Considering the amount of headlines he’s generated in his brief rise to rap stardom, it’s hard to believe that there are things we don’t already know about hip-hop agitator Tekashi 6ix9ine.
The 24-year-old New York rapper best known for his hyper aggressive, uptempo rhyming style, rainbow-colored hair and a fixation with tattooing the number “69” all over his face and body burst onto the national scene in 2017 with the guns-flashing video for the menacing single “Gummo.”
But after a rocket rise that included collaborations with Nicki Minaj (“Fefe”) and his platinum-certified 2018 debut album, Dummy Boy, things came crashing down in a hurry for the Brooklyn MC born Daniel Hernandez after his arrest on charges of racketeering and drug and weapons possession. The brash rapper pleaded guilty to nine counts — including armed robbery and conspiracy to murder — and was sentenced to two years in prison after turning state’s witness and testifying against his one-time compatriots in the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods street gang.
After initially facing 47 years to life, Hernandez earned leniency in his sentencing because of his testimony against the Nine Trey set, and was released last April after serving only eight months of his 24-month sentence. The controversial “Trollz” rapper’s chaotic rise, fall and rebirth are chronicled in the new three-part Showtime documentary series Supervillain: The Making of Tekashi 6ix9ine, which debuted on Sunday night (Feb. 21), using a mix of archival footage and new interviews with the MC’s father, barbers, high school ex-girlfriend and former Nine Trey gang members among others, as well as unreleased recordings from his house arrest.
Here are six important takeaways from “Identity,” the first episode of series, narrated by Better Call Saul‘s Giancarlo Esposito.
Hernandez Didn’t Know Who His Real Dad Was as a Kid
In the film, Tekashi says as a child, he didn’t realize that stepdad Luis Nazario was not his biological father. Daniel Hernandez Sr. was not in his life after the rapper’s mother threw the elder Hernandez out of the house due to his heroin addiction. (Many of the rapper’s early videos featured disturbing images of what looked like people shooting up drugs.) Nazario was killed during a daylight shooting in September 2010 when 69 was 13 years old, just a few blocks from the family’s home. “When they took him away from me, I felt naked,” Hernandez says in the film of the man he saw as a “superhero.”
The murder had a devastating emotional impact on Tekashi, who stopped showering, lost a lot of weight, got expelled from school in eighth grade, and began dealing drugs. “Superheroes always die; f–k being a superhero. I want to be a villain cuz villains never die,” he says in voiceover.
His Homebrewed Fashion Helped Him Gain Attention at First
Sara Molina, his high-school girlfriend and mother of his 5-year-old daughter, says one of the ways Tekashi caught people’s eye early on was by wearing homemade hats and shirts with provocative messages, including “Smut,” “69,” “C–t,” “HIV,” “F–k Nigga,” “F–k Me B–ch,” “Pu–y N—a” and “Suck My D–k!” His other signature look — rainbow hair and a matching candy-colored grill — was Herandez’s attempt to be seen. “I felt invisible. I just had to make a loud presence,” he says.
Tekashi Wasn’t a Hip-Hop Fan Growing Up
Producer Jordan Granados says he knew Tekashi had something special from the very first video he saw him post. “I found him on Twitter and I was like, ‘Bro, I f–king love it; let’s work,'” he says he told 69, who notes in the first episode that he didn’t really listen to hip-hop growing up.
“I didn’t like rap. I was always into rock,” Tekashi says, running off a list of emo and punk bands he idolized as a teen, including Parkway Drive, All That Remains and Breaking Benjamin. “I didn’t want to rap.”
His Rap Name Was Courtesy of a Neighborhood Tattoo Artist
“One day I woke up and said, ‘Yo, I want my look to be loud,'” he says of the outrageous tats and fashion that helped gain him attention. A neighborhood inkmaster named Tekashi who “did heroin to create” was the inspiration for his stage name.
He also explains that the 69 is a matter of perspective, which changes based on where you are sitting. “With the six and the nine, so you sitting right across from me, and I’m here, you still see the six nine,” he says of the 69 “69” tattoos he’s gotten so far. “So my point of view with the 69 is if I’m poor and you’re rich, does that make you right because you’re rich and I’m wrong because I’m poor? It’s just life from two different perspectives.”
Also, not for nothing, Daniel is six letters and Hernandez has nine letters.
Why He Hooked Up With a Gang
Eager to find a way to break through, Ron Barrett, a longtime New York gang prevention specialist, says Tekashi was open to getting a co-sign from the Bloods because entertainers have learned that if you can connect yourself to the gang life, you might blow up. “That romanticism of the gang culture is huge with kids,” Barrett says. “Tekashi was very glamorized by the gang culture. They said, ‘Listen, we got the power to back you, we got the muscle to back you, no one’s gonna mess with you no more. You can utilize our name and our brand and as long as we’re getting something on the other end of that. That’s how this game works.'”
Barrett notes, however, that if you are getting something from the Nine Treys, they will expect something in return. Molina, who was pregnant at the time, says she was concerned that Hernandez was spending so much time with people who appeared to be gang members, and when she confronted the father of her child, he denied it. During the shoot for breakthrough single “Gummo,” Tekashi told the Bloods he wanted to wear one of their signature red bandanas just for the visual, perhaps not realizing how quickly that aesthetic decision would lock in the appearance that he was gang affiliated.
Being Down With the Bloods Allowed Hernandez to Start Endless Beefs
With the Nine Trey crew behind him, 69 began a series of beefs with other rappers, including Chief Keef, Lil Reese and Trippie Redd. “The reality of what this is leading to has been prison, has been death, and has been people being maimed, in wheelchairs and losing limbs,” Barrett says over a montage of images of 69 posing with Bloods and waving red bandanas.