6ix9ine’s music has always seemed less important than his persona. In a candid recent interview with The New York Times, he confessed to being addicted to infamy. “I fell in love with the life,” he said. “When kids see me, they go crazy. I grew up being a nobody… I never want to feel that way [again].”
The Brooklyn rapper (also known as Tekashi 6ix9ine, or Daniel Hernandez to his mum) won his big break while working at a deli, when he was spotted by Hikari-Ultra record label boss Peter ‘Righteous P’ Rodgers, who asked the then-teenager if he rapped. “He was like, ‘You got the image for it. You look cool,’” 6ix9ine later recalled of the encounter.
But while his cartoonish image – the My Little Pony hair, Uncut Gems bling and gumball machine tattoos – initially took the spotlight, 6ix9ine now can’t escape the shadow cast by his long list of grim controversies. In the past two years alone, he has been arrested for allegedly choking a teenager in a mall (the charges were later dismissed) and testified that he ordered a hit on a rap rival. In 2015 he pleaded guilty to a child sex offence and last year admitted to years of domestic violence.
The latter was part of the infamous trial, related to firearms and racketeering charges, during which he informed on members of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods gang (he was formerly a member). It’s this transgression that inspired the name of this album, and he leans into his reputation as a ‘rat’, adopting a rodent animation as a quasi mascot.
Yet his music still racks up huge numbers. ‘GOOBA’, the first track following his early release from prison in April, broke YouTube’s record for the most views accrued by a rap video in its opening 24-hour period. The visual is currently sitting at more than 500 million views. It’s often said that 6ix9ine’s music videos are simply the result of hate-viewing, and ‘TattleTales’ reveals that when stripped of the extras – the garish image, online beefs and media circus – he just isn’t very good.
Whatever you think of him as a person, 6ix9ine is savvy and acutely skilled at marketing, brand management and promoting his own cult of personality. What’s most striking about ‘TattleTales’, though, is how uninteresting and unoriginal it is. Each song feels flimsily formed, based around a quickly sketched hook or threadbare idea, and then cynically padded out, with the rapper seeming in a rush just to get a track past the two-minute mark.
Indeed, for someone with so much to say, it’s hard to take away a single memorable line from the album – unless you count the moment on ‘GATA’ when he sings the praises of New York’s subway system: “Oh damn, let me guess, you need an Uber? /The J-Train is right over there / 2.50, bitch, pay the fuckin’ fare”. On ‘PUNANI’, meanwhile, we’re treated to: “Shake it, fat punani-nani, fat punani-nani / That tsunami-nami, that tsunami-nami”.
The album, like 2018 debut ‘Dummy Boy’, finds 6ix9ine hopping between genres, never really settling on something that works for him. With ‘NINI’ he takes on dancehall, aided by Jamaican artist Leftside, while he switches to Spanish for the reggaeton-infused album highlight ‘YAYA’. ‘LEAH’ interpolates DJ Sammy’s 2002 clubland classic ‘Heaven’, with Akon popping up to sing the chorus: “Baby, you you’re all that I want / When I pour Patrón in your cup”.
‘Dummy Boy’ was criticised for its over-reliance on features (12 of its 13 tracks included cameos) and here a more modest six songs include a guest. Maybe 6ix9ine is simply more confident in his own abilities now, or perhaps he’s finding it hard persuading anyone to share a track with him. Unsurprisingly, though, the songs benefit from his absence. He isn’t versatile enough to carry a song alone, but bouncing off another works to his advantage. Sometimes he’s completely outshone: see Nicki Minaj‘s killer verse on ‘TROLLZ’.
6ix9ine is at his strongest when he sticks to the unrelenting bars with which he made his name on breakthrough 2017 track ‘GUMMO’. ‘GOOBA’ is filled with urgency, his truck siren of a voice like Fatman Scoop in a fit of road rage. Elsewhere opener ‘LOCKED UP 2’, which heavily samples Akon’s 2004 track, is a victorious moment. On paper, it’s the perfect troll move: in 2018 rival rapper Trippie Redd posted a video of himself dancing gleefully to the song to celebrate news of 6ix9ine’s arrest.
READ MORE: The troubling rise of Tekashi 6ix9ine
The album’s penultimate track, ‘GTL’, reworks the opener, but this time 6ix9ine’s vocals are recorded from a collect call made from prison. It’s a rare moment of poignancy, and the only time we feel anywhere close to 6ix9ine the person rather than the persona: “Tell me why, tell me why should I trust these n***as / Tell me why, tell me how I really love these n***as”. His verse is then interrupted by the automated call warning: “You have one minute remaining”.
Ultimately, 6ix9ine is review-proof; negativity fuels him. As he told the New York Times: “I don’t wake up every day and think, ‘Does this person like me?’ Instead I say, ‘How can this person hate me even more?’… The people who didn’t like me before are the same people who don’t like me now.” Few will be won over by ‘TattleTales’, which feels little more than a sideshow.