An album by 6ix9ine, however much hype may surround it, is really an afterthought. He has always cared about videos far more than music. In his early career, the two were synonymous—there was no such thing as a song without a visual attached.
“My music’s not that good. But yo, my videos,” is what his former manager revealed 6ix9ine said to him in their very first meeting (you can hear more of his memories from that conversation here). And it was, after all, a video that launched 6ix9ine to stardom. The incongruity of someone who looked like a SoundCloud rapper talking Bloody with a bunch of Nine Trey members confused, amused, and angered enough people to make the rapper a near-overnight celebrity.
After rocketing to stardom with “Gummo,” 6ix9ine stuck to his plan. He recorded songs and made videos for them as fast as he could, sometimes remaking old tracks when he didn’t have new ones ready. While he eventually bent to music business dictates and put out a project (and later a proper album that ended up being released while he was behind bars) 6ix9ine, as an artist and as a phenomenon, has always been focused on visuals. It makes sense that he used Instagram Live to turn his life and career into a reality TV show.
So what does a new album mean for 6ix9ine? He already had his big post-prison comeback. It was, of course, a video (“Gooba”) and a livestream. And he had his big off-house-arrest moment: again, another video, for “Punani,” along with an IG Live chat with Akademiks. But an album rollout is an ill fit for 6ix9ine. Why should fans care about a collection of songs from someone for whom songs are secondary, meant to serve as a vehicle for eye-catching visuals?
His new album TattleTales, released Friday, doesn’t really offer an answer. It’s 13 songs in search of a reason to exist. 6ix9ine starts the record with “Locked Up 2,” an Akon-assisted attempt to gain sympathy for his decision to become Cooperating Witness 2 in USA v. Jones, et al. He recalls “fighting with my lawyers for a better offer/Just wanna see my daughter.” This would be notable, if he hadn’t already spent a good chunk of his first post-prison Instagram Live by offering a more energetic, albeit non-rhyming, version of that same story: he was kidnapped, his friends turned on him, and he was facing decades behind bars—what was he supposed to do? What would you do in his place? (“GTL,” a kind of demo version of “Locked Up 2” that contains many of the same lyrics, appears towards the end of the album to reiterate these points without adding anything new.)
As soon as the halfway introspection of “Locked Up 2” is complete, the record’s most glaring issues become apparent. 6ix9ine boasts in the opening seconds of “Tutu” that he “tote this pistol when [he] wants to.” It’s an interesting line when you remember that he’s on supervised release for the next five years, and according to its terms, “must not own, possess, or have access to a firearm, ammunition, destructive device, or dangerous weapon.” Even tasers are off-limits (although apparently flamethrowers are okay). When he revisits the theme by “rid[ing] with a black four-four” at the end of the record on “Ava,” it isn’t any more convincing.
‘TattleTales’ is 13 songs in search of a reason to exist.
Rappers lie about guns all the time, certainly. And songs are songs, not diary entries. But for someone whose whole career ascent was based on danger, toughness, and gang ties, to have such obvious lies is distracting.
But that would be a minor quibble if the project had other things to offer. But instead, it mostly gives us victimhood. 6ix9ine has, since the beginning of his career, been obsessed with nameless “haters.” But that sense of persecution was always balanced with fun and joy, a sort of delight in being outrageous and trolling people. On TattleTales, though, the energy is gone. Instead, all he delivers is laments about people trying to “break me down.” He sings about people who are “crying again” because he’s “fresh out the can,” but there’s no life in it. The humor and mischievousness that powered his early hits is gone.
It’s not just the vocals. Many of the beats are Xeroxed copies of what was hot the last time 6ix9ine was out in the world. “Charlie” has a prominent flute sound, in an attempt to co-opt the hottest trend of 2017. There is the requisite reggaeton track, another 2017-18 rapper must-have. “Yaya” is a track 6ix9ine claims was co-written by Anuel AA, though Anuel is nowhere to be found among the track’s eight credited authors. The song’s dembow beat is predictable, and having 6ix9ine’s pitch-corrected singing on top adds nothing to the form. The other reggaeton-style song, “Nini,” is equally paint-by-numbers. Akon’s second feature on the record contains, of all things, an interpolation of Bryan Adams’ 1983 ballad, “Heaven.”
When Nicki Minaj comes through on “Trollz,” her verse, despite being rushed (by her own admission), is a breath of fresh air. There is variety in her rhythms, humor in her punchlines, and venom in her subliminal disses. In short, she’s rapping. 6ix9ine is doing something else. His friend and longtime co-writer Andrew “TrifeDrew” Green—“Sometimes I don’t even write the songs; Andrew writes them,” 6ix9ine admitted at trial) is not credited on the record, although it appears his voice is in the background of a number of songs.
But let’s be honest. No one comes to a 6ix9ine album for the rapping, or even for original-sounding beats. They come, as he told the New York Times, for music to turn up to. TattleTales provides some of that, with songs like “Gooba” and “Punani,” which hearken back to 6ix9ine’s Onyx-style heyday. But that’s the problem. Even the record’s highlights sound like lesser versions of what he’s accomplished before.
There’s a moment on “Charlie” that serves as a stand-in for the main issue with TattleTales. 6ix9ine references, in passing, the pop shove-it: the same skateboard trick that he nodded to on “Gummo.” Instead of feeling like a clever wink to his Nine Trey past, in the context of an album’s worth of recycled ideas, it’s just another faded repeat of something that was better the first time around.
6ix9ine will be the first to remind you that he has had some commercial success this year. “Trollz” hit number one on the Billboard singles chart, prompting a bottle-popping celebration from 6ix9ine. But the following week, it slid down 33 places, the largest single-week plunge ever for a song that debuted at number one. And “Yaya” barely made it to the Hot 100, peaking at number 99. “Punani,” the track backed up with a video shot on the streets of NYC, didn’t make the charts at all.
TattleTales was originally expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, beating out Big Sean’s star-packed Detroit 2, though there are some indications that those numbers may end up being revised significantly downward. Having a big first week is something 6ix9ine will undoubtedly take pride in, especially given his recent complaints about his album’s treatment by streaming services. But with diminishing returns musically, and even visually (his new clip for “Tata” retreads visual ideas that were done far better in 2017’s “Poles1469”), it remains to be seen whether he can attract anything beyond first-week rubberneckers. Making a career out of outrageous stunts worked at first, but a look at the singles charts reveals that fatigue is starting to set in.
Daniel Hernandez’s story remains captivating, and undoubtedly will be told and retold in the years to come. For the first act of his public life, culminating in his dramatic arrest and subsequent cooperation, the tale was in fact so gripping that the music could play second fiddle. But now, in his post-prison career, if he keeps making albums like TattleTales, where the quality of the music isn’t good enough to justify repeated listens, it’s unlikely that Instagram stunts alone will allow him to have a sustainable career. If this album is any indication, he may be putting on his reality show to diminishing returns.