As states slowly resume business operations—or reinstitute restrictions as a result of premature re-openings—the only thing on 6lack’s mind is a quiet respite in the woods. The singer-slash-rapper and notorious recluse is currently holed up in a cabin on Los Angeles’ Big Bear Lake, where he spent his 28th birthday last week. After all, retreating is what he does best. It’s in these periods of solitude—two-year hiatuses between studio efforts are his pattern—that he creates his best work. First, there was his 2016 breakout album Free 6lack (for which he earned two Grammy nominations), no-skips follow-up East Atlanta Love Letter in 2018, and now, his newest brainchild, 6pc Hot.
The ease of recording his first two efforts was hard to replicate this time around, especially when set against a backdrop of nationwide protests over systemic racism and police brutality, and a global pandemic forcing the world into lockdown for months. 6lack is used to recording songs at light speed (he told XXL in 2016 that he made over 200 songs in a year’s time) but these days, “it’s been a compressed amount because of how much shit has been going on in the world and all the information I have to process,” he tells me over Zoom. “As much as I would’ve loved to have been solid on what I was going through, I was all over the place. That’s why I try to take time to decompress and figure out how I feel about where I am in life, sort through emotions, and then get back to making music.”
Not one to hold onto music for too long, 6lack felt it was time to repay his antsy fans for their patience. This EP is a six-piece appetizer to satisfy their cravings until a third album materializes. “There’s a lot of things I still want to learn and practice before I pump out this next album,” he says. On Instagram, he issued a call to action encouraging fans to “turn on your post notifications. it’s new music season,” and on Friday, June 26, 6lack returned with 6pc Hot—named after hot wings, his favorite comfort food—featuring “six different songs, six different emotions, six different thoughts, six different experiences that I felt during quarantine.”
The number six also happens to be his Life Path number and a running theme in his life, from his moniker (pronounced “black”) to his daughter’s name Syx. During the lowest moment of his life, he stumbled upon Life Path numbers and immediately resonated with the number six, as sixes are “people who are here of service, people who are here to help, to nurture, and are the caretakers of the world,” he explains. Perhaps one of the most influential sixes in his life, though, is Zone 6, a blanket term for the Eastside district of Atlanta and the area that launched the careers of fellow Atlantans Gucci Mane and Future.
Born Ricardo Valentine Jr. in Baltimore, Maryland, 6lack later moved to Atlanta at the age of five. There, he cut his teeth as a battle rapper in school, going up against anyone who dared question his lyrical dexterity, including a pre-fame Young Thug. Battle rapping soon lost its spark, forcing 6lack to express himself through other art forms. He turned to singing, which would prove to be a worthy career change years down the line, though a 2011 record deal from Flo Rida’s International Music Group botched his early momentum; he made several songs with little pay or success. The budding musician’s big break came in 2016, when LoveRenaissance signed him. He released his breakout single “PRBLMS” to fanfare, and his debut album Free 6lack quickly crowned him the artist to watch.
On Free 6lack, he introduced fans to his perennial themes of hustling, romance, lust, and heartbreak, straddling the line between rapper and singer over dark melodies and murky trap drums that have become integral to Atlanta sound. East Atlanta Love Letter two years later boasted features from J. Cole, Offset, and Future and served as a reminder that 6lack can exercise his rap skills as easily as he delivers his sultry coos. He doesn’t return to his old music often, but admits he’d like to “create a space for [rap] in what I do now, whether it’s dedicating an album to rap, or giving people more rap moments.”
Like the flavorful dish it’s named after, 6pc Hot is short (in run time) and imparts a sticky hit with 6lack’s usual brooding; the nocturnal R&B vibe and lovelorn ballads are reminiscent of its predecessors. Then there’s the kick: 6pc Hot doubles down on 6lack’s commitment to giving rap more of a supporting role on his projects. Brag-rap track “Atlanta Freestyle” opens the project, taking listeners on a tour of 6lack’s hometown mainstays, from rappers Nudy, Gucci Mane, and Skooly to Ann’s Snack Bar in the Kirkwood neighborhood, “where the food real good.” He connects with fellow Atlanta native Lil Baby on “Know Your Rights,” a nod to Colin Kaepernick’s social justice campaign of the same name, and proves he’s a lover boy at his core with “Long Nights.” As Ari Lennox delivers soulful, acrobatic ad libs in the background, 6lack details his desire to kiss the Fenty Beauty gloss off his lady’s lips.
“Each album is me updating people on where I am and how I feel, and love is something I find easy to write about,” he says. “It’s the core of everything we do. The way I see it, there are only three things I ultimately want to do in life: do what I love, love someone, and create a life I love. That’s what we’re here for—to love.”
As smooth as he is when penning songs about his feelings, he admits it’s not easy to communicate his words IRL—but if he has to text a paragraph, he will. What he doesn’t find difficult is speaking up about social issues, especially in the current climate, where Black people feel hopeless in the face of racism at every turn. Reading the news, watching broadcast news segments, and aimlessly scrolling on social media feeds are constant visual reminders that America is just now waking up to its racism. Black people are experiencing several pandemics simultaneously.
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6lack encourages everyone to find their role in the movement. “Sometimes it’s being on the internet and speaking on things that other people can receive and digest,” he says. “It might be funding a movement I can’t physically be on the ground with. And then sometimes it might be actually stepping outside and going to a march.” Or sometimes, it’s starting a virtual platform that expands the fan experience while amplifying Black businesses. Launched in tandem with the EP’s release, 6lackbox is an online hub that doubles as a social impact resource platform—including links that direct users to a voter registration site and a list of Black businesses to support—and a one-stop source where fans can access unreleased music, photos, merch, and more. And yes, it carries his very own hot sauce, 600 Degrees by 6lack. “It’s more on the good-tasting side than the spicy side—it reminds me of Louisiana-style hot sauce,” he says. But it’s not too hot. “I’d give it a 6/10 on the spicy scale.” The weekend 6pc Hot dropped, 6lack partnered with Postmates to deliver hot wings from Atlanta’s Good Fellas restaurant as part of his 6lack on Black Business initiative. He’ll also partner with Amazon to debut “6lackcards,” which will come preloaded with money for business owners to cover any expenses.
“It’s easy to post a tweet or post a message in solidarity, but after you put money towards things, where’s the action?” he adds. As brands rush to make Black people a priority in the midst of worldwide movements affirming Black lives and condemning white supremacy, 6lack advises them to embrace discomfort. “It’s a completely different thing to sit down and actually have the difficult conversations” he says. “It’s a different thing to actually start to employ people that look different than the majority. Actions are really all that can be done at this point.”
We end our Zoom call discussing the final song on his EP, “Outside.” The ultimate quarantine tune, it captures the loneliness that’s been looming since lockdown began. “I’ll meet someone I can play with/When it’s time to go outside and play again,” he sings. 6lack’s already planning a trip to an amusement park once it’s really safe to travel again. “I need a thrill. Maybe Six Flags.” For now, Big Bear Lake will suffice. Cabin fever hasn’t struck yet.
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