6lack: the next 6ig thing
6lack's heartbroken hip hop really, truly slaps.
It's one of the first sunny days Melbourne's seen in months, and the city's taking to the heat well. We're waiting for 6lack outside a photo studio around the corner from Hisense Arena — where he'd opened for Migos the night before — when he arrives with a tidy crew of three. We shake hands with 6lack, then Dymond, a friend from high school back in Atlanta, Carlon, his creative director, and Jimmy Van, who snaps pictures behind-the-scenes over the next few hours. The whole gang works at LVRN (that's pronounced Love Renaissance, where a flexible approach to spelling is apparently a prerequisite) the independent Atlanta creative collective that 6lack is signed to, along with Raury and D.R.A.M.
6lack blew up last year with PRBLMS, an up-in-my-feelings RnB earworm that's now ticking close to 100 million stream on Spotify. In November, any one-hit wonder suspicions were dispelled with FREE 6LACK, his tightly selected 11-song debut. The record made it quickly apparent that the 25-year-old had a real knack for melody and breakup slappers with big hooks — start with Worst Luck and Ex Calling, if you're yet to dive in. Live, 6lack's vocals really shine: he sings without a backing track. (Funnily enough, he started out as a battle rapper, not an RnB singer — there's an old video of him battling Young Thug as a teenager, both are from Zone 6).
In person, 6lack's soft spoken and good humoured. He laughs easily as we talk bad tattoos, meeting your heroes, and free chicken.
I loved the Erykah Badu cover you came out with the other day.
Oh yeah! That was kind of spur of the moment almost. I really didn't think too much about what I was going to do, a few days before I was like "You know what? That's a great idea. Why not?"
Then she called you and called you her beautiful son. Not bad.
That was amazing. It was definitely unexpected. But you know, things happen how they're supposed to.
They do. Are you guys buddies now?
I mean, I've always been obsessed with her, so there's always been some kind of relationship — even if it was one-sided.
You're a stalker, basically.
And you know, over time all that stalking led up to an actual meeting.
Is there anyone else you've been a longtime fan of that's since become your fan?
I mean, anybody I work with I'm a fan of. From the music that's come out already, obviously, I have to say Jhené [Aiko]. I was always and fan and working with her was so easy, and she was a fan of me. Anytime I find out somebody loves my music as much as I love theirs, I'm like "Well you need to catch up, because I've loved your music for like five years."
Can you tell us about your favourite and least favourite of your tattoos?
My favourite is obviously my hand tattoo, the bear claw. It was the tattoo I got right before I made the decision to not ever get a real job again, when I told myself "I'm not going back to any other life, this is it, I have to do this." Least favourite... probably my first tattoo, it just says "self-made" and it cost me like 200 dollars. I only got "self-made" because I was just trying to figure out what I was going to get, you know, for my first tattoo.
It could be a lot worse.
It does get a lot worse.
What's the wildest look you've ever worn?
Well, the world won't ever know what happened on the shoot today, waist down, but those orange pants were kinda massive. They were massive. Usually, I keep it simple. I'm small, so I don't like to drown in my clothes.
Were you ever an emo?
Nah, I wore all black but I wasn't really an emo.
More of a goth then?
Not even. I knew the gothic kids, I knew the emos and I definitely didn't fit in with the bunch.
What sort of crew did you hang out with in high school?
I was literally in the middle, by myself. You know the weird kids, you know the kids that get picked on, you know the short kids, you know the sports kids, you know the musically-inclined kids, so I was just kind of like in the middle, just alternative.
What's the worst job you've ever had?
Well, I've only had one real job and it was the best job I've ever had, because it was at a hot wing place and I just, I love chicken. That's the only job I've ever really had. Another job that I had, it wasn't like a real job, because I didn't get paid a wage—
You got paid in wings?
Nah, this was a newspaper type of job. But instead of being a regular paperboy, you'd go to a warehouse and pick up hundreds of newspapers, then just stand on the corner on street at a red light, and people in cars would buy them.
So you were essentially an extra in the musical Oliver.
I would actually make like 600 dollars a weekend as a kid. 'Cause you don't have a boss, so you just go get the newspapers, and you split that money with people that you work with.
Very self-made indeed. What was your job at the hot wings place?
I was just a cashier, but I liked it because I could eat whatever I wanted on my lunch break. I could get the ten-piece, but then I started getting the twenty-piece, and once I got a thirty-piece, and my boss said, "You do know there's a limit of shit you can take."
And did you say, "Well I quit."?
She actually fired me without firing me. We were coming back from a long break, like the Christmas break, so I called in to see what my hours were that week. She was just like, "Who is this?" So I hung up the phone.
Do you think it was about the over-consumption of wings?
That's the only thing it could have been.
If you weren't making music, what's the next best thing you could be doing?
Before I did music I was into visual arts, I was drawing and shit. But I chose early on, like in elementary school, I just thought, "Okay, I like rapping more." So it could have been something like visual arts. Other than that, nothing. Unless we're talking about old me. Old me would've liked to teach, like no books, just come to class and let's talk.
What was your best subject in school?
English, any kind of writing. Anything that wasn't math, 'cause for the most part everything else was kind of muscle memory, and my memory's pretty good. Creative writing was definitely my favourite, that was during high school. Those were the times that any kind of presentation was a rap for me. Anytime I did a project it was in rap form. I'd go to the front of the class and everybody would be kind of, "sshh sshh, he's about to rap." And I'd talk about geography and shit in rap form.
This is not going to work out, but do you remember any of these raps?
Hell no, hell no.
There must be footage somewhere.
Oh yeah, there's definitely footage.
In a couple months that's gonna be on The Shade Room. What were you listening to in high school?
I was in Atlanta during high school, and it was a time period where everybody had big clothes. So a lot of the music centred around big clothes was like dance music, and snap music. This was probably Franchize Boyz, D4L — this was around the time in Atlanta where every rap group had a three letter name. So like SOB, KIP and HMS, all these different letters. You'd find whichever group you liked best, and you'd go to a party and they'd just play all these alphabet groups, and you'd dance forever.
What do you think is the best viral dance craze song?
Ever? Obviously Crank That. Obviously the kids have their ones today, but that's the one. It's the OG.
I do mourn for all the hoes that got supermanned because of that song. Are you a good dancer? When you're in the club, would you be leaning up against the wall or would you be on the dancefloor?
I keep it very minimal, unless I'm with my actual friends and I'm actually drunk.
Why would you go to a club with your not actual friends, your fake friends?
I mean you got your work people, you got your sorta friends. I'm talking about long-time, we've been through car crashes, you know, just everything. I try to show I'm okay even and enjoying myself, but people always worry, they always come up like, "Are you okay?" I'm like, "It's alright to be chill in the club, it's alright." Yesterday about 15 separate people came up to me and asked if I was okay. I'm just sitting here!
FREE 6LACK is out now, stream it here.
Text Isabelle Hellyer and Issy Beech
Photography Hunter Ryan
Styling Thalea MV