This week, in a federal courtroom in Manhattan, 6ix9ine, one of the most polarizing and combustible rappers in recent memory, proved as eager a star witness as he was a viral sensation.
Across more than two days of testimony and an afternoon of cross-examination, 6ix9ine, born Daniel Hernandez and also known as Tekashi 69, admitted to his role in a New York street gang, the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods, and detailed an array of what he called “violent crimes, robberies, assaults, drugs, stuff of that nature.”
In his role as government witness in the racketeering trial of two former associates — one part of a broader racketeering and firearms case that prosecutors brought against the Nine Trey gang last November — 6ix9ine also exposed some little-seen crevices of the music and social media industries, including the nexus between gang hierarchies and hip-hop, and the way street credibility can become cultural capital.
Below, in edited excerpts from his testimony as recorded in court transcripts, which included strong language, 6ix9ine describes in his own words — under oath — how he went from an aspiring, rainbow-haired rapper in Bushwick, Brooklyn, to a cash cow, pot-stirrer and chart-topper for a criminal enterprise, all in the span of barely a year.
Q. So, you said that you started a music career, is that right?
Q. Approximately when did that happen?
A. I’d say around 2014.
Q. And how did it come about?
A. Well, at the — at the store I was working in, Stay Fresh Grill, there was a guy by the name Peter Rogers always, always coming in there, buying things like tilapia, peanuts, stuff like that. He asked me if I, if I made music, if I rap. I was like, No. And he was like: Well, you got the image for it. You look cool. I was like, you know, I took it into consideration, and we started making music with the guy.
6ix9ine testified that after a few years toiling in the rap underground — including a tour of Eastern Europe that netted him about $ 2,000 — his music career hit a new gear around November 2017, when he linked up with members of the Bloods to film a music video for what would be his breakthrough hit, “Gummo.” It was there, on Madison Street in Brooklyn, that 6ix9ine met Shotti, born Kifano Jordan, who would become his manager and entree into gang life. (Jordan has pleaded guilty to the charges against him in this case.)
Q. Mr. Hernandez, how did the filming of “Gummo” come about?
A. Around August of 2017, I made the song “Gummo.” At this time I had signed a management deal with Chris Ehigiator, who was my press manager. When I met Chris Ehigiator, I signed a 20 percent management deal where I would give him 20 percent of my earnings. He had a best friend named Seqo Billy. Being that Seqo Billy was Chris Ehigiator’s best friend, I would be around him a lot, so I made the song “Gummo” and I put a line in there saying that, “in the hood with them Billy niggas.”
Q. Now —
A. So — so, then I put that line in the song. When I was ready to film the video, I approached Seqo Billy and I asked him if we could get — Billy was Nine Trey, so I asked him if we could get some Nine Trey members to be part of the video, because I wanted the aesthetic to be, you know, full with Nine Trey Blood members because I’m in the song. […] I told Seqo that I would like for them to all be in red.
Q. Why red?
A. Because red is, is what a Blood member would wear, so I want the video to be full of red. So, before the video shoot I went to go buy over 3,000 red bandannas and I showed them to 370 Madison. Right after that, when I got there, Seqo greeted me and introduced me to Shotti. Shotti was at the top of the stairs. When I met him, I — I went straight to him, and he said: What’s up, homey? We here for you. Whatever you need, we here. Couple of the homies going to show up in a little bit. It’s just us right now, but a couple of the homies going to show up. In the meantime, you need anything, I said I’m good. I told him if he needed anything. He said, Get a bottle of Henny and something to eat for the guys.
Q. What is a bottle of Henny?
A. Henny’s a type of liquor. Hennessy.
At many points throughout his questioning, 6ix9ine was asked to explain slang from lyrics, text messages and social media posts, often connecting the terms to gang life.
Q. Mr. Hernandez, I’m going to ask you some questions about the lyrics of “Gummo.” Beginning with the first line, there’s a reference to a word “blicky.” What is blicky?
