Music is many things to many people. For fans, it can represent an escape from unbearable circumstances and for creators, talent can lend a lifeline out of poverty.
The songs we listen to are so much more than a string of chords and lyrics jumbled together in an order which sounds pleasing to our ears; great songs are sometimes a reflection of the highs and lows humanity has to offer.
But Tekashi69’s latest arrest, as a result of a five-year federal investigation into the rapper’s involvement with the Nine Trey Bloods, begs the question: Does the music industry stand idly by and glamourise crime?
Behavioural psychologist Clare Scivier, who has spent 20 years working in A&R at major labels, thinks so.
Tekashi69, real name Daniel Hernandez, was arrested on the evening of Sunday 18 November on federal charges of racketeering, previously unreported armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit murder.
The 22-year-old dad currently faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Before denying him bail at the arraignment the following day (19 November), Assistant US Attorney Michael Longyear dubbed Hernandez ‘a member of a violent sect of the Bloods’ who has ‘participated in multiple acts of violence’ and may still be a danger to the community.
While the new allegations are severe and Tekashi SixNine is ultimately responsible for his own actions, Scivier tells UNILAD the ‘record business [must] wake up and take responsibility’ for the way their ‘over-promotion’ of criminal behaviour is ‘infecting society and culture’.
[Tekashi69] came from a very vulnerable place, into the music industry, a very sophisticated machine with highly protected people who can afford to send their kids to private school.
Tekashi69’s experience is far removed. When Tekashi69 released Gummo in early October 2017, the viral hit took the hip-hop world by storm. The track has enjoyed 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 12 on the chart.
Later that month, he pled guilty to one felony count of using a 13-year-old child in a sexual performance. His latest arrest is a violation of the probation set last month at his sentencing hearing for this ongoing case.
Since, the official YouTube music video for Gummo has accumulated over 130 million views, at time of writing. All the while, headlines have documented a number of altercations involving SixNine – one involving a 16-year-old fan who alleged the rapper choked him out, and another detailing a brawl at LAX, to name a few.
To an outsider it might seem his reputation for criminal involvement is conducive to his popularity. But Scivier thinks it’s no coincidence.
The music industry has created a cycle whereby it rewards impoverished young people for creating music which expresses their personal truths about experiences and involvement in criminal activity – and therefore positively reinforces negative behaviour and the messages in their music with success and money.
It’s a little like Pavlov’s dog, but with Gucci instead of edible treats.
Hernandez was born in Bushwick, Brooklyn – the 83rd precinct infamous for looting and arson during the blackout of 1977 – to a Mexican mum and Puerto Rican dad, who was shot dead while crossing the street when his son was just 13.
Still in his teens, Hernandez was sent to Rickers Island, a notoriously violent prison, for dealing marijuana. Upon his release SixNine turned his attention to music, which he started releasing in 2014 alongside the emergence of the SoundCloud rap movement.
A lot of hip hop artists I’ve been working with out in America are very serious about their music and have spent their entire lives working in studios and honing their music. They haven’t got into gangs because music has been their safe place.
But, she recounts, many of them tell her they are frustrated at the number of young, vulnerable, inexperienced rappers being signed straight out of prison with little to no support.
One might assume labels are striving to support authentic music which reflects the moods and zeitgeist of the audience, as was the order of the day with early hip hop.
But, take UK grime artists, who Scivier says tend to represent ‘the new punk’ and reflect societal unrest. Their prominence illustrates ‘record companies trying to be current and sign artists who are reflective of the way young people are feeling’.
The same goes for early hip hop; NWA were arguably as aggressive as the style of rapping for which SixNine is known, and they were sometimes questionable in the eyes of the law as individuals.
But, as a collective, they were reflective of society ‘in a positive way’ drawing attention to police brutality and the failure of the war on drugs, aspirational to those wishing to follow in their footsteps out of poverty and marginalisation.
Their music was ‘political’ and ‘it had to be said’ much like God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols, she says, in terms of its cultural importance.
Now, the music industry is built on cults of personality and favours solo artists, some of whom Scivier thinks ‘are vulnerable human beings in the first place’.
6ix9ine freely admits ‘hustlin’s all I know’ in Scum Gang! (2017).
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to hear Hernandez’ art reflects his life. After all, the most successful artists are successful for the very reason of their authenticity and, like it or not, Tekashi is successful.
But, when it comes to questions of cultural authenticity, Scivier is reluctant to give the music industry execs the benefit of doubt and admits she takes the more ‘cynical’ view.
Rather, she believes they have found a ‘new way of marketing music’ by taking advantage of vulnerable young artists and failing to help support them into forming sustainable careers for themselves.
