6ix9ine is back to his old tricks.
This weekend, the Brooklyn rapper ended his time on house arrest, and officially completed his 24-month prison sentence. Celebrating his re-entry into the world, he shot and released a music video and went on Instagram Live with DJ Akademiks.
In both cases, he walked and drove around the streets of New York City. And at least some of the time, he was in his old stomping grounds of Bushwick. There’s a clear shot in the video of the Flushing Avenue subway station, which is only about a third of a mile from the apartment where he grew up. Many scenes in the video, especially the ones with the multicolored expensive cars, eerily mirrored images from the rapper’s very first music video for the song “69” in 2014. In that clip, expensive Lamborghinis drove down some of the same streets, with a younger, pre-rainbow 6ix9ine blocking streets off and hanging out of the window of the vehicle in the exact same way.
The whole idea of the stunts was to demonstrate that, for 6ix9ine, nothing has changed. It’s been 20 months since his arrest on racketeering charges for his membership in the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods, and almost as long since he decided to cooperate with the federal government against his former fellow Bloods. He violated the deeply ingrained code against snitching in the most public way possible, culminating in three days of testimony in a packed federal courtroom in Manhattan. And now, he’s determined to show that he’ll pay no price for it. He’s equally determined to get back at everyone, rapper and otherwise, who counted him out or insulted him during his time away. In his mind, the best way to accomplish this was to walk the streets of Brooklyn, out in the open, essentially daring his opponents to come and get him.
It’s the danger that is being sold to us. At his sentencing hearing in December 2019, 6ix9ine’s attorney Lance Lazzaro and the Assistant US Attorney Michael Longyear both made a point of outlining just how risky 6ix9ine’s life would be once he was free, because he had told on Nine Trey members.
“The risks to his safety are great,” Longyear told Judge Paul Engelmayer back then. “He will forever have to look over his shoulder. Certain things that people take for granted, going into a store, going to the movies, things of that nature, Mr. Hernandez will have to think strategically about how to move.” He added, “It’s not just Nine Trey that he has to worry about. I think there are other gangs and gang sets that would view him as a target to make an example out of him.”
Lazzaro, for his part, was even more specific when talking about his client’s future prospects.
“The reality of it, Judge, is he probably will never have a life in Brooklyn again, because he can’t go to the store any longer, pick up a sandwich, can’t go to a movie.”
The risks are very real—real enough that the government offered 6ix9ine witness protection after he decided to cooperate. After all, the whole rationale for the timing of his arrest was that Nine Trey members and affiliates were caught on a wiretap threatening his life. Those phone calls made the government swoop in earlier than they were intending. After building his career by selling danger and aligning with gangs, he was given a second chance.
Upon being freed, 6ix9ine didn’t have to jump right back into the fire. He could have dropped the aggressive posturing altogether. He hinted that he might explore this option, saying last year that once he was free, he would use his platform to “tell a true success story of growth, of redemption, and a willingness to change.”
Alternately, he could have kept the bad-boy posturing solely on record, and kept it distant from any real-life situations, most notably by staying out of beefs with other rappers and avoiding public appearances.
But for 6ix9ine, who made his career by insulting seemingly invulnerable figures like J. Prince, YG, and Chief Keef, the riskiest path is the only way to go. If there’s one thing he’s learned in his career, it’s that giving the appearance of facing danger head-on—going to Chief Keef’s block in Chicago, robbing an affiliate of J. Prince’s in the middle of Times Square, getting in a shouting match with one of YG’s friends outside of ComplexCon in Los Angeles—gets eyeballs. The possibility that an angry gang member, or someone looking to impress gang members, could attack him at any moment is the driving force behind the events of this past weekend (never mind the fact that 6ix9ine was, as he explained early and often, surrounded by armed security).
His rationale for continuing to publicly tempt fate was simple.
“Why did I choose to cooperate or snitch if I'm going to live my life in fear?” he asked Akademiks, moments after admitting that being harmed in the streets of his hometown was a very real possibility. “That's a choice I made to keep my life and to keep living life. I'm not going to snitch, come home, and hide under a rock and be depressed.”
But there’s a difference between living life and tempting fate. 6ix9ine is well aware of what he’s doing. This was most apparent in a skit he posted to his Instagram page on Tuesday. He appears to be running away from a would-be assailant, but when the man finally catches up to 6ix9ine, all he wants is to return a dollar the star dropped. “This is what ya been waiting for, you ready?” he captioned it.
This tempting of fate and taunting of haters has been a, perhaps the, major part of 6ix9ine’s persona since the beginning. During his first major interview, recorded just weeks after the release of “Gummo,” 6ix9ine told his interlocutor Pvnch that there were some people he wanted to thank for his newfound success.
“First of all, I want to say to all my haters that I really appreciate y’all, ‘cause two weeks ago, nobody was jacking Tekashi 6ix9ine, but y’all n****s made me relevant,” he said. The script since then has remained the same.
As someone who has followed 6ix9ine’s case closely since the beginning, and who has delved deep into his story, it’s disheartening and scary to see history repeating itself. The desire to walk around in public again is understandable, but these are not normal circumstances. Security or not, 6ix9ine is putting himself and others at risk by being in the spotlight. And it’s a risk that he’s monetizing and squeezing for all that it’s worth. This isn’t about just having a life in Brooklyn again. It’s doing what he’s done ever since he filmed people actually shooting heroin in his very first video: selling danger and spectacle. That has earned him fame and money beyond what most of us could dream. But for his sake and the sake of his two daughters and soon-to-arrive third child, I hope it doesn’t end up costing him everything.