Margaret Byrne

By Following The Lives Of 3 Rural Black Men, 'Raising Bertie' Director Margaret Byrne Gained An Extended Family

Margaret Byrne opens up about directing Raising Bertie and the conversations she wants America to have about its rural communities of color.

There’s something special about winding up in the right place at the right time. In 2009, filmmaker Margaret Byrne made her way down from New York to Bertie County, North Carolina, a rural town with a population of just over 20,000. She was there to cover Vivian Saunders and her work at the Hive House, an alternative school for boys. When the then-underfunded program shut down mid-assignment, Byrne and her crew shifted their attention to the three Hive students who stood out to her most —Davonte "Dada" Harrell, Reginald "Junior" Askew and David "Bud" Perry — and Raising Bertie was born.

Over the six years she filmed them, the director and producer watched these teens navigate ups and downs and become men, whether that meant finishing high school and going to prom, chasing financial stability or mending relationships and starting families of their own. With the new documentary — J. Cole, a North Carolina native, serves as an executive producer — the goal was not to pass judgment on their circumstances or become a savior of sorts, but to provide a neutral eye into the quieter, less frequently covered happenings of rural communities of color and encourage much-needed dialogue.

Byrne achieved that and more. By the last take (and well into the years after the film wrapped), she ended up gaining an extended family. She now knows the nuances of their current lives and tracks their birthdays to keep up as the years go by. She knows how excited Dada is to have a son on the way and maintains a close relationship with his mother, Esther. She even hosts Keke, Dada’s nephew, at her Chicago home during the summer.

Raising Bertie premiered yesterday (Aug. 28) on the PBS Point of View (POV) channel and is now streaming for online for the next 30 days. Byrne opened up about the documentary's more difficult moments, what became of the Hive House and the conversations she wants to come out of watching her film.


VIBE: What was it about Junior, Bud and Dada that drew you in, and how did you enter their lives?
Margaret Byrne: I’d originally set out to make a film about an alternative program called the Hive [House], run by Vivian Saunders. My intention was to make a story of hope. This program was doing amazing things, and that’s how I met Bud, Junior and Dada. Then, very early on into filming, the Hive shut down. I was already invested in their lives and in their families’ lives, so we continued to film, not really knowing what this film was about. Here we are filming these guys, and basically their agency has been taken away from them because this program was really supporting them in a way that they weren’t getting support in the regular high school. I knew that we needed to spend time with them, be invested in their lives and that it was going to take years to tell this story, which is why we filmed for six years. But ultimately I had an emotional connection to them. I found this community, and it felt like I could be a vessel to tell their story.

Did those three come to you when you approached the Hive about documenting the program? How did those conversations go — were they apprehensive?
It was different for each story. We didn’t find all three of them at the same time or on the same trip. At the time I started making the film, I lived in New York, so we would go and travel down [to Bertie County] for sometimes a week, sometimes three weeks, and we really spent a lot of time down there. Bud and Junior I met at the Hive. Junior was just… I knew immediately I wanted to tell Junior’s story. He is really a poet. Bud definitely was more apprehensive. Sometimes he wouldn’t want to be filmed, and sometimes he wouldn’t show up when we were gonna film something, but ultimately I think he was really proud of being able to put his story out there. And then Dada I actually found nine months into filming. I found Dada because I met his mom and connected with his mom. I hadn’t actually seen him at the Hive before that, because there were about 49 students at the Hive. I knew that I was looking for a third character, and Dada ended up being that voice that was missing, I think, from the story.

Dada seems like a natural introvert. How long did it take for his walls to come down and for him to open up to you?
You know, it was pretty amazing, because the first time I interviewed him and the first time I came to their house, it’s the first interview you see in the film. He really opens up about how upset he is about his dad not being in touch with him, and is very emotional and cries about it. That was my first real sit-down meeting with him, so I think initially we had a really strong connection.