More concerning, in light of the deaths of Lil Peep, XXXTentacion and Mac Miller, some industry commentators join Scivier in suggesting it’s a deliberate move to prey on the vulnerable.
Hard as it is to hear of the commodification of people – rich and famous, or not – she explains sales are more profitable when an artist dies or makes headlines, adding:
If [an artist] has recorded a load of material and [the label] knows they’re mentally ill, or likely to get shot or overdose and die, the victim leaves this kind of legacy of unreleased music.
It’s allowed to be released within minutes of them dying. I’m concerned. Is this is actually a nice, new way of marketing music?
And if so, she continues, the labels are at fault for creating then promoting a ‘dystopia on Planet Earth’.
Referring to the accidental overdose of emo rap innovator, Lil Peep – real name Gustav Åhr – in November last year, Scivier cites the industry’s ‘over-promotion of the use of Xanex and Codeine’ as a concerning indication of the lack of understanding from industry heavyweights of the duty of care they should, ethically, feel towards their signed artists
Scivier points to some recent music videos which she considers ‘product placement’ for Xanax as a viable motive to prevent labels from releasing and exploiting young vulnerable artists’ music posthumously for profit.
Looking forward, Scivier is unsure of the longterm effects of this relatively new phenomenon, both on the artists deemed ‘edgy’ enough to succeed, and society as a whole.
For the artists, it’s important to ‘identify and protect the different selves early on’, Scivier has found. There must be differentiation between ‘the avatar on stage’, the person who writes and produces the music and ‘the human being [their] mum dad and friends know’.
As far the fans go, we can debate the separation of ‘The Artist’ and ‘The Work’ until we’re all blue in the face.
The fact remains, the modern music industry has allowed social media to blur the lines between the person and their output to a point where you can’t distinguish between performance and reality.
Undoubtedly, SixNine’s fanbase is young and malleable.
While the SoundCloud rapper might speak to the heart of the matters which make young listeners tick, the labels have an ethical responsibility to help artists disseminate material which impacts fans positively and serve as an outlet – especially at a time, as Scivier points out, when pop stars have ‘become what kids believe in’.
If we’re talking about young people – artists included – and encouraging them into a healthier, happier life, we can’t keep promoting this horrific behaviour.
Likewise, Scivier believes labels ‘should not be able to release the music of anyone who’s about to go to prison’.
When I was at school if you were disruptive you were thrown out the class. If you did it three times, you were kicked out of school. What the music industry seems to be doing is making those disruptive artists Head Boy or Head Girl.
Then everyones scratching their arses going, ‘I wonder why there’s all the gang crime’. Well, because those kids have seen bad behaviour rewarded. That’s very exploitative and quite racist actually.
In fact, referring to an online conspiracy she has not yet been able to verify about the dissemination of rap which used music as a vehicle to perpetuate ‘stereotypes’ about people of colour by ‘white guys in suits…a lot of whom had investments into private prisons in America’, she said the mechanisms of the music industry can still be used ‘to try and keep an entire race of people down’.
In an ideal industry, harking back to the simpler era of the sixties and seventies’ music cycles, Scivier says modern A&R – in which ’97 per cent signed to a label fail anyway’ – needs a refocus on employability and sustainability.
I don’t want labels to never sign anyone with mental health issues or who are squeaky clean because I don’t think that kind of person exists.
But they have to understand the level of support and training required when working with someone, for instance, who has depression, or bipolar or schizophrenia to set up a new life for them.
But they don’t want to know for liability reasons.
It’s an even harder sell in an industry in which artists are ‘not covered by employment law, get no holiday, no sick pay, no training, nothing’.
Scivier is trying to change the artist development practices of the corporates through Your Green Room, and organisation she founded to try and help talent create work.
A couple of agents have come round to her way of thinking after, as she brutally puts it, they ‘realised you cannot tour dead artists’.
Until there is a marked shift in the music industry’s passive glorification, Scivier says ‘the monster is growing bigger’ and ‘the execs don’t know what they’re f*cking with’.
Meanwhile, Hernandez publicly fired his management and the rest of his team late last week, alleging in an Instagram video they had been stealing from him.
Following his public separation from his gang-affiliated associates last week, Hernandez was taken into protective federal custody on Saturday, prior to his arrest on Sunday, for his own safety.
Wire-tapping used to investigate the federal charges had also uncovered credible threats against his life suggesting the other subjects of the investigation were planning to ‘violate’ Hernandez in retaliation.
Hernandez declined law enforcement’s protection. Thus, the cycle continues.
If you’ve been affected by crime, Victim Support offers free, confidential help to anyone in England and Wales, regardless of whether the crime has been reported or how long ago it happened. Call their free Supportline on 08 08 16 89 111.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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