A. Blicky is another word for gun.
Q. And on the second line, there’s the phrase in the middle “drum it holds 50.” What is that in reference to?
A. Drum is an attachment that you have to a gun, carries extra clips, bullets. [ …]
Q. Turning to the second stanza, second line of the second stanza, there’s a line there, “in the hood with them Billy N-word and them Hoover N-word.” What is that in reference to?
A. Me stating who I’m around.
Q. And what is Billy?
A. Billy’s Nine Trey.
Elsewhere, he addressed additional lyrics:
Q. In the third line, it reads, “all my N-word on 50, so you know we hopped out.” The phrase “on 50,” what does that mean?
A. Fifty is to be on point, like to be aware.
Q. Is that a term associated with Nine Trey or Bloods in general?
A. Bloods in general — I mean, I think gang awareness. [ …]
Q. On the next line, Line 4, it reads, “mobbed out opps out, we gon’ show what we about.” What are you talking about in that line?
A. So, in this line I’m saying mobbed out, like mob, referencing, like, we’re — we’re in large numbers, mobbed out. Like we mobbed out. Opps out is like opposition, like the opps, opposition, our opposition are out, so we’re mobbed out, they’re opps out, “we gon’ show what we about.”
A Symbiotic Relationship
6ix9ine described “Gummo” as an “instant sensation” — its YouTube video, marked as “inappropriate for some users,” has now been viewed more than 350 million times — that would strengthen his relationship with Nine Trey as his star rose. The success of the song led to another track, “Kooda,” soon after, he said.
Q. After the release of “Gummo,” did you have any other conversations with either Seqo or Shotti about filming another video?
A. Yeah. So — so, when I released “Gummo,” I was in Los Angeles. I wasn’t authorized to release the video with the label, so I just put it out anyway. I just threw it up on YouTube and just said whatever happens, happens. When I uploaded the video and there was such — like, a lot of people were showing attention to it, Shotti actually called Seqo and said, quote: This little nigga knows what he’s doing. I thought all that rainbow hair [expletive] was — you know, he was bugging for that — but he know what he’s doing. Tell him to stay in touch.
Q. So what happened?
A. I stayed in touch. […] Well, after — after — after we shot “Gummo,” I knew I had a formula. I knew the formula was to repeat it. You know what I’m saying?
Q. To repeat what?
A. To repeat the gang — how — what’s the word for it? The gang image, I would say, like promote it. You know what I’m trying to say? That’s what people like, so it was like — it was just a formula, a blueprint that I found that worked. So, I told Shotti I wanted to — at this time, after “Gummo” came out, not to skip over a lot of stuff, we became really close. So, I would hang out at 370 Madison a lot, hang out with him, and I asked him to — if it was a good idea to film “Kooda,” and — and we started filming “Kooda.”
After “Kooda,” 6ix9ine said, his status in Nine Trey was solidified:
Q. Let me ask you a better question. With respect to Nine Trey, what happened after you released “Kooda”?
A. After I released “Kooda,” I was officially a Nine Trey member. They made me a Nine Trey member. […] I guess jokingly — jokingly I was sent text messages like, yo, let me shoot my 31, let me shoot my 31. And Seqo then started sending me the greetings of Nine Trey. Never sent me an oath or nothing, but just sent me like the greetings and how you greet other members and stuff like that. That’s what happened.
Q. Were you initiated into the gang?
Q. Did you have an understanding based on your conversations with some of the other members whether or not there was an initiation process into Nine Trey?
A. I acknowledged there is initiation in the gang, period, but I understood from being a member of Nine Trey you would have to shoot your 31.
Q. What does shoot your 31 mean?
A. From my understanding, like fight for 31 seconds.
Q. Fight whom?
A. Another Nine Trey member or multiple.
Q. Were there other ways that one could be initiated into Nine Trey?
A. Yeah. Commit another crime, like in furtherance, put in work for the gang.
Asked specifically what each side got out of the arrangement, 6ix9ine described an ever-present dynamic in the music industry: some people provide capital and others provide something less tangible.
