EXCLUSIVE: Matthew Lee of Inner City Press speaks on his coverage of the high-profile 6ix9ine case.
On Wednesday, December 18, the hip-hop community was collectively logged into Twitter, constantly refreshing one page in particular for of-the-minute updates on Tekashi 6ix9ine, the controversial Brooklyn rapper who was set to learn his fate in a gang trial. Of course, we're referring to the page that belongs to the formidable Matthew Lee, executive director of Inner City Press (@InnerCityPress).
We all know that news often hits social media first. That's just the name of the game, these days. Operating within the federal justice system, Matthew Lee covers courtroom stories as closely as possible, prioritizing live updates when they're appropriate. In the past, including one instance during the 6ix9ine trial, Lee was ordered to refrain from live-tweeting. Thankfully, he was given permission to inform the world on what was happening during the sentencing, acting as the primary line of news from the courtroom for many of us.
We spoke to the journalist to get an eye into what was happening behind-the-scenes.
Arik McArthur/FilmMagic/Getty Images
With so many people reading his feed, Lee attempted to keep his updates as unbiased as possible, telling us that he usually includes more opinion in his reporting. "On some lower-profile proceedings, or ones that are not as immediately interesting in and of themselves, I include more opinion," said Lee. "I tried to not do that in the 6ix9ine sentencing. People kept asking me to 'confirm' he'd get time served. I thought that was unlikely, but I'm not here to predict - I'm here to report, as closely as I can, so people can know what happens in the court system, especially when the government can and does lock people up."
As fans of the rainbow-haired rapper were waiting to find out his sentence, Lee sent out a note that Judge Paul Engelmayer, the sentencing judge for Tekashi 6ix9ine, had begun speaking about memes, snitching, and, of all things, Bruce Springsteen. This was all before 6ix9ine was read his twenty-four-month sentence, but after he was told he would not be leaving prison that day. The Judge's pacing, then, when delivering 6ix9ine's sentence seemed deliberately dramatic, with many users hanging on to Inner City Press' every word, citing the apparent "novel" that Judge Engelmayer was bestowing us with.
"Judge Engelmayer likes to build the drama," said Lee. "In fact, he usually doesn't telegraph the conclusion at the beginning of his sentence speech as he did on December 18, saying 'you won't be going home today.'"
Considering how much suspense was building on Twitter, we can't imagine what it must have been like physically in the courtroom. With Engelmayer discussing everything except the number of years Tekashi would be spending behind bars, onlookers began to get frustrated, begging Inner City Press for some news worth reading. That finally happened when the sentence was delivered and, apparently, Judge Engelmayer was rather short with 6ix9ine.
Informing the rapper's biological father that he could not speak during the proceedings because it was "too late" and telling 6ix9ine that no gang would ever want to work with him again, Lee describes the manner in which Engelmayer addressed the defendant as "scolding."
"[His tone] was rather scolding," explained the Lee. "Someone I know called it the most 'Dad' speech they ever heard."
Tekashi 6ix9ine will be spending the next eleven months in prison to complete his sentence, but there are already reports that he could be getting out in Summer 2020. Matthew Lee and Inner City Press will be covering the remaining sentencing trials for other members of the Nine Trey Bloods.
Subscribe to Lee's Patreon page here to receive all of his courtroom updates.