As Rap’s Quiet Superstar, 6LACK Is Exactly Where He Wants To Be

"I had to go back to the drawing board and look at myself in the mirror and figure out what I had to do."

6lack photo

It’s the day before the acclaimed rapper’s birthday, and 6LACK is looking to disconnect.

No matter that when he speaks to Music Junkee his new EP 6pc Hot is coming out in a few short days, six songs that continue in the soulful, humane trend that has made him famous. The man born Ricardo Valdez Valentine Jr. wants to get away from it all, music industry be damned. “I’m just gonna drive up to these cabins north of LA and just gonna be in the woods for the week,” he says, his voice gentle.

“I’ll pop in and see what’s going on so far as promo for the EP goes,” he says. “But I won’t be doing any heavy lifting at all. I wanna unplug. I wanna get away from everything. There’s been a lot going on, as you know. So I need a second to get away from everything and turn it all off for a second.”

Such an understanding of his own limits is something of a new development for the rapper. After all, the early years of his career were ones characterised by speed and intensity. Four years ago, the song ‘Prblms’ transformed him from a SoundCloud rapper who slept in the studio or out on the street into a Platinum-certified hip-hop heavyweight, friend and collaborator of such luminaries as J. Cole.

It was a titanic change in his fortunes, and one that left him feeling a little lost and confused. So now, in the words of his own song, ‘ATL Freestyle’, he “practices clarity”; tries every day to keep himself clear-headed and focused.

“It’s something that I’ve been working on a lot. A huge portion of what has happened to me, I haven’t really had the time to process. Sometimes these things get covered up or skipped over by going on tour, or by putting an album out.

“So these last few years I’ve just been trying to figure out how to work on the things outside of my music. It’s second nature for me to express things through a song. But it’s a harder task for me to practice that same amount of clarity in my life.”

He thinks for a moment. “It’s not even to say that’s a bad thing,” he says. “I just had to be aware that there’s a certain level of expression that I was able to achieve in my music and I wasn’t able to achieve in my personal life. So I had to go back to the drawing board and look at myself in the mirror and figure out what I had to do.”

That new outlook also prepared 6LACK well for quarantine; helped him sit easier with himself during a time where sitting easy with yourself is the entire goal. “Quarantine has forced us to either be stuck in the house and work out how to communicate with someone on the daily, or be stuck at home alone in the house and figure out how to express yourself and how to be productive,” he explains.

Personally, he took the latter route. Towards the beginning social distancing, former rapper and podcast host Joe Budden tweeted that he thought there was a good chance that 6LACK was going to spend the period of shutdown making some of the best art of his career. “I wanna hear 6LACKS’s quarantine song, he gon go crazy on there,” Budden wrote. “This his bag lol.”

And Budden was right. While the rest of us were spending the early stages of quarantine trying to get ourselves in order, 6lack was enjoying one of the most fruitful creative periods of his recent life.

“In the beginning of it, when we were first locked in quarantine, for the first couple of months, a lot of music was pumping out,” he explains. “I was working on music before we even had the idea of doing an EP. I was just making music, preparing for the album.

“But once everything happened in terms of preparing for quarantine, we just restructured what we were doing. And I know that I like to hoard music. So this was an opportunity to put out some recent music and not think too hard on it; not try to save it for the album. It was more like, ‘I like these songs. Let’s put them out. Let’s do it.'”

“I just wanted to do something that stands the time.”

6pc Hot has exactly the kind of ease and winking, wry energy that such a compact gestation period implies. ‘Float’, the EP’s standout track, mixes up jazzy instrumentals with some of the most heartfelt and immediate bars of 6lack’s entire career. “Hey God, listen, it’s been too hard,” the rapper croons, his voice rich with the emotion that has defined his career. “Joke’s on us, but why stop?

Of course, 6LACK has no idea when he will ever play these songs on the road — or if he even will. Touring is such a distant prospect, and the post-pandemic world that he tours to will be so strange, that he hasn’t decided anything either way. “All I know is that when [touring] starts again, I won’t be first,” he says. He’s totally serious, but he also knows that it sounds like a joke, so he gives himself a second before he laughs. “I will not be first.”

6LACK has come to peace with all of this. With his place in the world; with the confusion sweeping across the globe. You can hear that in his voice — he speaks with the gentle authority of someone who has it all worked out. And you can hear that with the music on 6pc Hot, six songs designed to communicate the certainty of a musician who knows exactly what they want, and how to get it.

“I already know that this [EP] will serve whatever purpose it’s supposed to serve,” he says. “There’s not really too much weight on it. I just wanted to do something that stands the time.”

6lack’s EP 6pc Hot is out now via Universal Music Australia

Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Music Junkee. He tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.