The music industry thinks you’re dumb, and they think your kids are even dumber. They believe they can not only foist Danny Hernandez - a.k.a. Tekashi 6ix9ine - on the country in the guise of a chart-topping rapper, but use this cartoon character - all bright colors, shiny jewelry, and eternally trolling smirk - to behaviorally engineer a generation of snitches. Tekashi's early release from prison after serving even less than the two year sentence he received (of a potential life sentence with a mandatory minimum of 47 years) in return for ratting out the gang he used as a stepping stone to fame - plus other gangs and rival artists - should have ended with his exile to the dustbin of history. Trends in rap music may come and go, but nobody likes a snitch. Instead, we're told, he's one of the most popular artists out there.
The reader might be wondering why I’m writing about a barely-literate “rapper” whose song titles aren’t even real words - or why they’re reading about him in the guise of political commentary. But Tekashi’s significance far outweighs the staying power of his irritating “music,” and if you don’t know who he is, your children probably do. Ignore this creep at your peril. Tekashi is the vessel for an insidious strain of social programming aimed at convincing American kids - especially ethnic minorities - to turn their parents, friends, and other loved ones in to Big Brother. For legions of disaffected, alienated kids coming of age in a culture that is both morally and fiscally bankrupt, Tekashi is making it cool to be a snitch.
The US is eyeballs-deep in an identity crisis, with a national character once marked by independence having given way to one based on backstabbing obsequiousness - a craven rat-race to see who can follow the rules better than the next person. Tekashi 6ix9ine - whose rainbow-colored hair is only matched in garishness only by his massive diamond-studded cartoon pendants - is the pop culture avatar of Snitch Nation.
When the Brooklyn-born rapper managed to weasel his way out of prison a few months early by convincing the judge he was scared stiff of contracting the coronavirus, those who follow hip-hop drama expected him to fade into the shadows, having well and truly disgraced himself by ratting out nearly a dozen members of the Nine Trey Bloods gang whose “street cred” he’d exploited to become a massive star in the authenticity-hungry world of “Soundcloud rap."
Instead, he set an Instagram Live record last month, netting over 2 million viewers on his first post-prison stream, attracting a slate of the biggest names in hip-hop - people who supposedly (and who he admits should) hate his informant guts. And for the crowning moment of his unlikely comeback - advertised on a multi-story digital billboard in a pandemic-emptied Times Square - he followed it up by releasing a song called “Gooba” that racked up a record-breaking 43 million views in its first 24 hours, somehow soaring to number three on the Billboard Hot 100. The troll was on a roll.
A snitch by any other name…
Making snitching cool is no small task. Americans were once filled with an instinctive disgust for tattle-tales that began in youth. But in more recent decades, as helicopter parents and the schools they police have become obsessed with “bullying,” tattling has slowly been reinvented as, if not a virtue, at least not a crime meriting pariah status. Children are expected to run home to their parents at the slightest adversity, even adult children; the phenomenon of parents applying for jobs for their adult kids is now so common in some industries that companies like Google, LinkedIn and Amazon actually host events for parents of potential employees, a tacit acknowledgment that these parents - not their millennial children - are the ones deciding on the position. The “call-out culture” of online ‘social justice warriors’ actually incentivizes tattling on those guilty of politically incorrect “wrongthink,” so long as the person being tattled on can be framed as privileged.
The coronavirus pandemic saw the rise of a new breed of snitch that clogged specially-designated tattle-tale lines with complaints about their neighbors and even strangers failing to abide by the ever-changing and often arbitrary rules imposed by local governments, supposedly to control the spread of the virus. With tens of millions of Americans suddenly out of work and being presented with a lucrative job opportunity in “contact tracing,” the idea of being a professional snitch was no longer restricted to jailhouse rats like Tekashi. And the post-pandemic race war has renewed enthusiasm for “canceling” wrongthinkers, even if their transgressions happened over 7 years ago - getting a celebrity or brand unpersoned is a feather in the cap for social media users animated not by curiosity or imagination but by spite. Snitching is suddenly everywhere, and it’s not just tolerated - it’s praised.