We’re at a time where we’re expecting these robust and extraordinary stories coming out of the world of film and Hollywood. Why did you choose to chase the nuances of a normal life? Why North Carolina?
I actually came to North Carolina because I had a job shooting a video for an organization, because Vivian was winning an award for the work she was doing at the Hive. That’s really where it started. At the time, I was also working on another film called American Promise, which focused on urban education. It’s a film that follows two African-American boys over the course of 13 years through their entire education. I just realized that there was a lack of stories being told in rural communities. Particularly, rural communities of color historically have not had much of a voice in the national media. It’s been great to get these stories out there. And recently, the Associated Press came to Bertie, I believe, because they saw the film and spoke to Vivian and other leaders in the community. My mom said, “Did you see the article in the Chicago Tribune about Bertie County?” It’s great to see that people are talking more about rural communities of color, and specifically, after this presidential election, people are realizing how important these communities are.

Speaking of North Carolina, what role did J. Cole play in Raising Bertie, and how did you two come together for the project?
I connected with J. Cole through his manager and primarily worked with Adam Rodney, who is the musical director of the film. J. Cole really understood this story. He said that, essentially, this was his life growing up. These were the guys that he grew up with and this was the story of his youth, so I think he really connected to it on a personal level. He came onboard very early on. I’d say it was the beginning of 2015, I think. It was a rough cut that he had seen. It took us about two years to edit the film, so he saw a rough cut and immediately wanted to be involved. And then Ron Gilmore Jr. produced some of the music. He’s a producer with Dreamville, so they’ve been a great team to work with.

So they helped soundtrack it?
Yeah, some of the music is from Dreamville artists.

And when you linked with the manager, did you reach out to him, or did he reach out to you when they saw the work you were doing in Bertie?
I reached out to Ib, and Ib put me in touch with Adam, who’s his other manager and the creative director. And then I had a meeting with Cole somewhere through that process. He saw multiple cuts of the film, and he’d also seen American Promise, too. I remember talking to him about that.

Over the course of the six years spent filming, were there moments that felt too real or that you were apprehensive about showing or even being present in? For instance, there’s a fight moment with some neighborhood guys that actually gets very tense with the cameraman.
There was a big question when we were editing the film [over] whether or not to include that fight scene, because obviously I don’t want to further a negative stereotype, but ultimately I felt like it was part of Junior’s story arc. It was this rough period in his life. It’s difficult to be invested in the lives of these young men and their families and know that I’m there to tell their stories, but I can’t do anything to change or really influence their circumstances in any major way. Being a documentary filmmaker is different than being a journalist, in a sense that it’s OK to get involved in people’s lives. Obviously if one of the guys couldn’t pay their light bill, I’m gonna help them out with that. There is more involvement. There’s a much deeper friendship when you’re working with people over so many years. But absolutely, there are things that aren’t in the film that we filmed, or maybe we weren’t filming. You know, it’s difficult to be in people’s lives and see that they’re going through some trauma and knowing there’s not much you can do but be a friend to them.

Did you interject and offer any advice to the young men as they were going along, or did you just watch it objectively through your lens and let it be?
Oh, I always told them what I thought. I mean, I think that’s part of having an authentic relationship. I always told them what I thought and encouraged them to do things. I’m sure that I’m influential in their lives in some way, but ultimately I didn’t set out to change their lives, of course. Nor would I want to.

Which moments, good or bad, hit you the hardest or really brought tears to your eyes?
There’s so many things. I would say they have been there for me as much as I have been there for them, because through the making of this film I separated from my husband, got a divorce, became a single mom, moved to another state and went through a lot of things because of that, and they have also been extremely supportive in my life. I’m particularly close with Esther, Dada’s mom. She’s somebody I talk to all the time and share things with. She went through a period that was really difficult too. She’s a single mother, I’m a single mother. I’ve taken [Dada’s nephew] Keke for the summers because I’ve known him since he was a baby, and he is very close with my daughter. They’re pretty close in age, so he’s like a brother to her. He comes here [to Chicago] every summer. It’s partially [that] I want to support Esther, but also he’s like my own child in some ways, and he’s a part of my family. But difficult moments: I don’t want to get too much into it, but I continue to be a part of their lives, and we’re still very connected. The things that are happening right now even, they continue to have challenges. Bud was recently in an accident and is working hard at rehabilitation, but there’ve been a lot of challenges along the way. That’s probably been one of the most difficult things, because at one point we didn’t know if he was going to make it. He’s still dealing with health issues right now, and I’d say that has been difficult in general.

