ALTERNATIVE R&B singer-songwriter and rapper Ricardo Valentine is known professionally as 6lack (pronounced Black). The ‘6’ in his name comes from the zone where he grew up in the city of Atlanta.
His sophomore studio album, East Atlanta Love Letter, shows how important his hometown is in his heart as multiple aspects of his life are weaved into it.
If his name and album title did not already indicate how instrumental Atlanta is to his identity as an artiste and person, the fact that he named his daughter Syx certainly drives home that sentiment and his far-reaching love for the city.
“I made sure I kept that as part of my life for the rest of my life when I named her,” said the Pretty Little Fears singer when he was in the country for Good Vibes 2019 in July.
It’s not hard to understand why, considering Atlanta is a vibrant epicentre for all things music. You have the likes of Migos, 21 Savage, Young Thug, Future, and then you have 6lack, who offers a different kind of individuality that has gained him a loyal following.
“People borrow from melodies, they borrow from cadences, they borrow flows, they borrow styles,” said 6lack. “Atlanta is one of those places, when you ... look and you can be like ‘oh, they’re from Atlanta’.”
Divided into six zones, the city plays an influence in the artistic styles that link certain performers together (think other rappers like Gucci Mane and T.I.).
But 6lack said: “I know for sure I’m the only person that’s like me,” adding that “sometimes, people don’t even know I’m from Atlanta” unless he referenced certain slangs and certain neighbourhoods, “and those are the giveaways”.
The album cover for East Atlanta Love Letter shows 6lack recording music in his home kitchen while holding his then-infant daughter in a baby carrier. The surprisingly candid image was taken on Father’s Day, as he was recording the track PRBLMS (part of his November 2016 debut album Free 6lack).
“We weren’t shooting for the album [cover] at all. She just happened to be in town, and I was having a random photoshoot and from that, we had that picture.”
Though he now records out of a bigger studio since Free 6lack, he still likes “to record a certain kind of way”, and maintains a small and personal setup “because I just write better that way”.
He added: “I just finished a home studio and that way, I can work from home and then, when it’s time to do the big stuff, I can finish it at the big studio.”
If his killer hooks haven’t made you fall in love with his music yet, then his philanthropic side will likely tip the scales.
The Nonchalant rapper has been supporting causes in Africa, from changing his social media profile picture to blue to raising awareness about the conflict in Sudan, to donating a community well for clean water in Uganda.
6lack said: “I think it’s just necessary to say something about the things that are going on. Being silent is just as hurtful as, you know, saying the wrong thing.
“I think people kind of stray away because they don’t want to say or do the wrong thing, or they don’t want to be misinformed and like, slip up.”
His music is both personal and brilliant – a reflection of how he approaches his creative process – preferring to work with the same people such as his producer Singawd and sound engineer J.T. Gagarin.
When it comes to collaborating with other artistes, however, the three-time Grammy-nominee loves stepping into “other people’s soundscapes and do my own thing”.
Blending his musical brilliance with the distinctive R&B, pop-soul of Khalid, his track Seasons from the album does just that, on top of a string of collaborations with other artistes like Normani and Jessie Reyez.
The music video for Seasons, which premiered on Aug 9, is yet another truly stunning testament to 6lack’s artistry – a piece that digs deep for a gush of erupting emotions. It makes you cry-smile, it makes you yearn, it makes you feel.
And for his Grammy-nominated Pretty Little Fears, 6lack roped in another brilliant American rapper, J. Cole.
“[Producer] T-Minus made the beat,” he began about the story behind the solid song with the Wet Dreamz rapper. “It was already like, pretty much together as far as the beat went. I remember making the first verse and the hook.
“I remember being super excited about it and we had the first verse in the hook for a while and then I finally added a second verse and then ... we were just trying to figure out who to bring on or who would sound good.
“Within one day, when I met Cole in his studio, I was just playing him all of my music, and he heard that one and he was like: ‘I like that one right there’, like, ‘I want to work with that one’.
“And if he asked, I was just like ‘cool, fine with me’. I had to act like I didn’t really ... you know, wasn’t screaming in my head.
“But he picked that song and he made an amazing verse.”