Contact tracers must take a six-hour free online course, but other than that the profession - presented in a plethora of puff pieces as a “life-saving” role accompanied by fabulous pay and excellent job security - has no barrier to entry. During that course, the student is subtly brainwashed to believe they are heroes who can save their community from a killer plague if they just put aside their concerns about other people’s privacy and remember that their primary loyalty is to the state, not their friends and family. That last part is important - the instructor in Johns Hopkins’ contact tracing course specifically warns the student that even if they know Person A has tested positive for Covid-19 and their mother has an appointment for dinner with Person A, they are forbidden to warn their mother to cancel the dinner - even if she’s old and sick and getting infected could kill her.
The ideal contact-tracer, then, is an already-alienated soul with no close family or friends for whom snitching - especially the kind of snitching that deprives others of their close relationships through the cruelty of quarantine (otherwise known as solitary confinement, a punishment banned as inhumane in many countries’ prisons) - supplies much-needed gratification. Who is more alienated than Generation Z, the young adults who’ve grown up untroubled by the notion of privacy, a smartphone in their hand since they were old enough to hold it, the “digital natives” for whom the socially-distant world of Covid-19 quarantine is not abnormal at all because they already conducted their social and romantic lives online? An entire generation of kids who’ve been taught to carry a chip on their shoulder, resenting the people one rung above them on the ladder while lacking the understanding that there’s an entire class of people at the top of that same ladder ensuring success and security remain out of their reach are the ideal contact-tracers, in the community but not of it.
Tekashi’s comeback livestream is instructive in figuring out how the narrative managers are attempting to reprogram the youth. In a rambling, borderline-incoherent broadcast, the newly-free reprobate flaunts his pricey watches, thrusts his diamond-encrusted shark into the camera while bragging about how much it cost, and dances around to the tune of “Bad Boys” - the theme song from the (now ironically cancelled) ‘Cops’ TV show - with a pair of handcuffs dangling from one wrist, jockeying for space among the watches. The not-so-subtle message is the unlocked handcuffs are as much of a status symbol as the Rolexes.
And what his first post-prison “hit” lacks in lyrical virtuosity (chorus: “are you dumb, stupid, or dumb?” All of the above, thanks!), its video makes up in Pavlovian conditioning. Rather than try to downplay his newfound reputation as a “rat,” he revels in it, even pulling up a pant leg at one point to reveal his ankle monitor (coming soon to a lockdown defier near you) with the same pride as he flaunts his shark piece. In a gesture designed to enrage, he briefly superimposes a cartoon mouse head on his own as he flails around in front of a rainbow-colored horde of ample-assed “video vixens” (one of whom is apparently his girlfriend, who we’re told stuck by him faithfully while he was locked up). The moral of the story: snitch and all this can be yours. Put aside those pesky ethics. There’s no downside to stepping on people on your way to the top.
Indeed, Tekashi’s post-prison trolling has hit its targets with such flawless accuracy that it’s clear someone else is stage-managing his “outrageous” behavior. On the heels of that record-breaking Instagram stream, he jumped into a public feud with Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, whose insipid lockdown-fetish anthem “Stuck With U” was then at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100, claiming the pair and their manager had bought their way to the top of the chart. While reassuring Grande that his accusations were in no way meant to detract from her success, Tekashi expertly tugged at fans’ heartstrings by explaining that unlike privileged white child-star Grande, he’d grown up in the ‘hood with a mother who was forced to collect cans to survive. And at the height of the George Floyd protests against racism and police brutality, with riots roiling dozens of American cities, he announced a Nicki Minaj collaboration with proceeds to be donated to The Bail Project, which funds bail assistance for low-income people. The title? “Trollz,” of course.
The perfect (empty) vessel
Turning Generation Z into Generation Snitch won’t be difficult. Since 2015, the Department of Homeland Security has been partnering with schools and even universities on the Project Safe Campus program, which pays students $100 to snitch on their classmates in the name of keeping the hallways safe (and lavishes $3,000 on the school for every "actionable tip" received by police - can you say "extra credit project"?). With the economy in ruins and a politically-hopeless landscape offering young people little chance of productive engagement, all they need is an attractive role model to emulate. And what’s Tekashi - a rags-to-riches story spliced with a flashy redemption narrative - but a role model? A cartoon character literally represented by another cartoon character, dripping with the money and clout that are the only things American society truly values in 2020, the rapper is a seductive construct to any alienated young adult. What person given the shaft by society hasn’t dreamed of flouting social norms and not only getting away with it, but getting paid handsomely for it?