Q. As a member of Nine Trey what responsibilities, if any, did you have?
A. Just keep making hits and be the financial support for the gang.
Q. What do you mean by the financial support for the gang?
A. Financially support, making money, making money through the records and providing it to the members of Nine Trey, whether it’s for their own personal reasons, equipping with guns. […]
Q. And what, if anything, did you get from Nine Trey?
A. I would say my career.
Q. How do you mean?
A. Like the credibility.
Q. What credibility?
A. Street credibility. The videos, the music, the protection. All of the above.
Throughout his testimony, 6ix9ine also invoked other rappers known to be affiliated with the Bloods, including Jim Jones. But 6ix9ine denied that he borrowed the blueprint for success via gang affiliation from Cardi B, who has also spoken in the past about her ties to the group.
Q. Now, you joined the Bloods specifically to advance your music career, correct?
Q. You knew that that was a way to gain attention?
Q. You had never seen anybody join the Bloods and advance their music career before?
A. Not that I recall.
Q. You knew Cardi B was a Blood, right?
Q. You knew Cardi B had made music videos with Bloods members in the background of her, right?
Q. You knew that before you started making these songs, right?
A. No, I didn’t pay attention.
By summer of 2018, 6ix9ine said he had started giving gang members large amounts of cash from his music earnings, which he understood would be put toward buying firearms and taking care of other members. “Feed the wolves,” he was told.
Q. What does it mean to feed?
A. Like support them. […] From my understanding, you know, it was for them, it was for the homies. Homies, to take care of them. I was the eating. I was O.K. I was making money. My understanding was, make sure they are good financially, you know, stable. Shotti was always big on equipping himself with the right artillery, guns and everything. If we had to be ready for war, you know, we will have that.
6ix9ine said that as his profile rose, and his ties with Nine Trey got deeper, everyone was expected to protect one another’s honor in both street and rap beefs. Establishing himself as an internet troll — “antagonizing, mocking” rivals — 6ix9ine said he enlisted members of Nine Trey to attack his adversaries, including the rappers Trippie Redd, Casanova and Chief Keef, along with associates of the storied Texas label Rap-A-Lot.
Q. Mr. Hernandez, the first line, “N-word runnin’ out they mouth but they never pop out,” what does that refer to?
A. Well, the whole — the whole paragraph, it speaks about — well, the first line — actually, it’s about, I wanted to address all the controversy that was going on after “Gummo” was released. A lot of people really didn’t understand it.
Q. Didn’t understand what?
A. They didn’t understand how, I guess, a kid with rainbow hair could be affiliated with Nine Trey Bloods, and it just didn’t mix. So, the first line is “N-word runnin’ out they mouth but they never pop out,” just in generally speaking, people — if you replace the N-word with people, people runnin’ out they mouth but they never pop out. So, that’s what I meant by it.
Q. Again, what was the genesis of “Kooda”? Why did you make “Kooda”? Was it in response to anything?
A. Yeah, it was in response to everything, all the backlash from the public to, you know — just the Trippie Redd stuff going on, everything, other rappers talking, you know. […]
Q. Did those disputes ever extend beyond words and internet insults?
Q. Was there violence?
Q. Directing your attention to November 2017, did there come a time when there was an altercation between members of Nine Trey and Trippie Redd?
Q. What happened?
A. We attacked him in his hotel, assaulted him.
6ix9ine testified that his dispute with Rap-A-lot stemmed from a disregard by his associates for the gang tradition of “checking in” when visiting another city.
Q. What is checking in?
A. When you fly into somebody else’s city, their community, their hood. Not every city does it, but usually like other artists will check in with other, you know, gang members there or someone who holds authority there. Usually if you’re gang affiliated and you’re a member of the Bloods, say, you would check in with someone who is Blood in that city. It could be another gang, you know what I’m saying. The term checking in is whether paying your respects, paying some money doing a feature with an artist there or, you know — yeah.
Q. As an example, if you were to go from New York say to Los Angeles to perform, would you have to check in?
A. We didn’t check in, no. Yeah, yeah. Generally speaking, yeah. If you’re gang affiliated, they expect you to check in. Even if you’re not gang affiliated, they expect you to check in.