Hopefully he winds up OK. Raising Bertie is a film that doesn’t have any solutions. It doesn’t seem like the intent was to solve anything, or for their journeys onscreen to have a definitive beginning or end. Was that what you wanted, and what is the value of telling a story in that way?
I think that people need to draw their own conclusions. I’m not going to give you a policy prescription in the stories that I’m telling. I want this to be a tool to engage people in conversation. Vivian and the work she’s doing offer some solution since the release of the film. She’s gotten a $150,000 grant to renovate the Hive House, and it’s going to get more funding for operational costs for the next 10 years, so that’s very exciting. The film does ask some questions, like, who is the Vivian in your community and how can you support that person and that organization? Connecting with people in rural communities, and seeing that there’s a lot of similarities in urban communities, and we don’t really talk about that. And also talking about working with opportunity youth. How can we support young people between the ages of 18 and 24 that aren’t working and that aren’t in school? Junior is a perfect example. He is so talented with building and with his hands, yet because he didn’t have that mentor in his life that could guide him to a trade or running his own business, he’s working at the pork plant that is two hours away. Those are some of the challenges we’re trying to look at and work on through our engagement campaign. But I want people to come to their own conclusions. I want people to watch this film and engage in conversations about what can we do.

Right. It’s something that makes you wonder, what can I do once I get up from in front of my screen?
But who am I to say? I’m just a filmmaker. I’m just a storyteller, and I feel like that was my job — to tell their stories as authentically as possible. But beyond that, I don’t know all the answers.

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Lil Wayne performs at the 2019 Outside Lands music festival at Golden Gate Park on August 09, 2019 in San Francisco, California.
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Lil Wayne Talks ‘Ghost Recon Breakpoint’ Game, ‘Funeral’ Sessions And More

When Lil Wayne released his long-delayed Carter V and resolved his legal differences with Cash Money Records a year ago, he could have walked into the sunset and ended his career as one of the greatest artists ever. He’s put more than 20 years of his life into music, starting his career as a fresh-faced teenager in the mid-90s and going nonstop with more than 30 albums and mixtapes, an all-time great run of guest verses, a relentless touring schedule, and an indelible impact on the other rappers who have come after him. But Tunechi is still staying just as active, both in the booth and outside of it. 2019 alone has seen him launch a collection with American Eagle, continue his annual Lil Weezyana Fest for the fifth year, and tour with Blink 182 while releasing mashups of their previous work.

But today, Wayne is speaking with VIBE about another one of his passions: video games. He’s doing commercials for Ubisoft’s upcoming Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the 11th game in Tom Clancy’s tactical shooter franchise, slated for an Oct. 4 release. The ads see Wayne showcasing his hilarious personality, playing online with a team of other players and throwing jokes while consistently letting them down with phone calls and other distractions.

“That’s happened more than a few times, when you play games a lot, especially with your homies, and everybody’s on some sort of team and everybody’s counting on everybody,” Wayne tells VIBE over the phone. “It doesn’t even have to be a phone call. It can be somebody at the door, it can be your mom screaming at you, anything.”

Artists have historically relied on video games to pass the time during their tours, and Wayne has always been known for his adoration for the Madden NFL series. He’s a die-hard sports fan, as seen from his social media and his appearances on sports talk shows with his friend Skip Bayless. Years ago, T-Pain said he saw Wayne and Cash Money co-founder Birdman bet up to $10,000 on games, while letting the computer battle it out to see who wins – like sports betting, but you get to pick each other’s competition.