Sweetening the deal is the aspirational character arc. After all, the young rapper has been declared officially forgiven - hip-hop icon Akon, the first ‘big name’ to publicly defend Tekashi’s snitching back in April by highlighting up the performer’s youth and inexperience and suggesting the gang members Tekashi got locked up had “used” the rapper to make millions, announced his own collaboration with the rainbow-haired troll last week. The redemption deal was sealed with a remake of Akon’s first-ever single, auspiciously titled “Locked Up 2.” Nicki Minaj cemented that narrative the day before their own collaboration dropped, pointing out that Tekashi was a rapper, not a “street n*gga” and reminding the audience that if some deep-pocketed “rat” came along with a record deal for them, they’d take that rat’s money.
Turning the rat into the wronged one takes cast-iron chutzpah, but the narrative seems to be holding. Tekashi has held fast to his self-victimization, faux-apologizing for his snitching (“I’m sorry if you were offended…”) without sparing a word for the families of the men who will likely spend the rest of their lives in prison on racketeering charges because of him. Even Tekashi’s 2015 criminal conviction for using a child in a sexual performance - a presumed deal-killer in the #MeToo era that somehow never did more than raise a few eyebrows, netting a probation sentence despite his pleading guilty to three felonies - has remained obediently dormant, and photo-documented allegations of extensive domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend Sara Molina, the mother of his child, haven’t hurt his popularity. While Minaj and Akon have been dragged by fans for collaborating with a “rat,” the industry press have closed ranks around them, and all complaints are relegated to social media and comments sections. Ratting has been ordained part of the New Normal.
It’s worth asking how an “artist” whose fame grew out of starting “beefs,” looking weird, and hanging out with a real-life gang has led such a charmed life. As the star witness against that gang, his career was assumed to be over in October - before he reportedly signed a $10 million record deal. And Tekashi knew he’d be more popular than ever upon his release, claiming his critics were secretly jealous and that everyone else would soon forget his transgressions. While it’s unlikely he fully grasps the purpose for which he is being used, he clearly understands he’s not being forced to play by the rules everyone else obeys - and he can’t seem to resist rubbing it in everyone else’s face.
A cocky, untouchable star who beats women is fundamentally unlikable, so Tekashi has been consistently portrayed as the underdog. Those scripting the drama that is his public life carefully select as enemies fellow musicians who are either more established, white, or both. The artists selected for his comeback collaborations have been older, established black musicians with large and loyal fan-bases, suitable to play the mentor role (Akon) or a quasi-maternal role (the 37-year-old Minaj doubles as a ‘MILF’ figure). Thus he remains the newcomer, even though he’s been on the “scene” for years - a lengthy career in the flash-in-the-pan world of Soundcloud Rap in which stars debut, blow up, OD, get locked up, and/or die often within a single year. Tekashi is Mexican, not black, but the gang that adopted him was black and he’s light-skinned enough to “pass” for white. As a result, disadvantaged, disaffected youth of all races and ethnicities can potentially identify with him. The over-the-top performative nature of his public persona leaves plenty of room for his audience to sketch out the “real” Daniel Hernandez in their own image.
Uncle Sam Wants You…
Contact-tracing programs and the “community policing” initiatives the ruling class hopes to roll out on their backs require collaborators in the target populations. This is not negotiable, as public health NGOs who have tried to conduct contact tracing in African villages during past ebola epidemics learned the hard way. NGO workers who showed up in a village asking questions were generally attacked and chased out; contact-tracers recruited from among the villagers were trusted and cooperated with. With trust in US authorities at rock-bottom levels especially among marginalized communities - for good reason, given the country’s horrific history of experimenting on these populations without consent - the ruling class needs snitches, and it needs them to join up voluntarily. A coerced snitch might work for law enforcement, but it doesn’t work here - the rat’s whole world must center on the cheese.
Revolutionary movements throughout history have understood the utility of using the youth as their enforcers. Their minds are more malleable, they’re more idealistic, more trusting, and less sure of their own identities. These same characteristics make the youth appealing to the ruling class interests seeking to recruit soldiers for its own “revolution” - which is not a revolution at all but an insurrection designed to destroy communities from within by turning their members against one another. As the American system, hollowed out by decades of Wall Street plunder, begins to crumble before Generation Z’s eyes, mass media has prepared them for the realization that they have little to look forward to besides shiny objects and big-booty bitches. Tekashi is proof that one can snitch and still have all the goodies - indeed, that one MUST snitch in order to get the goodies. In a nation of snitches, honesty is a handicap, so why not betray your neighbors, your parents, your friends, before they betray you?
