If you’re of a certain age, it can feel certifiably impossible to keep up with the ever-expanding lineup of hip-hop’s young hitmakers.
There is one face in the rap crowd, though, that you’ve probably seen creep into your feed more often than any other of late. And it’s got a whole mess of tattoos on it.
With rainbow-colored hair and the third most famous face tattoos this side of Mike Tyson and Lil Wayne, 6ix9ine (aka Tekashi69) has one of the music industry’s most distinctive looks. The controversial, oft-troubled “scream rap” artist has also become one of the industry’s most consistent headline-makers, most recently for an incident at a South Florida gym in which the rapper was attacked and brutally beaten by a group of men and rushed to a hospital.
So who in the world is 6ix9nine, and why does his stage name look like your online banking password? Our explainer, below.
6ix9ine, né Daniel Hernandez, was born in 1986 in Bushwick, Brooklyn to a Mexican mother and Puerto Rican father. He was a star baseball player as a youth, attracting interest from major league scouts. He was raised a devout Christian, though barely knew his birth father, who struggled with a heroin addiction. His stepfather was shot and killed in 2010 just steps from their residence. The killing traumatized Hernandez, who acted out in school and was expelled in eighth grade. His family largely lived in poverty after his stepfather’s death.
Hernandez began rapping in 2012, and releasing music in 2014. His first song release? The expectedly raunchy trap track “69.” Bill and Ted’s favorite number would soon become part of his official stage name because of yes, the sexual position, but also its mirrored ying-yang symbol. Hernandez adopted “Tekashi” as a nod to the popular character in Katsuhiro Otomo’s famed 1988 anime favorite Akira.
Working with the Slovakian label FCK THEM, Tekashi69 drew attention on Soundcloud and social media over the next couple years for his aggressive cadence and colorful appearance.
His career took off in 2017 with the release of his first commercial single, “Gummo” (an homage to Harmony Korine’s wildly weird 1997 cult film), a diss track aimed at former associates Trippie Redd and SosMula that’s accompanying video featured the rapper flanked by about 100 Nine Trey Gangsta Blood gang members in red bandanas in front of Brooklyn brownstones. The song peaked at No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and its video has 429 million views and counting.
6ix9ine followed up “Gummo” with two more singles, “Kooda” and “Keke” (featuring Fetty Wap and A Boogie wit da Hoodie), all of which would be on his popular mixtape Day69, released in February 2018. Five months later the rapper released the single “Fefe,” which featured the red-hot Nicki Minaj over production by Murda Beatz and climbed all the way to No. 3 on the Hot 100, ultimately crossing the one billion views mark on YouTube. In November came 6ix9ine’s debut album, Dummy Boy, which also included features from Kanye West, Lil Baby and Tory Lanez, and became certified platinum.
Due largely to a world of legal trouble (see below), 6ix9ine has only released one full-length album since, 2020’s TattleTales. It included the singles “Gooba,” “Yaya,” “Punani” and “Trollz,” which again featured Minaj and became a No. 1 hit.
His controversies and arrest
Hernandez served jail time as a minor for assault and selling heroin, and his troubles escalated almost as soon as his music career popped off.
In 2015, he pled guilty to a felony count of use of a child in a sexual performance after three videos surfaced involving a 13-year-old girl. The rapper denied knowing she was a minor and struck a plea deal.
The year 2018 was a doozy. On June 2, Chicago drill rapper Chief Keef was fired upon outside a New York City hotel, which Hernandez later pled guilty to for paying $20,000 to orchestrate. On July 12, he was arrested for allegedly choking a 16-year-old in a Houston mall (charges were eventually dropped). On July 22, he was kidnapped, beaten and robbed shortly after shooting the video for “Fefe.”
And on Nov. 18, just a week before the release of Dummy Boy, Hernandez was arrested on federal racketeering charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, and faced up to 47 years in prison. In February 2019, the rapper struck a plea deal and testified against Nine Trey gang members. He was sentenced to only two years in prison, but was granted an even earlier release in April 2020 due to concerns over COVID given his pre-existing asthma condition; he served out the remainder of his sentence under house arrest until August.
While in prison, Hernandez admitted to seven years of domestic abuse reportedly against his ex-girlfriend (and the mother of the oldest of his two daughters), Sara Molina.
Several rappers have condemned Hernandez for his cooperating with prosecutors in the Nine Trey case, and he’s had a long list of feuds with folks in the industry including Meek Mill, King Von, 50 Cent, YG, Future, Lil Durk, Lil Treese, Lil Tjay and probably one or two other Lils.
No arrests have been made yet for the recent assault on him at a Florida gym.