The Urban Outfitters was full of artists, media, and young, adoring fans who all came out to see Raury perform. It was a rather special evening since he would be the first artist to ever perform inside the Urban Outfitters on Ponce De Leon in Atlanta. This was before he opened for OutKast, before the release of his Indigo Child mixtape; a young artist that just escaped the halls of high school. “God’s Whisper,” the single that began his movement, was just beginning to cause a big enough stir online that I had to see the growing sensation in the flesh. That same night, in the flesh, I met 6LACK—a rather mysterious singer/rapper who was also in the city and beginning to receive acknowledgment and praise from the blogosphere. In an environment where most people would be networking, he was quiet, reserved—more of an observer than an attention seeker. That evening I didn’t foresee 6LACK and Raury working under the same umbrella.
LoveRenaissance (or LVRN) is the creative agency famous for discovering and introducing the world to Raury back in 2014. It takes a team to raise an artist, and Raury found that team in LoveRenaissance. They have been very instrumental behind the scenes in his success. The signing of 6LACK to their roster spoke volumes of what they saw in the young artist. 6LACK isn’t a traditional artist, and while his name may be new to the masses, he’s been in the industry for several years now. He signed his first record deal back in 2011, a situation that would be more haunting than rewarding.
In July 2011, I signed to an independent record label owned by a popular artist at the time. The deal came with an advance that was little to nothing but at the time it was my only way out and the artist who I was signed to was very popular so I took the chance. After spending a year in college chasing love and studying shit I could care less about I finally had the opportunity to do what I loved so I seized it. I didn’t even withdraw from VSU, I just dropped everything and left. Initially it wasn’t that bad, but it never is in the beginning. In the years to follow I found myself at my absolute lowest. After the little advance money ran out I was unable to eat most nights, had no stable place to stay, and found myself living out of a ripped up backpack. They had me making hundreds of songs I hated to meet their criteria of what they viewed as “hit records.” All I ever heard in that place was hit record hit record hit record hit record. I watched so many people go in and out of that studio, they always used to tell me that I was special, that I was next up. All I felt was jailed. Instead of doing their whole two-step and dancing in the shackles they set out for me, I chose to sit in that cage and not release any of the music they forced me to make. They wanted me to just be a hit song and I wanted to show them I was more than that.
For the next three years I had to make moves in secrecy. I put music out on my Soundcloud even though my contract didn’t allow me to release any music on my own. With the few songs I put out I grew enough of a following and established my brand. When the label found out I thought they would start taking me seriously but they didn’t and that’s when I knew I had to get the fuck out of there. I needed to work with people who understood my vision and would get behind it - Here's To Being Free
There’s very little freedom given to inmates in prison. Prison is where order reigns, where control is power, and where consequences await anyone caught breaking the unbendable rules. 6LACK wasn’t in a physical jail, but his previous label situation made him feel as if he was locked away in a metaphorical prison. There’s no place worse for an artist than to be trapped in a position where their creativity is stifled by another man’s rules. Rules that tell you what to make, and when to release it. Freedom didn’t exist in his deal, he was locked behind the cold bars of a contract. 6LACK was a caged canary that just wanted to sing music from his soul, not the music that would be considered a hit—the music his label wanted.
The music industry is full of horror stories where artists are at the mercy of their record labels. When Lil Wayne first publicly confessed his issues with Cash Money, he considered himself a prisoner. I can’t recall a time in his career where Wayne seemed so powerless. Tha Carter V sat in the clutches of Birdman’s talons and there was little he could do. There was no quick resolution; the battle for the album’s release has gone on for the last two years and he’s still fighting for his freedom. After years of fighting, he was finally able to escape the situation that held him back. His story up to this point has been one of patience, perseverance, and uncertainty—he is the industry’s Andy Dufresne.
During the days when 6LACK was releasing music without the label’s knowledge, and slowly building a presence on the blogs, I remember how his fans had a real desire for more. "Pretty Weather,” “Break From Atlanta,” and “Merry Go” are a few of the songs that caught my attention. They were good, captivating and rather easy on the ears. He had this darker, more trap R&B mood that was becoming popular at the time. Future was just beginning to pop, PARTYNEXTDOOR was on the rise, and the impact the music was having made it easy to predict what kind of wave would be made next. There was a momentum building around 6LACK, though while his singles showed his potential, no bigger project ever came. He grew silent, randomly appearing as a guest feature artist, but his solo material was nowhere to be found. Not knowing his situation created a sense of mystery with 6LACK; he wasn’t faceless, he didn’t hide behind a mask, but you never felt like you knew him. He had a sound, a look and an aesthetic that were already working in his favor. All he needed was the music.
Since his signing to LVRN, 6LACK has released a number of strong records, and they have all done well, but nothing has had the success of “PRBLMS”—the single that truly put his name out there. The same trap R&B that was apparent in his early music is more refined, a sound that he has mastered, but with a touch a uniqueness; a sprinkle of flavor that could separate him from the likes of Bryson and PND. It’s not a catchy single—I would consider 6LACK more charming; a hypnotic voice that lures listeners into his storytelling. He isn’t singing about a love that’s everlasting, but the problems that lead to the end of his relationship. It’s perfect for the ungodly hours under a full moon. The music video captures this feeling well. Shot in black and white, most of the video takes place in a car going to some unknown destination. There’s a VHS effect overlaying most of the scenes, giving the overall visual a touch of character. Everything, from the music video to 6LACK’s music rising to the top of an Apple Music playlist, seems to be building toward something big.
6LACK might appear to have arrived from nowhere, but there is a strategy in place for how his team is rolling out his music. Instead of chasing blogs, they went directly to playlists. Instead of rushing an album trying to capitalize on the success of “PRBLMS,” they are slowly leading up to it’s November release. You can be on all the playlists, all the celebrity Snapchats, but it means very little if the music isn’t resonating with the people. What’s interesting about 6LACK is that some people have waited years for this album to come. Raury’s fan base was built from nothing, but 6LACK was already working on a steady foundation before his signing. His previous situation might have cursed him with the inability to release music, but it gave him the gift of anticipation. He was able to release a few songs, collaborate with a couple of great artists, and create a demand. His every release is only adding more bodies to the expanding bandwagon. No other genre loves an underdog like rap and R&B, and he’s the underdog that people are rooting for. I truly believe it’s the people that want the next chapter in his career to be a successful one.
Just like with Anderson .Paak, the years of trying to break into the music industry prepared him for the day he could finally kick down the door. 6LACK has been waiting for his moment, he has fought for this moment, and I don’t see him faltering. He didn't need artistic development, he didn't have to go through the motions of finding himself. By the time LVRN found him, 6LACK had already put in his 10,000 hours. It’s important to tell his story, about overcoming bad contracts and prospering with a team who see the vision. LoveRenaissance saw the vision with Raury, and they see it with 6LACK. I’m certain his old label is regretting their decision to throw the bear in a cage instead of letting him roam free.
6LACK is getting ready to take flight, and I don’t think the sun could melt his wings. R&B is hearing a star in the making.
By Yoh, aka 6lack Y0h, aka @Yoh31.