“I don’t recall that,” Wayne laughs when asked if T-Pain’s statements were true. “I don’t recall letting the computer play for no $10,000, but we definitely probably played each other for something like that. … I’m sure I didn’t lose that $10,000 bet whenever it happened. I don’t think I’ve lost too much. I’d say about $500 would be the biggest loss I’ve had, if anything. Maybe $1,000. But I’m putting the [cheat] code in on you and everything for that $10,000.”

These days, while Wayne says that Drake and Birdman have made games tough for him in terms of other artists, he admits that his biggest competition is at home.

“If I’m playing an artist, I’m only practicing against you to get better against my kids. You gotta stay superior on stuff like that,” he chuckles. His sons are aged 10, 9 and 9, “but think they’re 21 and 22.” “My sons, they like to play vintage, so I have to go back and get a team that was great in the year of the team that they pick. My middle son’s vintage team is the LA Rams, my youngest son, Meatball, is going to go with the Atlanta Falcons from the year that Deion Sanders was playing, and my oldest son, Tune, is going to go with the Bengals when they had Boomer Esiason.”

Wayne also spoke about the Top 50 rap lists that have been circulating this summer. While he’s cited Jay-Z as his GOAT before, he took time to give credit to Missy Elliott as one of his favorite rappers and described her impact using another sports analogy.

“A lot of people, their eyes widen up when I say that. If I placed her, there may be a question. It shouldn’t be, though,” Wayne says. “When Missy came out, everybody was rapping about the same things, and everybody [in each region] was trying to get better at the same things, one type of style, in my eyes. … Missy came out way from Virginia on some other shit, making sounds. Her and Timbaland were like Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick.”

His rap bonafides are unquestionable, but Wayne has also dabbled in rock: his tour with Blink 182 was paired with a mashup of his song “A Milli” and the band’s “What’s My Age Again,” and he released his own rock album Rebirth in 2010. When asked if he would consider making another rock album, Wayne said he liked the idea.

“I would definitely want some help on it this time. I did that one by myself. The most help I got, I consider her like another mom, is [soul/R&B singer] Ms. Betty Wright. She taught me a few strings, a few chords on the guitar, how to hold a few notes,” Wayne reveals. “I would definitely fuck with Blink, I’d let Travis go crazy on one or two of them bitches. … I would love to go back and do some vintage songs on it this time as well. I would have to get some clearances on one or two songs from a band or an artist we all love, and do it like that. I’m trying to see what’s up with a Nirvana song or something. Try to get my Kurt Cobain on.”

The Young Money Entertainment founder also says that despite a lack of updates, he and Drake still plan to make an album together.

“We’re both doing what we do, but he already know,” Wayne says. “We still text and send songs here and there, change a verse because he killed me or change a verse ‘cuz I killed him. It’s still the same competition.”

While those two projects are good interview fodder, Wayne’s 13th studio album Funeral is further along – he’s said in the weeks after this interview that he plans to release it by the end of the year. It’ll be his first collection of new, timely music in at least four years, and he says his recording process has changed drastically since his prolific mixtape days.

“I love the difficulty of trying to fit in with what’s going on today, making sure I sound likable to the ears today and having to remind myself that it’s not about what it was back then. Going to the studio now, for me, is awesome. I used to go to that mufucka and do 12 songs a night. Cut a beat on, I’m going to go and you let me know when to stop,” Wayne says.

“It’s different now. I can’t wait to get in the studio now every night, just to see what I can come up with. [Before] it was just me going to the studio and saying, let me kill ten more songs and then I’m going to go home or do whatever I was doing. Now, it’s let me see what I come up with. Self-discovery, rebirth – call it whatever you want to call it but it feels awesome, I swear to God.”

