In trying to explain the man and phenomenon that is Tekashi 6ix9ine, Showtime’s new docuseries does its best to embody him.
“Supervillain: The Making of Tekashi 6ix9ine,” directed by Karam Gill, alternates between self-consciously shaggy found footage and slick, stylized interludes. Like its subject, “Supervillain” depends on social media to build itself up. It stitches together years of Instagram videos to paint its portrait of a man who deliberately transformed himself into rap’s most chaotic antagonist, with his rise reflected in his ballooning follower numbers. It interviews people from his inner circle, observers of his increasingly hyperbolic life and, sporadically, Tekashi 6x9ine himself in audio clips from the suburban safehouse he’s most recently called home. Throughout its three episodes — titled “Identity,” “Power” and “Truth” — the series interrupts itself for flashy stop motion explainers in which narrator Giancarlo Esposito breaks down the crucial elements that make a true supervillain, including appearance, notoriety, ego, and trauma. It has the veneer of completism, but by the end of its final episode, “Supervillain” feels more like an exercise in curiosity that became too impressed with its own conclusions to convincingly support them.
“Tekashi 6ix9ine” is the name Daniel Hernandez gave himself when he was a Brooklyn teenager working behind a bodega counter and dreaming of something bigger. As he told everyone he met, that “something” was fame and fortune no matter the cost. In the audio of the documentary’s most recent interview with Hernandez, he explains that he figured out early on that he wanted to fashion himself as a villain because it would attract the most attention as quickly as possible. He was willing to pay the price of being hated if it at least meant that people knew who he was. “The nice guys don’t get the covers,” he insists. “The nice guys don’t go anywhere.”
That’s demonstrably not as true as it once might have been (see: Chance the Rapper, John Legend, early Drake), though Hernandez probably was never interested in a career that might’ve landed him the covers of “GQ” and “Parents” magazine. No: he was interested in being a shit-talking cultural flashpoint, someone that could command attention because people couldn’t help but wonder what the hell he would do next. What came next was a career modeled after The Joker and an association with a Brooklyn gang that acted as a safety net before it blew up in everyone’s faces.
The idea of Tekashi 6ix9ine’s success hinging on his canny, explosive use of social media is one that “Supervillain” spends a lot of time unpacking — or, at least, a lot of time repeating as if we might’ve missed it the first 10 times. This narrative issue weakens “Supervillain” from the very beginning, with the first two episodes in particular sagging under the weight of their own echoes. We get it: Tekashi 6x9ine was exploiting the morbid curiosity of his audience. We get it: Tekashi 6x9ine wouldn’t have gotten so big if people weren’t willing to let him. We get it: Tekashi 6ix9ine wanted to be bad. There’s a difference between compiling evidence and stretching conclusions past their natural limits, but “Supervillain” rarely demonstrates such an understanding — and has trouble reaching beyond these most basic points, besides.
It’s not until the second episode, for example, that “Supervillain” mentions his 2015 conviction for “use of a child in a sexual performance.” The series ultimately spends about five minutes on this huge moment in its supervillain’s life and career, and doesn’t mention the other similar allegations that have come out since. Deep into the third episode, the series gives his ex-girlfriend Jade, also the mother of his child, enough space to detail the two hours in which he beat her to the point where she thought she would die. And yet, this horrifying incident is mostly presented as yet another example of how badly his paranoia was getting the better of him rather than as part of a demonstrated pattern of careless violence against women.
In Esposito’s final bit of performance as narrator, he and the series turn the rise and implosion of Tekashi 6ix9ine — who still has 23 million Instagram followers, for what it’s worth — back on their audience. “Supervillains are a reflection of the society that creates them,” he intones. Further, he underlines the ostensible point of the series itself by explaining that, in dissecting how and why someone like Daniel Hernandez turned himself into a figure like Tekashi 6ix9ine, “we are actually able to learn about who we are becoming as a culture.” That’s probably true, and a worthy reason to explore such an extremely thorny subject. It’s just a shame that “Supervillain” spends so much time breaking down the basics that it’s rarely able to go much deeper beyond Tekashi’s leering surface.
“Supervillain: The Making of Tekashi 6ix9ine” premieres Sunday, February 21 at 10 pm on Showtime.