Cause I let my nuts drag: 6ix9ine A Product of American Exceptionalism

“It’s always 6ix9ine this and 6ix9ine that” (Hernandez, 2018). Tekashi 6ix9ine is one of today’s most controversial artists. Yet,  while he is one of the most controversial artists he is also one of the most-streamed artists. It is his polarization that leads me to this project. His polarization for me raises questions like how was a Mexican American with rainbow hair from Bushwick, New York able to join a culture that he is an outsider from and have commercial success?  Also, I wonder how an artist who has been convicted of the use of a child in a sexual performance and racketeering is able to maintain commercial success? It is these questions that I turn a mirror on the United States and question its values and morals. And through this reflection, I realize that 6ix9ine is the personification of the United States. This is to say just like how 6ix9ine believes he is the King of New York, the United States also believes it is the King of the world. This way of thinking is the essence of American Exceptionalism which grants Americans the right to the world which allows for the United States to colonize Latin American countries. Through this process of colonization, the United States violently disrupts and displaces Latin American countries thus forcing people from these countries to seek refuge elsewhere. Many of these people seek refuge in the United States like 6ix9ine’s family. However colonization does not end in these Latin American countries but in fact, it continues to manifest for these refugees in the United States. It is through this domestic colonization and exceptionalism that 6ix9ine is able to have success. This is to say both International and domestic forms of American Exceptionalism have led Daniel Hernandez or more commonly known as Tekashi 6ix9ine to embody a legible image of masculinity (Neal, 2013) which presented him the opportunity to participate in gangsta culture (hooks, 1997). Through his participation in gangsta culture, he was able to appropriate a non-dominant radical movement in order to achieve mainstream American commercial success.

It is important to note that this paper is not a glorification of the activities that 6ix9ine has engaged in, nor is this a celebration of crime or death, but rather this is a comparative study to demonstrate that the actions that 6ix9ine participates in are just merely a reflection of the United States’ foreign policy in Latin America. In order to complete this study, I will be using the aforementioned theoretical framework to analyze 6ix9ine’s 2017 music video Gummo. In this music video, 6ix9ine identifies and ‘supports’ a radical non-dominant movement the ‘Bloods’ through self-othering. In this process of self-othering 6ix9ine is able to present a legible image of himself that gives him great optics for his career, thus in return, he is financially rewarded. Similarly, the United States’ interventions in Latin America have and still identifies and ‘support’ non-dominant radical movements in Latin American countries like Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia, and Cuba. The United States justifies these interventions in these countries by saying it is  ‘spreading democracy’ and helping these radical movements fight against corrupt governments. It is with this justification that the United States is able to preserve its exceptional image which it uses to hide its own ‘American Colonial Capitalist Imperial Power Project’. 

Before an argument and examination can take place we need to understand a few crucial things. First, the Colonial Capitalist Imperial Power Project is a project that is designed by the structure of the white capitalist supremacy patriarchy. The white capitalist supremacy patriarchy is theorized by bell hooks as essentially a system of powers to describe how America operates through patriarchy where white individuals, specifically white males, hold supremacy over minorities. hooks explicitly uses the word capitalist to draw attention to how America is a society where those who own a substantial amount of capital also control labor, values of commodities, and ideas of consumerism also hold all the power. Therefore, a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is a society where white wealthy heterosexual males are inherently granted with certain powers and privileges that enable them to hold supremacy over minority groups. Using this inherent power and privilege the supreme group in this case white heterosexual wealthy cist males are able to create certain cultures, systems, images, and ideologies for the subaltern or minority groups to live by. One of the most prevailing, controlling cultures, and systems that the white capitalist supremacy patriarchy creates is patriarchal masculinity.