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Stanley Nelson Lays Bare The Complicated Cool Of Miles Davis

Miles Davis had it. Whatever it was, Miles Davis was the sole proprietor. The aura, skill, and style that oozed from Davis’ pores helped propel the trumpeter to stardom. His musical accomplishments were only made more striking by the swagger that garnished them. Davis’ cool, projected best on stage, was an unwavering confidence with a dollop of syrupy charisma. Even his voice, a sandpaper-like whisper, which came as a result of yelling after throat surgery, weaved its way into the mythological-like figure Davis became. To be frank, Miles Davis was a cool-ass motherfucker and he knew it.

Yet underneath Davis’ cool was a man equally tormented by the second-class citizenship his country forced on him, as well as his own personal demons. Standing up to the racist government sometimes proved easier than defeating his alcoholism and drug abuse. Those closest to Davis felt his venom whenever he bit, and graciously allowed their love for him to be a balm for the wounds he left. How could the same man who composed and performed Kind of Blue be responsible for the cruelty of those who loved him so?

Well, it’s complicated.

Director Stanley Nelson lays Miles Davis bare—his good, bad, and beautiful—to a new generation while crystalizing the jazz musician’s legend to longtime fans with Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool. Nelson’s latest demonstrates Davis' complexity and all that he endured.

Nelson invited VIBE to his 5,000-square-foot Harlem office to discuss Davis. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the nearly two-hour film, Nelson offers a firm handshake and an even stronger espresso. He apologizes for not having much sugar but makes up for it with a Wicker basket full of snacks that sits atop his white granite kitchen island. I opt for cookies and sneak the last bag of white cheddar popcorn for the train ride back to the office.

As we walk past the stainless steel appliances and through the dining room, the September sun shines bright through windows striking the white living room walls. Several books about Frederick Douglass are neatly stacked on the dining room table. Nelson reveals the writer and abolitionist will be the subject of his next feature, but for now, the 68-year-old director is entrenched in promotion for Miles Davis, an artist he says “transcends music.”

In between sips of tea, Nelson explains why Davis will always be a figure worth examing,

VIBE: What is your definition of cool? Stanley Nelson: I think the definition of cool changes with the times. I think cool is a certain calmness and being ahead of the times. It’s also a certain sophistication, I think Miles Davis had for so much of his life personified.

What do you think are some of the ingredients that go into making a Miles Davis? I don’t think there are very many people, across all genres, who can compare to Miles Davis. Miles Davis did what he did for five decades and was a leader in so many different movements in music and in jazz. Miles Davis transcends music.

What do you mean when you say "Miles Davis transcends music?" Miles Davis transcended the music because he was a leader in the way he looked, in the way he dressed, in things he demanded as you can see in the film. He demanded that he be treated with an amount of respect. The fact that he had black women on the covers of his albums, all those kinds of things made Miles Davis so different from so many other jazz musicians, who we love and admire for their music. We love and admire Miles Davis for his music, but it wasn’t just the music that made Miles Davis special.

Miles was also undeniably a beautiful looking man, and this was in the 50s and 60s. Miles Davis had very dark skin which was something that was not in the general public how it was thought of, so Miles kind of flipped that on its head.

This is going to sound like a dumb question but I have to ask it anyway. Why did you decide to honor Miles Davis with this film? There are a lot of reasons for making this film. There are a lot of reasons for making any film so whenever filmmakers tell you there’s only one reason they’re probably just lying, or saying whatever their publicist wants them to say. For one, his music is so incredible I would say he is easily one of the most important musicians of the 20th century, maybe the most important, you can argue that in any genre. Two, I’m a jazz lover and three Miles Davis is a very complicated individual so it makes for a better film. It’s not a simple story. I also think as we got into the film that Miles Davis’ story isn’t only about music, but it's about being a black person in the second half of the 20th century in the United States and I think that’s what makes the film work on a different level than a lot of other jazz films.

