In the five years since his last album, 6lack has been on a voyage of rediscovery. While hits like “Ex Calling” and “Prblms” established his penchant for moody and atmospheric tales of heartbreak and loss over mid-tempo jams, the East Atlanta artist has taken on a new creative direction.
Veering from his grayscale vocals and mellow-tone raps, his new album, Since I Have a Lover, unlocks a chamber of new inspiration both musically and on his own personal journey.
“Time has been a little bit of a loop,” 6lack tells MTV News over Zoom. “It was a lot to learn. It was a lot to handle in my personal life. It was a lot to mature and grow from. And I think that the weight of having people waiting on you is something that you can't really ignore. It's not like it doesn't exist, so it feels great to have that weight off and to just be back in motion.”
On Since I Have a Lover, the airy vocals of the artist, born Ricardo Valdez Valentine Jr., float over breezy, pop and acoustic-driven instrumentation on “Chasing Feeling” and “Wunna Dem,” and 6lack flirts with dance (“Temporary”) and wallows with Caribbean, beach-front tunes on “Decatur,” allowing his artistry to roam free.
“I think it's been super important to grow in between each project, and not even just musically, but personally,” he said, referencing the “moody” tenor of his 2016 debut, Free 6lack. “It felt like somebody trying to figure their way out of the situation, and East Atlanta Love Letter started to peek at where we could go with it within the realms of R&B. I think this album production-wise allowed me to express every feeling that I feel. Some days I might feel more pop or [alternative], and some days I might feel more traditional R&B or rap. It varies and it kind of plays to how relationships vary — everything isn't just one feeling or one color.”
The 19-track offering is an exercise of 6lack’s versatility. He melds inklings of his Atlanta trap roots with guitar-strumming and flowy tracks, all revolving around themes of self-healing (“Spirited Away”), positivity, and the mystifying powers of love on “Preach” and “SIHAL.”
For 6lack, this new direction was a “gradual blossom.” While there were cookie crumbs on 2020’s 6pc Hot EP that pointed to this more immersive effort, the Baltimore-born artist said the new album’s title, partly inspired by his relationship with R&B singer Quin, helped spark a new flame. It also drove him to create an open letter to his fans, which he hopes answer the questions that have loomed in his musical absence.
“I feel like the title more than anything it’s a response,” 6lack said. “It kind of serves to answer every question. Like, ‘Where have you been? What have you been doing? What's the theme? What's been inspiring you the most? Why haven't you been outside?’ Any question that you could possibly ask me, I think ties back to the title Since I Have a Lover. Having to be accountable for yourself is one thing, but having somebody next to you who can really look at you and see you for what you do right and what you don't do right and tell you just a hundred percent straight up, that helped me really hone in on where I wanted to be in my personal life and where I wanted to be creatively. It was like, ‘OK, I got to get my shit together. And once my shit is together in my personal life, then I know that will help inspire what I make music-wise.’”
But the shift was no easy feat. To embrace his new sound, he had to let go of the sorrow, regret, and heartache he internalized for Free 6lack and his romantic skepticism and stories of failed love quests that bled into his second effort. Once those thoughts were steered, once he focused on the treasures of his newfound relationship, and once he waived his past transgressions and mental blocks, 6lack sank into a new music-making paradigm, and the album poured out and turned into sonic gold. On “Spirited Away,” he says: “You know I got my vices, on the real / And I ain't always nice, but I’m always real / It’s gonna take me some time to break off my pride / But I’m learning to show up, learning to slow up.”
“The process was only hard when I was resistant to change and to acknowledge that my life is different now,” he said, referencing how he’s stopped letting others’ perception define his personal and artistic growth. “I’m not sulking, I’m not depressed, and I’m not going through what I went through in 2016. If you even try to start a song that way, you might as well stop because that's just not it. And if you continue, that's what we call perpetrating, and I'm not here to portray anything for a specific award or category. I just want to make what's true to me.”
6lack’s sonic transformation was one he felt both he and his fans needed. In a world where negativity draws headlines and tilts the algorithm on its scale, the 30-year-old artist said it’s his responsibility to share notes of positivity. And on Since I Have a Lover, he never falls short of his mission.
On “Preach,” he raps: “Who am I to capitalize without giving back? / We all human but I can’t go a day not feeling Black / I made my money, but to my audience, I’m still attached / It’s like I know the whole world just wants that feeling back.”
“I think that the toxic theme has been populated and I think that it is honestly a lot easier to pull from depression, from heartbreak and breakups. And to me, that's easy,” he said. “It's harder to talk about good things. It's harder to make that translate or resonate with people. It is harder to make that sound cool. The world is only getting crazier, so if I can be at least a portion of the good that's coming out, then that's my job.”
His exploration doesn’t end with SIHAL. Along with feeding his current inspirations, the “Float” artist plans to collaborate with Quin, the very lover that inspired the new album title, and possibly lock in with Spillage Village group-mate JID for an upcoming collab project.
“I'm just going with the process, but I hope it continues to be something different,” he said. “I don't ever want to make the same album twice. I don't want to be in the same bag twice. I'm not telling the same story twice. There will never be a Free 6lack 2 unless I end up in a situation that puts me there, and let’s hope I don’t have to because that’s not what we’re looking forward to at all.”