To understand patriarchal masculinity we again turn to bell hooks. In her 2004 book titled We Real Cool. bell hooks in her chapter gangster culture delivers two different forms of masculinity. First hooks introduces her coined term of ‘patriarchal masculinity’  which is the idea that “if a man is not a worker he is nothing”(hooks, 2004, p.30).  This idea conditions men and normalizes across gender, sex, color, and class lines the idea that if a man is not working then he is nothing. But also this idea shows how our body’s are supposed to be only vessels to be only used for work and that our humanity is measured by our work. It is this messaging that tells folks you need to work in order to survive. The reliance on work for a person’s survival is the same messaging of neoliberalism which violently pathologizes that people need to just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and just work harder. This pathologizing creates a society or culture of individuals who sees others as the enemy. A concrete example of such culture that creates individuals who are pinned up against each other as enemies is the gangsta culture. The “Gangsta culture is the essence of patriarchal masculinity. Popular culture tells young black males that only the predator survives” (hooks, 2004, p.27). While the gangsta culture is the essence of patriarchal masculinity it is also a radical community response to the white capitalist supremacy patriarchal structure.

Gangs have been around since the dawn of time. This is to say gangs have been around for ages as they have been formed as a sense of community to resist the violence of the state. In the Black community, a notable gang that has done such work is the Bloods. Now the Bloods have a complicated history as their narrative is pitted against their rivals the Crips. But what is important to know about the Bloods and the Crips is that their history and story begin with they were both formed as coalitions to resist the state violence that was brought into their communities by the federal government through the state creation of the ‘crack era’ This is to say  “Much like their rivals, the Crips, the founding of the Bloods is steeped in legend and it is difficult to definitively construct a founding narrative” (Gann, 2011). Not many people know the origins of these movements and gangs. For instance, we are not told the stories that “ The CRIPs were not always the gang-bangers they are known to be. The CRIPs were formed in 1969. Raymond Washington, a high school student at the time founded the organization in response to the increasing level of police harassment of the Black community… CRIPs stood for Community Resources for Independent People. It was styled on the Black Panther Party which was formed 3 years earlier, by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, further down the west coast in Oakland” ( Brown). We are not told these stories because they do not fit the agenda of the white capitalist supremacist patriarchy. 

Instead, the white capitalist supremacist patriarchy uses controlling images to tell essentializing stories as a way to hide their agenda of maintaining and sustaining the colonial imperial capitalist power project. A controlling image is a stereotypical image that is“designed to make racism, sexism, and poverty appear to be natural, normal and an inevitable part of everyday life” (Collins, 2000, p.69). These images are used to control a certain narrative. And often these images work on a binary of legible and illegible. Through putting these images on this binary of legibility the white capitalist supremacist patriarchy is able to control its narrative by normalizing its racism, sexism, and poverty by making exceptions by deeming people who defy these narratives as illegible. 

So how do these images work? Mark Anthony Neal in his fantastic book titled Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities explores ideas of legible and illegible images by looking at how the masculinity for  Black men is constructed. In this book, Neal coins two forms of masculinity for Black men Legible masculinity and Illegible masculinity. Illegible masculinities are in essence masculinities that do not fit heteronormative assumptions and that challenge stereotypical bodies like queer bodies or successful Black males who are not athletes or drug dealers.  Legible masculinities do fit the mold of heteronormative assumptions and stereotypes like a person who is seen as a gang-banging drug dealer. These ideas of legible and illegible images are the essence of American exceptionalism. Meaning, America constructs its narrative and agenda by using this image to mark people or groups as legible or illegible. Additionally, America constructs its own image based on an illegible image of itself. This is to say America embodies this illegible image which is built on a lie that America is a country that wants to help the world by spreading democracy to help countries that are seen as legible or in other words countries that are seen as poor, disenfranchised, and corrupt. Through embodying this illegible America is able to self-other to uphold its exceptional image which it uses to defend its “right to the world”.

The United States has been able to build its empire upon this exceptional image. This exceptional image has given the United States the power to be able to self-other and say “look at your corrupt governments and look at your poverty. We are here to help you”. Using this image the United States works to hide their own efforts of negative interventions in these countries by focusing on the individual’s efforts rather than having individuals look at the white capitalist supremacist patriarchy that is responsible for such subjugation and disenfranchisement.

 And all of this is done through American exceptionalism which is  “The political mission, which is of primary interest here, has been justified on very different grounds: sometimes by religious ideas but more often by ideas from philosophy, science, or political analysis” (Ceaser, 2012, p.13). It is the justification of exceptionalism as a mission that grants the United States of America a right to the world which ultimately allows the United State to continue its Colonial Capitalist Imperial Power Project in Latin America.

