Atlanta’s pop culture phenom 6LACK – rapper, singer and trendsetter – was plotting new music when the world was suddenly plunged into the COVID-19 pandemic. But he didn’t want to hold on to it. And so 6LACK has dropped the 6pc Hot EP – titled for the popular chicken combo – to coincide with his 28th birthday festivities. The collection offers songs of nostalgia, fortitude, and the hope of better days, post-quarantine – all with 6LACK’s melancholy trap-soul sensibility. It encompasses the balladic ‘ATL Freestyle’, out in May, sublime ‘Float’, and current single ‘Know My Rights’ – the last a statement of self-realisation with fellow Atlantan Lil Baby. The banger ‘Elephant In The Room’, co-produced by Timbaland, could be a futuristic BLACKstreet.
6LACK was born Ricardo Valentine, Jr but, even in conversation, he prefers his artist name – symbolically inspired by Atlanta’s Zone 6 neighbourhood, where he was raised after a move from Baltimore. “I haven’t been called Ricardo since I was in school,” 6LACK shares. He was grinding for an eternity. In school, 6LACK was known as a battle rapper, later developing his singing voice, determined to pursue music. He relocated to Miami, signing an ill-fated deal with Flo Rida’s International Music Group and experiencing homelessness. Eventually, 6LACK joined EarthGang’s Spillage Village collective and found a nurturing home at Atlanta’s now buzz LoveRenaissance (LVRN) stable.
In 2016, 6LACK aired his breakthrough track, ‘PRBLMS’, followed by the debut album FREE 6LACK, with its distinctive grizzly bear mascot. He’d receive his inaugural Grammy nominations, including one for ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’ (recently reclassified as ‘Best Progressive R&B Album’). The next year, 6LACK descended on Australia for the first time, accompanying Migos. He then delivered 2018’s mega sophomore, East Atlanta Love Letter, led by ‘Switch’ (which Lorde’s ally Joel Little produced). 6LACK reflected on fame and fatherhood, carrying baby daughter Syx on the cover. Yet the LP also demonstrated his growing clout, with guests like Future.
Today the Southerner is among R&B’s most-streamed creatives. Plus he’s renowned as a featured artist – Kehlani’s ‘RPG’ a personal collab highlight. Notably, 6LACK blessed Jessie Reyez’s ‘Imported’ on her critically-acclaimed debut, BEFORE LOVE CAME TO KILL US. “I think a lot of my big favourites haven’t even come out yet,” he says mysteriously.
Crucially, 6LACK has addressed social justice issues. He was one of few music stars to repudiate R Kelly over sexual abuse and misconduct allegations. Latterly, 6LACK has called on fans to support Black Lives Matter – and end police brutality against Black Americans. As part of his new online hub 6LACKBOX, the communal 6LACK is boosting Black-owned businesses. He himself is marketing his own 600 Degrees hot sauce, to tie in with 6pc Hot EP. (In Australia, 6LACK partnered with Sydney’s Butter, a sneaker, fried chicken and champagne bar, for a unique promo deal.)
6LACK graciously chats to Music Feeds about 6pc Hot as he prepares a low-key birthday celebration. “I’m definitely driving away to get away from the noise, kinda falling off for a second – also while peeking at it to release the EP and release the music, but taking a break away from all the heavy stuff and just being to myself for a second!”
Music Feeds: Even though it’s your birthday, you’re giving fans a present – the 6pc Hot EP. What can you tell us about this project?
6LACK: Yeah, 6pc Hot EP – it was never planned to be this way. I was just making music while the year started and then, right before quarantine happened, I had a few songs. We were talking about releasing one and I told [the label] that I never really release songs singularly, so I wanted to do two – and then that turned into six and a whole entire project to go with it.
We were supposed to release it at an earlier date, but then a lot of stuff started happening socially in the world. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t speaking over anything or being insensitive to what was going on. So we restructured and replanned and came back a little bit later after we’d got active in the community first.
6pc Hot EP was a collection of six songs; [there was] no specific feeling or thing I was going for – I just was giving a conscious stream of what I was thinking. So you have songs that touch on what’s going on socially and how I feel about it; you have songs that touch on wanting to go outside temporarily; you have songs that remind you of a night out on the city that we haven’t been able to have in a long time. I just tried to cover a couple of different things.
MF: The focus track is ‘Know My Rights’ with Lil Baby. That title alone is quite powerful and could mean a lot of different things, especially now.
6LACK: ‘Know My Rights’ – I started it in Atlanta and it was one of the very few songs that I’d made in Atlanta in the last couple of years, ’cause I’d just been on the road and in LA and working a lot. So I went back home; I was chilling with my old friends in the studio. I’d made ‘Know My Rights’ maybe around 5am and I drove around and listened to it for weeks before it made it to Lil Baby. Once he touched it, smashed the verse, I was sold the second I heard it. It was just dope, because [you have] two artists from Atlanta, two different genres, and the same message, the same feel, and we both carried the song in an amazing way.
