A few minutes into my phone call with Teejayx6—a Detroit teenager from a world called scam rap—he stops to chat with a shop clerk. He’s somewhere in Texas, on a pit stop between shows.
“You got the medium?” he asks. I don’t hear a response.
“Is this going to be a … legitimate transaction?” I ask. I feel, very very slightly, like Edward Norton in Fight Club. When he begs the diner waiter to temporarily stop fighting the system? And not soil the soup?
Teejayx6 chuckles. “Naaaaaah.”
Is he telling me the truth? I do not know. That’s sort of the point. Because Teejayx6 is a self-proclaimed scammer. All he does is scam and rap about it. Over the course of a string of lo-fi bangers—released via YouTube videos, online mixtapes, and all reputable DSPs, and pushed through Instagram, where he has over 270,000 followers—he’s established himself as a fringe rap star.
His songs are built on a constant stream of references to the tools of his trade. The Tor browser, VPNs, Cash App. Knockoff SIM cards, check cashing shops, those peculiar in-store bitcoin machines. His stage name is an ode to his beloved MSR X6, a palm-sized piece of hardware you can buy for less than two hundred bucks on Amazon right now and then use to clone credit cards. In one particularly sublime moment, Teejayx6 raps that he loves a stolen online profile with a credit score of 700. This, we are led to understand, is very important when applying for payment plans for iPhones.
More than anything, Teejayx6 wants to explain his methods. He wants you to be able to re-create his very moves. To that end, the track “Swipe Story” in particular is a small epic. He takes us through every beat of lifting “about seven” Xboxes and TVs from Walmart—from a red-herring perusal of the clothes racks; through fumbling conversations about golf with the clerk; to the feeling of relief zooming away in a rental with the cargo. By the end of that pileup of details, you’re left in a daze. And that obliqueness, counterintuitively, makes the track captivating: While trying to figure out the scheme Teejayx6 said he pulled at that Walmart, I listened to “Swipe Story” over and over again.
He’s a very specific offshoot of a very unpromising part of the internet. Online fraud is strange, small stakes, and, frankly, very confusing. Somehow, though, Teejayx6 has built his persona entirely on it. In his own words, he’s a “con artist slash swiper turned rapper,” and he “learned everything off a computer.” He’s managed to take something ugly and make into something—well, not exactly beautiful, but certainly resonant.
By the time he was in the first grade, Teejayx6 claims, he’d pulled off his first scam: selling clumps of parsley as little baggies of weed. Two of Teejayx6’s brothers have been involved in the illegal arts. One, he told the podcast No Jumper, is doing serious time on bank fraud. The other, he tells me, was “like a mentor” in lower-stakes criminality. “After a while,” he says, “I grew up and shit, and I found out [more] about” fraud. He became a bit of an autodidact in the field. “I saw it as just little money at first,” he says. “But once I started seeing people making money with it, I started investing time into it.” Looking to buy social security numbers, he found himself on the dark web for the first time. “You making a fake profile out of the SSN,” he explains, in the same matter-of-fact tick-tock style he deploys in his songs. Meaning, a stolen identity. And those profiles need to have a good credit score, right? “Yeah, but it’s always good to have a good credit score,” he advises. “Even in real life.”
All while scamming, Teejayx6 always wanted to rap. In his teens, he gave it a whirl. At first, on early tracks that didn’t get traction, he was just punching out predictable lines about drug-dealing—stuff he wasn’t even really doing. And “everybody in the world damn near does that. It’s nothing to stand about drug dealing.” So he pivoted to putting his scams on the tracks, and he became a part of a wave.
Charting the scam rap scene’s rise, Vice’s Ryan Bassil points to Detroit as the nexus, Bossman Rich as the progenitor, and Bossman’s 2017 track “Juggin Ain’t Dead” as the index case. Writing about the scene at Pitchfork, Alphonse Pierre paid respect to the more obscure bits of the internet from which these dudes draw inspiration: “Every Detroit rapper definitely prefers Ask.com over Google.” Scam rap has become a small media darling. Maybe that’s because it sounds made-up. Or maybe that’s because it’s so particular. In its insularity, and its strangeness, and its fledgling-ness, there’s a very appealing purity.