The ongoing Colonial Capitalist Imperial Power Project is made possible through America’s “right to the world”. This right has been granted to America because of the U.S’. exceptionalism. America’s right to the world can be understood in Todd Miller’s  2019 book Empire of Boarders in which he explores the evolution and the nuances of how the United States borders have extended past their physical places. Through this exploration, he introduces the idea of the ‘right to the world’ at the beginning of the book.  The right to the world can be thought of as “There are two big parts to this “right to the world”. One is freedom of mobility, worldwide, including free movement across international borders. The other is a “just, sustainable share of the planet’s resources for all” (Miller, 2019, p. 213). This right to the world allows for nations like the “United States, United Kingdom, France, or Germany- among serval other countries- you can freely travel to approximately 160 countries without a visa” (Miller, 2019, p.2). And it is because of this right to the world that American exceptionalism can exist which gives the United States the audacity to go into countries in Latin America and disturb their ways of life.

It is important to note that this right to the world is not only used in foreign relationships but also is used domestically. It is sewn into the American fabric. And it is sold to the American people as neoliberalism which tells the American people that they need to fit this illegible image by self othering others to mark them as legible. Through marking others as legible individuals America is able to affiliate and exploit these legible groups without having to identify or empathize with these groups. Thus through this process, the United States is able to present itself as an illegible image so it can create the illusion that it is an exceptional part of this group or movement as a way to again reassert its power to achieve and maintain power. And this is exactly what America has done when it has “supported” insurgent radical movements in Columbia, Nicarguaria, Cuba, and several other Latin American countries. Additionally, this is the same blueprint that Daniel Hernandez aka 6ix9ine has used to build his image as a way to achieve and maintain his own capitalist project.

So who is 6ix9ine? Daniel Hernandez is a 24-year-old Hispanic Mexican-American rapper from the Brooklyn, New York neighborhood of Bushwick. The mainstream society might say 6ix9ine is a very successful rapper as he has three songs that peaked in the top 20 songs on the Billboard charts (Billboard). Additionally, he has 9 singles that have reached the top 100 songs globally on the charts and 3 albums that have debuted in the top 30 albums globally (Official charts). In addition to having the numbers back up his success, he has also had some of the more recognizable and successful rappers co-sign him as he has been featured on several tracks with some of these artists like Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, 50-Cent, A-Boogie, Casanova, Akon, Lil Baby, and others. However, 6ix9ine did not always have this success and these co-signs. It wasn’t until he found his blueprint that has been laid out by the white capitalist supremacist patriarchal power structure. 6ix9ine has been rapping since 2014 but it wasn’t until 2017 that he found this blueprint (Gandhi, 2020). And in 2017 6ix9ine took this blueprint and ran with it on October 6th of 2017 when he uploaded the music video for his single Gummo (FCK THEM, 2017).  This music video launched 6ix9ine’s career out of this stratosphere. As of today that music view has been seen over 38.8 million times (FCK THEM, 2017).  

So how does this video differ from 6ix9ine’s past videos? What makes this video special? How does this video change 6ix9ine’s career? The answer is quite simple and it is the two images that 6ix9ine is able to construct. In this video, 6ix9ine is able to present himself as an outsider thus making himself exceptional as he self others to create a legible image of an often misrepresented community movement which is the Bloods. So let’s get into the music and the video. What is Gummo? Well in his own words 6ix9ine says Gummo is a diss track to his former collaborator Trippie Redd” (Gandhi, 2020). It is important to note that Trippie Redd is a recognized member of the Bloods. So Gummo is a diss track to Trippie Redd, and ultimately the community that Trippie Redd is a part of. 