A nation of rats stabbing each other in the back is ideal for the order-out-of-chaos philosophy that drives the ruling class, but truly dividing and conquering Snitch Nation requires elevating some snitches above others. Not all snitching is acceptable in this brave new world, and the terms of what is acceptable shift periodically, keeping everyone off-balance and constantly in fear that last week’s noble call-out will render them persona non grata this week. The narrative managers have successfully racialized the practice of tattling, holding up the archetype of the “Karen” - a middle-aged white woman with a layered bob haircut demanding to speak to the manager - for hate and ridicule. In practice, however, the Karen is in the eye of the beholder: is a working-class white woman who “calls out” a fellow working-class white woman for a Halloween costume she wore 10 years ago, now seen as culturally appropriative, an advocate for the oppressed or an exemplar of privilege trying to impose today’s norms on yesterday? What about a wealthy black man who calls out the same working-class white woman for that costume? A previous generation might have written off the entire discussion as puke-worthy PC navel gazing, but in 2020 we’re expected to subject the interaction to a detailed intersectional analysis and care deeply about the result - while the ruling class continues to rob us blind and spend our tax dollars bombing Yemeni kids. Somehow, the “white privilege” that allows Uncle Sam to blanket the Middle East with wholesome ‘murican bombs never enters the conversation.
In this New Normal, an act of snitching is exempted from Karenhood if it can be framed as “punching up.” Amy Cooper, the “Central Park Karen” who called the police on a black birdwatcher who tried to feed her dog a treat in order to convince her to leash the creature (which was off its leash in a wildlife preservation area of Central Park), was universally reviled for feigning peril to a 911 operator, putting the birdwatcher’s life in danger by inviting the intervention of the trigger-happy NYPD (“an African-American man is threatening my and my dog’s life!”). But the internet vigilantes who hammered her employer, Franklin Templeton Investments, to the point that they first suspended and then fired her were celebrated. One can argue that Amy Cooper deserved to lose her job and briefly become the face of systemic racism in the US for making that phone call. But one must also admit that it’s a slippery slope from exposing Karens to ratting out lockdown-breakers, quarantine-violators, and other victimless “criminals” - and that the narrative managers are training internet rage-mobs to react to both with the same vociferousness. One need only recall how the media establishment ran lengthy stories early in the Covid-19 pandemic talking up “quarantine-shaming,” affirming it as a noble pursuit - three months later, Americans are shrieking at their unmasked fellows, chasing them out of supermarkets like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
But will it work?
For all the public-relations muscle behind the Tekashi 6ix9ine “project,” the response has been mixed. The Trollz video had 158,000 “thumbs down” 24 hours after it went live, compared to 2.2 million “thumbs up.” The record-breaking Instagram Live stream likely included as many haters and curious rubberneckers as fans, and YouTube has been known to memory hole “dislikes” and goose view counts on material that supports the desired narrative. Even non-profit No Kid Hungry rejected a $200,000 donation the colorful troll dangled in front of them in May, releasing a statement that explained that “as a child-focused campaign, it is our policy to decline funding from donors whose activities do not align with our mission and values.” Ouch.
But one must not underestimate the power of repetition. His songs get extensive radio play, and the hip-hop press can’t stop talking about him. Already the hate being thrown his way when it first emerged he was cooperating to lock away his one-time gang colleagues has quieted down. At the same time, the economic climate in the US continues to deteriorate, making contact tracing - one of the few growth industries left in America, and one whose starting pay ($65,000 in New York!) is nothing to sneeze at - more and more attractive. Young adults, seeing no future in the career they may once have wanted to pursue, may become professional snitches out of need; others will see the job as a way to exact revenge on those they feel have wronged them.
As protests against police violence continue across the nation, ill-defined “community policing” initiatives are increasingly presented as solutions. Community policing doesn’t have to be exploitative, and certainly the violent and militarized model of policing the US has today must be changed, but as long as the same political class remains in power and there’s no accountability to be had for the “bad apples,” the “new boss” will be no less oppressive than the “old boss.” Individuals from poor and minority neighborhoods will be paid to inform on their neighbors, and surveillance technology will be rolled out that makes existing practices seem positively antiquated, enabled by the 5G networks whose installation was fast-tracked while everyone was distracted with the pandemic. The future will be a grim place indeed unless we push back against efforts to normalize snitching. Efforts to abolish the police must not end with everyday people taking their place.