MF: Do you have a track on this project that really speaks to you or that you’re particularly pleased with?
6LACK: I love them all obviously, but ‘Float’ and ‘Outside’ are two of my favourites for different reasons. ‘Float’ covers a lot of how I’ve been feeling in the last couple of months – so it’s talking about dealing with things that are happening in the world, dealing with things that are happening in my personal relationships, and feeling a little bit overwhelmed, but just trying to stay afloat amidst all of it. Then ‘Outside’ was a sweet song honestly that was just about me not being able to wait until I can go outside and have fun again with the person that I love.
MF: It’s a momentous time in the US – and the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality have become a global movement. You’ve used your profile as a platform to educate and build solidarity for some time. But do you feel that there’s a genuine shift happening in the US? Will tangible change come out of this?
6LACK: Nah – I feel like it’s been a very long time coming. But what’s going on right now is, to me at least, for the first time we’re able to see a time period where everyone is held accountable. And it’s not even to say that you have to do something a specific way, but there is no straddling the line or not speaking up for right versus wrong for actual human rights. So, with everything that’s happened in the US and in Atlanta and around the country in the last couple of months honestly, you’ve been able to see a lot of bills actually get introduced, you’ve been able to see a lot of people actually held accountable and arrested immediately; versus two years going by and then us having to direct attention to something that should have been immediate the second that it happened. Everything has just been quicker – like [the authorities have] been reacting quicker because all eyes are on them, the magnifying glass is on them; the camera’s on them…
MF: The music industry has also been held accountable. Republic Records announced that it was abandoning the term ‘urban’. There’d been a lot of discussion about that for a while. How did you feel about that? What changes would you like to see happen in the industry, whether symbolic or structural?
6LACK: I think something like that is fine, but it’s the tip of the iceberg because, if we start there, then we most definitely have to have the conversation about now what to do about the term ‘pop’ – which is really just what’s popular at the time and it’s not really subject to a certain skin tone or a certain tempo. I think that pop music has always gotten a rep for coming from mainly white American artists, or however they try to package up ‘pop’… I think that they’ve sectioned it off enough that we have to revisit that as well because ‘urban’ really isn’t the only problem that we have as far as constructs and different categories that have prevented us from being able to win certain awards. Any time I see a ‘pop’ category, it’s very rare to see a Black artist – and I’m pretty sure that a lot of Black artists make popular music.
MF: You’ve already achieved a lot creatively and professionally. What are you most proud of – and what are your ambitions for the future?
6LACK: I’m most proud of just being able to teach people through music – that was my initial goal. It started off as a goal of just saying to myself, “I wanna reach a million people.” Then obviously I feel like we’ve superseded a million people. I think that that’s a goal that just continues to go, as life goes on. There’s no sense of completion in that. I just want to continue to teach until I can’t teach anymore. I’m proud of that – and that’s all I really want to do.
MF: You’ve teased us about a 6LACK “szn 3”. I wonder where you might be headed with your third album? How indicative are the new songs of that direction?
6LACK: They aren’t at all because I’m just making music right now. This was like a situation where I know how much I’ve hoarded a lot of music over the years, so I just wanted to get [the songs] out while they were fresh, while I like ’em, and I don’t have to think twice about it. It’s: make the music, put it out, allow other people to enjoy it – and then go back to the table and get this album together. But I can’t really say that they point towards the album or anything. One of ’em or some of ’em might be on the album; none of ’em might be on the album. I don’t really know.
MF: You’ve toured Australia heaps now – you were here for Listen Out in September. What are your general impressions?
6LACK: I’ve toured Australia multiple times, for the very reason that I love Australia. It’s really second to none as far as energy. Obviously, it was the furthest place that I’ve been away from America and one of the first times when I did my first tour and I got to do Europe and Australia and everything. But that was my first time being able to see how far music travels and how sometimes [your music is] even more effective… outside of your home [country].
You know, I think that America has a certain kinda filter that we carry – even when we enjoy ourselves. It’s not to say that everything is that way, but here it’s more worried about, like, “What am I wearing?,” “Don’t step on my shoes, you’re too close,” or “I’m trying to look cool – somebody’s here that I know…” It’s all of these different filters that we apply to having fun. But, when I go to other countries, I see people being carried out on stretchers because of how much fun they’re having! Australia was one of those places where I got to see energy turned up a hundred times more than anything I’ve ever seen.
MF: You did that iconic performance for triple j’s Like A Version, covering Erykah Badu’s ‘On & On’. How did you enjoy that – and what feedback did you get maybe from people in the States when they saw it? Because I know these things go viral.
6LACK: Yeah, it’s always something that pops up. I don’t really know how the cycle goes, but I feel like every three months I start to see certain kinds of things pop up and certain videos pop up – and that’s definitely one of them that keeps circulating, and it’ll always circulate. So I’m proud of it.
6lack’s ‘6pc Hot’ EP is out now.