Veering off from Mr. Davis for a bit, how do you decide which topics or events you want to turn into films? You’ve done the black press, you’ve done a story about The Black Panthers, you did a story about Emmett Till. How do you choose which one to make into a film?

One of the great lessons for me was the first film I made called Two Dollars and A Dream. It was about Madame C.J. Walker and it took me seven years to make the film and I realize at that point films can take a long time to make, to raise the money and actually get the films made, so it's really important that the film be important to me, at least, that’s part of how I think about films when I think about what to do next. I’ve also been afforded the opportunity to paint on a big canvas so I’m trying to make stories that are big. I’m not just making small stories.

Did you always have this mentality of making big stories? I think so. I think part of that was unspoken, not really something I thought of. If you make something you want it to be a success, you want it to be a big success especially if it's going to take seven or 10 years of your life.

Why was Carl Lumbly the one you picked to voice Davis? Carl Lumbly is a great actor and he’s someone that I knew. Carl did the narration for one of our other films a long time ago, so Carl is someone I thought of. We sent him a bunch of tapes of Davis’ actual voice, and he practiced and we got back to him in a week and asked him to give us his Miles Davis voice over the phone and when he did, we were like, that’s good. It wasn’t perfect, but we could make it work.

What I personally loved about the film was that you didn’t glance over Miles Davis’ bitter personality. I loved the interviews with Frances Taylor, but it broke my heart that the creator of Kind of Blue forced his dancer wife to drop out of West Side Story. Miles was not an easy guy.

That’s putting it mildly. I think it was important that we tell that part of the story. I think what makes his story so rich and emotional there’s that dichotomy with Miles. The man that made some of the most beautiful music ever created and then was so rough for so many people. How do those things exist? Miles basically ruined Frances’ career by pulling her out of this show.

Yes! He was abusive to her, and after a few years they broke up. Her career had been ruined. I think one of the things that was so great for us while making the film was that Frances was so resilient and so beautiful and so funny in the film. You realize he tried but he couldn’t break her. I should say that Frances passed away Thanksgiving of last year. It was such a joy to be with Frances and interview her.

What do you hope people who don’t know Miles Davis will take away from the film and what do you hope people who do know Miles Davis will learn? One of the challenges of making any film, especially a film about Miles Davis, some people come in thinking there’s everything to know about Miles Davis. Some people come in and say "Miles who? Why’d you drag me to the theater?" You’ve got to walk that line and tell everybody something new and also be entertaining.

My mission in this film is partly to entertain. I don’t care how much you know about Miles. If you walk into this film and it’s two hours long you’re going to learn something new, or it’s going to be told to you in a different way. Certainly you’ve never been exposed to Frances. Just being exposed to Frances in and of itself is a trip. Part of the job is to entertain and frankly, that’s what we’re trying to do.

Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool is in select theaters. Click here

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Tekashi 6ix9ine attends the Made in America Music Festival on September 1, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Arik McArthur/FilmMagic

Nine Trey Trial: 6 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony

UPDATE: 9/19 9:50 AM ET 

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2

Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

He Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 


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A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.


His Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

Footage of the robbery/fight was filmed by Hernandez. As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.


Daniel Hernandez, known widely as Tekashi 6ix9ine, took the stand in a Manhattan federal courtroom against Anthony “Harvey” Ellison and Aljermiah “Nuke” Mack who are facing racketeering and firearms charges. Acting as a cooperating witness, the 23-year-old used part one of his testimony to break down his origins with the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods and how they've played an instrumental part in keeping up the rapper's gang image.

Pitchfork reports in addition to his testimony on Tuesday (Sept. 17) about "Treyway," the rapper made it known he began cooperating with federal agents on November 19, 2018– just one day after he was arrested on his own racketeering and firearms charges.

Answering questions from attorney Michael Longyear, the rapper "unhesitatingly" replied in full to the prosecutor about his kidnapping, how he learned about the Nine Trey crew, and why he continued to support the gang with guns and other resources.

