By Josh Weiner
Atlanta rapper 6lack finds lyrical inspirations from many similar sources as some of the all-time greats have done. Like Kanye West, he is able to recount a near-death experience in a car crash. Like Eminem and the Notorious B.I.G., he lets his tender feelings for his daughter run freely in his songs. And like OutKast, Ludacris, and many other Atlanta natives, he is clearly a major fan of the Gate City, to the point of naming his most recent album East Atlanta Love Letter.
At a mere 4 years of age, Ricardo Valdez Valentine had already been bitten by the recording bug when he had his first studio session at his parents’ place. It didn’t take him long to turn to hip-hop: he was already battle-rapping in middle school, and decided to venture into music professionally by age 17. “That’s when I zoned in and figured out what’s gonna be my sound, what’s gonna be my message, what’s gonna be me,” Valentine says about his early efforts to form his musical persona.
He gave himself the pseudonym 6lack, a reference to his native Zone 6 of East Atlanta, and scored his first record deal with Flo Rida’s International Music Group in 2011. Sadly, not much came of this initial deal, either creatively or financially– 6lack was unemployed and sleeping at the studio for much of the five years that followed this signing.
His fortunes finally brightened when he joined Interscope Records instead in 2016. He finally made his way into the national press– Rolling Stone cited him as one of the “10 New Artists You Need to Know” that year– and he released his debut album, Free 6lack, as well. The album drew plenty of long-awaited attention to 6lack, particularly for the single “PRBLMS,” which earned the artist his first trip to the Billboard Hot 100, and was critically acclaimed as “an absolute slapper that pulls right at the strings of your heart.”
6lack has explained that he is most in his element when making emotionally-stirring songs of this nature: “Whether it’s the positive side or the negative side of love, I feel like that’s when I have the most to say and that’s when I can do most of my teaching,” he says. Bringing a 700-pound black bear along for the music video didn’t lose him any fans, either.
2018 has been another eventful year in 6lack’s career. September’s East Atlanta Love Letter received favorable reviews– HipHopDX called it “a moody masterpiece that may very well take the artist’s career to new heights”– and the record added strong singles like “Pretty Little Fears” and “Switch” to 6lack’s growing catalogue. The music video for the latter alludes to major life events for 6lack in recent years: his 2016 car accident in Florida (he’s seen lying injured on the highway several times during this clip) and the 2017 birth of his daughter, Syx Rose Valentine, whom he caresses throughout the video and on the EALL album cover.
6lack had previously joined the Weeknd on last year’s Starboy: Legends of the Fall tour as an opening act. This year, he graduated to his first headlining tour, which featured stops in Australia, South Africa and Europe before a string of thirty-plus American dates. The tour concluded with a three-date set Atlanta, indicating that 6lack still has mad love for his fans back home. But both in and out of his native city, “it’s clear that 6LACK has developed that difficult-to-pinpoint quality that forges a connection with listeners.”
As long as he still has the chance to serve them memorable music, he will be satisfied. “I’m not here to be temporary, to be seasonal,” he says. “If I’m here, I want to be great at what I do.”
— bear (@6LACK) April 21, 2015