In order to write this diss 6ix9ine creates lyrics that work to fit a legible image of the Bloods by leaning on controlling images of gangsta culture. In the chorus 6ix9ine sings “I’m on some rob a nigga shit, take the nigga bitch. Do the dash in the whip, count the cash in the whip . I pull up with a stick, I let that shit hit. Shout out *******, but I fucked that nigga bitch” (Hernandez, 2017). The lyrics that 6ix9ine sings in this chorus are filled with controlling imagery that are products of the white capitalist supremacist patriarchal power structure which controls the narrative that gangs are violent, misogynistic, and dangerous. 6ix9ine uses these lyrics to fit his narrative and agenda rather than telling the story that these gangs were formed as communities to resist the state violence of the white capitalist supremacist patriarchal structure. By doing this as a Hispanic Mexican-American he is able to affiliate with a Black radical movement while simultaneously self-other them by leaning on these controlling images that help his image which ultimately helps his career.

The lyrics serve as poignant examples of such image construction, but also 6ix9ine uses the actual music video to carry out his blueprint to create such an image. While the lyrics are important they are not the thing that 6ixn9ine uses to construct his image. 6ix9ine told Shotti his former manager “My music is trash, but my video is fire” (Gandhi, 2020). The fire music video he is talking about is nothing extravagant or mind-bending. Rather the Gummo video is a very simple idea; it is shot in front of a Brownstone at 370 Madison Street in Brooklyn. In this video 6ix9ine who is not a member of the Bloods at that time surrounds himself with known members of the Bloods who he dresses and drapes in red bandanas as they rep their sets and throw up gang signs which present a certain image of gangsta culture.

In addition to the lyrics and the image he created in this music, video 6ix9ine is able to rectify a controlling image that misrepresents a community movement in order to normalize racism, sexism, and poverty. However, through creating this controlling image 6ix9ine is seen as someone who is an affiliate with the Bloods which gets him in trouble because now he is seen as part of a movement that is seen as a threat to the white capitalist supremacist patriarchal power structure. So when the federal government indicts 6ix9ine and some of the Bloods that are seen in this video on racketeering charges or also known as getting hit with the rico because of the illegible image that 6ix9ine created for himself he is able to present himself as someone who is exceptional and an outsider. Using this exceptional illegible image when it comes time to face the music 6ix9ine rats, snitches, and sells-out the Bloods who he once affiliated with. He was able to snitch because the image he created enabled him to say things like “I was just a kid who got caught up in the wrong crowd. I am really not about that life”. Through snitching by using this illegible image  6ix9ine faces little repercussions for his actions and is allowed to walk freely and carry on with his career, meanwhile the people he gave up face much harsher consequences and are left worse off than when 6ix9ine found them. This act of snitching is similar to the way that the United States goes into Latin American countries, causes trouble for the countries, and then bounces with more money and a pristine image. Therefore, 6ix9ine is nothing besides a walking representation of the American Colonial Capitalist Power Project that does not recognize borders and the humanity of Black and Brown bodies. 

 6ix9ine, TrifeDrew, & Bourne, I. (2017, October 08). 6Ix9Ine – gummo. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://genius.com/6ix9ine-gummo-lyrics

Breakfast Club Power 105.1 FM  (2018, March 23). 6Ix9Ine on why he loves being hated, rolling with crips … Retrieved February 2, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNjiBBCNkk0

Carter, P. L. (February 2003). “Black” Cultural Capital, Status Positioning, and Schooling Conflicts for Low-Income African American Youth. Social Problems, 50(1), 136-155.

Hill Collins, Patricia. (1990). Black feminist thought : knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston :Unwin Hyman.

Ceaser, J. W. (2012). The Origins and Character of American Exceptionalism. American Political Thought, 1(1), spring, 3-28.

Them, F. (2017, October 08). 6IX9INE – Gummo (OFFICIAL Music video). Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAs9HZC9c7Y

Gandhi, V. (Director). (2020). 69: The Saga of Danny Hernandez [Motion picture on Hulu]. United States.

Gann, B. (2020, December 16). The Bloods (1972 – ) •. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/bloods-1972/

hooks, b. (2004). We Real Cool.

Jhally, S., hooks, b., In Patierno, M., In Hirshorn, H., Gabriel, P., University of Westminster., & Media Education Foundation. (2002). Bell Hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.

Los Angeles Gangs: The Bloods and the Crips. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.socialistalternative.org/panther-black-rebellion/los-angeles-gangs-bloods-crips/



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