After Rap-A-Lot affiliates prevented 6ix9ine from performing a concert in Texas, members of Nine Trey sought revenge by robbing its rivals in New York.
Q. O.K. Why did you want to record the robbery?
A. To publicize it, that they tried to embarrass us so now we going to rob them in our city.
6ix9ine also described offering $ 20,000 to an associate — the namesake of the song “Kooda” — to shoot at the Chicago rapper Chief Keef, with whom he had exchanged words online and by phone.
A. I was in California at the time, and I gave orders to my friend Kooda to shoot at him.
Q. And how did that come about?
A. I was in California in a hotel room. I was on the phone with Kooda. He said, I got eyes on — like, I’m going to have eyes on him. I said make sure I have 20 Benz on him.
Q. Can you —
A. Benz is a thousand so 20 Benz is $ 20,000.
Q. And Kooda told you he had eyes on it?
A. He said he going to have eyes on it, know where he at.
Q. Who is the he?
A. Chief Keef.
Q. What happened?
A. Around 4 a.m., I want to say — not to put a time on it, but around the morning, very morning hours, I was on the phone with Kooda. Kooda said, I got eyes on him. I was like: All right. You got eyes. Kooda fired a shot in the air, and that was that, and the very next morning, after that happened, it made — it was publicized I mocked Chief Keef.
Q. Did there come a time when you met up with Kooda B after the shooting?
Q. What happened?
A. I gave him only $ 10,000 instead of $ 20,000.
Q. Who were you with?
A. I was with Shotti.
Q. How did it come about that you gave him less money than what you talked about?
A. Shotti told me not to give him no 20,000, that Kooda fired one shot in the air.
Things Go South
Because of gang infighting and disputes over 6ix9ine’s earnings, members of Nine Trey were at odds by the summer of 2018, the rapper said. He testified that his former bodyguard was one of two men who kidnapped 6ix9ine that July, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry and setting the group on a path to ruin. 6ix9ine also explained how the incident affected his public profile.
Q. Now, Mr. Hernandez, in the days that followed the robbery, did you give interviews concerning the robbery?
Q. Were you truthful in those interviews?
A. Some part, yeah.
Q. Were there parts that were not truthful?
Q. Why did you lie?
A. Because I was humiliated.
Q. Humiliated by what?
A. Humiliated that I constantly bragged that nobody could touch me, and I was untouchable, and I was the king of New York. […] I was bragging a lot on Instagram that I was untouchable, nobody could touch me, I’m the king of my city, which was New York. And it was just humiliating at the time; so, yeah.
At the time, he said, he did not report his assailants because he was still following the code of the Bloods. He also said he offered $ 50,000 for someone to rob or shoot at his captor.
A. I was still part of the Nine Trey lineup, and there was no snitching. That wasn’t the code. The code, meaning that there was a street code that you weren’t able to snitch, and it was loyalty involved.
A few months later, 6ix9ine would be arrested alongside his former associates on gang-related charges. Within 24 hours, he said, the rapper had agreed to plead guilty and testify against the others, in hopes of leniency in his own sentencing.
Q. What do you hope to be sentenced to?
A. Time served. […]
Q. And you entered into that cooperation agreement because you wanted to stay out of jail, right?
Q. Not because you wanted to help the government?
A. A little bit of both.
Q. You’re testifying as a cooperating witness because you want to help the government?
Q. It’s to keep yourself out of jail, isn’t it?
A. Yeah, help myself, yeah.
6ix9ine, who may yet testify again in additional trials, faces up to life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 47 years, though his role as a witness could result in a lower sentence. What happens next — witness protection? an attempted return to rap? — remains to be seen, though 6ix9ine may face an uphill battle in restoring his credibility after being labeled a “snitch,” a predicament alluded to near the end of his testimony.
Q. Before these charges were brought, you had a lot of fans?
Q. You still have a lot of fans?
A. I hope so.