For me, Teejayx6 stands out from the scene. He’s more audacious and more single-minded. Bar after bar are “lessons”—literal details of his own (alleged? alleged-ish?) scammery. He blurs the lines as much as possible. On his Instagram, he’s offered to sell verses (at $500 a pop) and scam tutorials (at a much more reasonable $25 per).
At a so-called “scammer convention” in New York, as Pitchfork’s Pierre reported, a kid with two iPhone 10s told Teejayx6, with apparent sincerity, “I wouldn’t have this sauce without you.” One of the top comments on Teejayx6’s video for “Apple” reads, “This ain’t even a song this just a felony with a beat.”
You know how lifer comedy writers end up so inured to standard misfortune that they can only laugh at the saddest, darkest shit? I would have to admit there’s an element of that operating here, with love for Teejayx6. The dude is just so, so weird. At times, Teejayx6 free-associates himself into very unexpected places. On “Violin,” he brags, “I know the terrorists who did 9/11 back in New York.” On Twitter, he’s teased a future lyric: “My uncle said in World War2 he shot at a T-Rex.”
But through it all, his tracks pack an unexpected hookiness. Since I first heard “Dark Web” a few months back, its opening lines—“The government tried to ban me from the dark web / I downloaded Tor Browser then got back in”—have been on a near-constant loop inside of my head.
Sometimes, Teejayx6 raps about scamming people and places who most certainly deserve it. Walmart, for one. The New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, for another. Teejayx6 has a more nihilistic streak, though. Other victims of his scams have supposedly included tenuously employed forward Carmelo Anthony, his barber, his grandma, and a “little kid” who he “think[s]” is “Arthur.”
Do you ever, like, feel bad? I ask Teejayx6.
“Sometimes,” he says. “It depends on the situation. Like around Christmas last year, a lot of people were telling me I was taking their last money for Christmas gifts. That’s really the only time I was feeling bad.”
So you won’t do that again?
He says he most certainly will be doing that again. “I’m picking up new scams every day,” he adds. Fans and peers send him tips and ideas. “I get a lot of DMs every day and a lot of people coming up to me.”
But wait. Even with the Christmas money people. You don’t feel bad?
“Let me ask you a question,” he says. “You think Donald Trump scammed his way into office?”
I have to admit that I do.
“That’s our president!” he cracks up. “Our president’s a scammer!”
Are you impressed by Trump’s scamming? Isn’t it kind of dumb?
“I’m impressed by any type of scam. It’s just really people—people been scamming forever. It’s never gonna stop ever. Somebody probably scamming you right now, and you don’t even know it.”
I never would have imagined falling for a rapper dealing exclusively with chip readers and BINs. Credit scores? How could credit scores ever be rendered into credible material? To Teejayx6, though, there’s nothing all that novel about his alchemy. “I just tried to switch it up and keep it a hundred percent,” he says. “I had to talk about my life.” His life online.
So whether or not Teejayx6 is actually scamming this Texas shop (perhaps with a cloned credit card? pegged to a profile stolen from that Finland dude? whose SSN he nabbed off the dark web?!) is beside the point. As long as I believe he might be—as long as he’s made me feel like I’m a witting part of his happily shambolic criminal conspiracy—he’s pulled off his trick. There’s nothing novel about scammers becoming stars; these days, the idea of the scam as a virtue is practically a generational touchstone. But Teejayx6 didn’t get caught in his scam. He gave it up from go. He is lying and he is telling us he is lying, and compared to some of these schmucks out here today—well, there’s honor in that.
More Great WIRED Stories
- The strange life and mysterious death of a virtuoso coder
- Wish List 2019: 52 amazing gifts you’ll want to keep for yourself
- How the climate crisis is killing us, in 9 alarming charts
- Why my friend became a grocery store on Instagram
- How to lock down your health and fitness data
- ? A safer way to protect your data; plus, the latest news on AI
- ??♀️ Want the best tools to get healthy? Check out our Gear team’s picks for the best fitness trackers, running gear (including shoes and socks), and best headphones.