There is a major lesson to learn from the Vikram Gandhi directed documentary 69: The Saga of Danny Hernandez, and it is that of the destructive powers of fame-seeking in the age of social media. The overall goal of this film was to unpack the human being underneath the problematic Tekashi 6ix9ine facade, and to understand the rise and fall of the viral sensation. And while this seemed like an impossible task, somehow the director managed to present us with a film that depicted a humble boy who in the pursuit of success made a series of bad decisions that lead up to his very own demise.
Before his rise, 6ix9ine was simply Danny Hernandez, a first generation New Yorker born to immigrant parents from Mexico and Puerto Rico. Raised in poverty by a single mother and traumatized by his father’s absence and his stepfather’s abrupt murder, Hernandez led a difficult childhood that is easily overlooked by the system, the middle/upper class. Once Hernandez discovered the powers of Instagram and YouTube, he became visible to entire world, and this was simply the beginning of his rise and fall.
I find the story of Hernandez to be a cautionary tale. After a life full of pain and struggle, one would do just about anything to succeed and make it out of poverty, but just how much is too much? In the words of Hernandez himself, “You will do whatever it takes to be famous,” but this logic alone is harmful. With his rainbow-colored locs and prominent facial/body tattoos, it’s hard not to notice the SoundCloud rapper and viral sensation. Despite his major success, having collaborated with Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Anuel AA, and many other major artists in a very short period of time, Hernandez wanted more. The desire for clout, and uninhibited fame lead to the cultivation of his super-villain persona. More so than his actual music, the self-proclaimed social media bad-guy, former gang member, and convicted felon is known for his shocking online antics and run-ins with the law. For him, no publicity was bad publicity…until it was.
Although the rapper refused to take part in telling his story, the film features social media posts, audio recordings, videos, transcripts, in-depth interviews with those closest to him along his quick and chaotic rise to fame, plus his time in the S.C.U.M. gang and the trial in which he infamously testified against Brooklyn gang the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. With these elements Gandhi summons the digital spirit of Tekashi 6ix9ine.
Tekashi’s is claimed to recall that of another American villain skilled in media manipulation. “Dave Chappelle once said after [Donald] Trump was elected that we elected an internet troll as our president. I don’t think that anyone could imagine at the time that the attention that was being given to him might actually make him win.” Gandhi says. “[With Tekashi 6ix9ine], the hip hop world and the internet created a troll and gave him fame and fortune. We’re all complicit in this attention giving economy.”
Enter the world of the young rapper by streaming 69: The Saga of Danny Hernandez on Hulu.