Unless an individual is overwhelmingly successful or influential, it’s not usually par for the course for a documentary to be made about a musician’s life whilst they’re still very much making music. There are, of course, exceptions from 1991’s In Bed with Madonna to Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back, and even Apple TV’s recent exploration of Billie Eilish in The World’s a Little Blurry. And there are many comparisons to be drawn between Eilish’s excellent career summation and the latest release of Tekashi69’s new documentary, 69: The Saga of Danny Hernandez, though none of the comparisons come in quality.
Whilst both artists represent and reflect the mindsets of a troubled contemporary generation, Eilish’s The World’s a Little Blurry presents a hopeful way forward, whilst 69’s Saga of Danny Hernandez simply poses more problems.
To the objective viewer, the wildly eccentric fashion sense of Tekashi69, or 6ix9ine, or more sensibly Danny Hernandez, is absurd. A large ‘69’ is tattooed on his forehead and chest, rainbow-coloured hair tied in bunches, and several chunky chains of jewellery hanging from his neck, one of which depicting the demonic ‘Billy the puppet’ from the Saw franchise. Despite the somewhat mindless style, this is no game for Hernandez, whose worldwide success has taken him from the poverty-stricken streets of Brooklyn to the very top of Hip Hop. Featuring Nicki Minaj, Fetty Wap and Gucci Mane, Hernandez has become an icon of popular culture known for his provocative attitude and infamous for his criminal activity.
Independent director Vikram Gandhi is the one tasked with humanising the intolerable narcissist, and for just a moment, it looks like he might have managed to impossible. With loving interviews from his childhood sweetheart, neighbours and even the woman who first dyed his iconic hair, it looks as though Gandhi might have crafted the best story possible, telling a cautionary tale of the dangers of a dogged ambition. As Hernandez builds up his image and develops his brand, it seems like his story is one of gritty determination, a genius marketer first and a talented musician second, a fact that soon fades into irrelevance as his true colours are exposed.
The film’s main issue is one that the director himself addresses, Tekashi69 is in many ways a professional internet troll, calling out famous individuals to seek a higher rung on the ladder of popularity, so by making a documentary about the individual, are we not simply feeding this rabid obsession? A criminal and all-around villain, Tekashi69 is a deeply unlikeable subject even if his alter ego, Danny Hernandez, may simply be a flawed individual. The relationship between the two persona’s is by far the films strongest aspect and is a point of interest that should’ve been scrutinised far more deeply than it is here.
Instead, 69: The Saga of Danny Hernandez is less of a ‘saga’ and more of a light recollection of someone’s life, chronicling major milestones with fleeting notice favouring the artists ‘flashy’ criminal history. Questions about the larger impact of digital culture are considered but are never taken seriously, sidelined by the repugnance of the lead subject, which remains inextricably linked to the loud, feverish futility of popular contemporary culture.
Fans of Tekashi69 will learn little they didn’t already know, and those that didn’t know him will wish they never had.
Available to watch now on Altitude.Film