With the rapper taking the stand again on Wednesday (Sept. 18) for part two of his testimony, here's what you missed from his first testimony.


Day 1 1. Tekashi Testified Against Fellow Nine Trey Gangsta Blood Members

Anthony “Harv” Ellison and Aljermiah “Nuke” Mack were called out by the rapper as alleged Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods members. Prosecutors claim the men were two high-profile members of the gang who terrorized neighborhoods with gun violence. Mack allegedly sold drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, and ecstasy in Brooklyn. Both are accused of kidnapping the Hernandez last year.

2. Trippie Redd's Gang Affiliation Was Identified By 6ix9ine

Speaking on his come up in the industry, the 23-year-old shared how his hit single "Gummo" was a direct diss to former labelmate, Trippie Redd. “Me and Trippie Redd were signed to the same label,” Hernandez said. “There was a lot of jealousy involved," he revealed while sharing how Trippie's alleged affiliation with Five Nine Brims.

3. Tekashi Provided Gang With Hits In Guns In Exchange For Protection

In 2014, Hernandez worked at Stay Fresh Deli, a vegan bodega in Bushwick where he met Peter “Righteous P” Rodgers. After being told he had the "image" for a rapper, he started making music and touring. He met rapper Seqo Billy who introduced him to members of the Nine Trey to act as supporters in his "Gummo" video. Hernandez purchased three dozen red bandannas for the men in the video. "I told Seqo that I would like for them all to wear red,” he said.

From there, he met his former manager, Kifano “Shottie” Jordan, who taught him the Nine Trey handshake. After creating “Kooda” he “officially became a Nine Trey member” without going through a traditional initiation like slicing a stranger in the face with a blade.

His role in the gang was simple, the rapper divulged. “[I] just keep making hits and be the financial support for the gang... so they could buy guns and stuff like that.” When asked what he got in return he said, “My career. I got the street credibility. The videos, the music, the protection - all of the above."

After seeing the traction from "Gummo" and "Kooda," the rapper realized Treyway could change his life. “I knew I had a formula,” he said. “That’s what people liked.”

4. Tekashi Turned On Gang Members 24 Hours After His 2018 Arrest

Hernadez didn't need much time to ponder a working relationship with the feds. Just 24 hours after he and other Trey Nine affiliates faced racketeering charges, the rapper agreed to work with the feds. Initially facing 47 charges, his current testimony stems from a plea he took with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office; under the agreement he pled guilty to nine federal counts.

“The defendant’s obligations under this agreement are as follows: That he shall truthfully and completely disclose all information of the activities of himself and others to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and that he cooperate fully with law-enforcement agencies,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Longyear said during the plea proceeding. “It is understood that the defendant’s cooperation is likely to reveal the activities of individuals and that witness protection may be required at a later date.”

5. Ellison Claims The Rapper's Abduction Was A Publicity Stunt

Ellison and Mack have accused the rapper's kidnapping in July 2018. Hernandez spoke to Angie Martinez shortly after the kidnapping and suspected people in his crew were behind the act. But Ellison’s lawyer, Devereaux Cannick, has another theory.

Calling the kidnapping a “hoax,” Cannick compared the incident to Jussie Smollet's Chicago incident. The name drop is a direct reference to the actor's claims of faking a racist and homophobic attack against himself. Cannick also claimed Ellison came up with the kidnapping as a publicity stunt in order to boost Hernandez's image.

Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Rebold argued that the kidnapping was real. After Ellison was fired from a "protection role" in Hernandez's camp, Rebold said, “This did not sit well with Mr. Ellison,” allowing the kidnapping plan to come to life.

6. Tekashi Nodded To His Music Videos Played In Court

Two music videos, “Gummo” and “Kooda," were played at the courthouse. Hernandez pointed out alleged gang members who appeared in the videos while nodding to his viral hits. While speaking on the creation of the video, Hernandez said he wanted the “aesthetic” of “Gummo” to reflect the "Treyway" vision.

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