in Billboard’s calculations. 6ix9ine left out the tens of millions of paid streams he received, on streaming services the customer pays for.

A second possible explanation, which Billboard addressed, was that the 31 million number was the total count "for all video plays" in the U.S. Reflecting the hype around 6ix9ine's comeback, that was more than double what any other song has gotten in a single week so far this year.

But what happened to the 180 million or so views for "Gooba" on YouTube, another issue that 6ix9ine gave a conspiratorial spin? Were they not counted? Simple: That's the total worldwide number. The Hot 100, however, only counts U.S.-based plays. When the Hot 100 chart finally came out, Billboard credited “Gooba” with 55.3 million streams in total. That was significantly more than “Stuck With U,” which got 28.1 million streams.

The Hot 100, though, does not run on streams alone. That’s only one of three factors the chart takes into account. The other two are radio airplay and digital songs sales data. Billboard explained in their statement that streams are most heavily weighted, followed by radio airplay, and then sales. According to a 2013 article by Billboard’s chart expert Gary Trust, the weight of each factor varies week to week in calculating the Hot 100. 

When we look at the sales and radio parts of the equation, 6ix9ine lags significantly behind Grande. “Stuck With U” sold 108,000 downloads, the first song in a year to sell 100,000 units in a single week. That number was helped by Grande’s publicity-getting announcement on Wednesday night that she and the song’s featured artist Justin Bieber would sign a limited number of CDs of the track, the proceeds from which they would donate to the First Responders Children’s Foundation. Those were sold in tandem with digital downloads, and thus counted towards the chart. “Gooba,” in comparison, sold 24,000 downloads, despite 6ix9ine’s direct appeals to his Instagram audience to buy the song on Apple Music (and, as mentioned above, his own last-minute CD offer). And 6ix9ine’s radio reach was effectively zero: 172,000 audience impressions, as opposed to 26.3 million for “Stuck With U.” 

In his Instagram story on Monday, 6ix9ine wrote, “Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj were right. People buy their number 1’s.” Jay has had a number of issues with Billboard over the years, most notably back in 2013 when copies of his Magna Carta Holy Grail purchased in bulk by Samsung and then given away to customers didn’t count towards the Billboard 200 album chart. Nicki, for her part, was mad that Travis Scott’s Astroworld beat out her album Queen for the top spot on the album chart in 2018. She complained about Scott’s use of bundling—combining album sales with concert ticket sales. Bundling has grown increasingly common in recent years—so much so that Billboard came up with new rules about it that began in January of this year. 6ix9ine is currently engaged in it, bundling his upcoming album with t-shirts, pants, hoodies, and facemasks. 

While we don’t yet know all the details surrounding this week’s Hot 100, the outlines of the issue are very clear. 6ix9ine is upset because he believed that his huge streaming numbers would carry “Gooba” to number 1. Lots of his rabid fans expected that as well. But the charts are more complicated than that. “Gooba” had tens of millions more streams than “Stuck With U.” But it also had basically no radio play, and it sold only about one-fifth as many downloads as Grande and Bieber’s hit. All of those factors combined means that it doesn’t take a conspiracy for “Stuck With U” to end up on top—it likely worked out that way because that’s how the Hot 100 operates. The chart weighs all three of those factors (streaming, radio, and downloads), and “Stuck With U” triumphed handily in two of them.

In the absence of other yet-to-be-revealed evidence, the controversy over late sales and credit cards comes down to Ariana and Justin’s word versus 6ix9ine. Tekashi has a lot of ground to make up in the court of public opinion after his time as a cooperating witness. So it seems he’s fallen back on his favorite role as a sympathetic underdog, always overcoming challenges from the powerful. He even took time to remind his followers of his hardscrabble upbringing in an Instagram video on Monday, contrasting it to Grande’s childhood Disney stardom. 

“I speak for the millions of kids who aren’t as fortunate as you. The millions who weren’t fortunate to be on T.V… I don’t think you know what humble is,” he wrote. 6ix9ine has been using this device since his Scumgang days, when he complained about his then-groupmate Zillakami conspiring with his brother and going behind Tekashi’s back to get a label deal.

It looks like the more things change for Daniel Hernandez, the more they stay the same.

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