Recording artists only get one chance to make and release their debut album. It's the album that marks their arrival, the album that will be remembered as their introduction, and the point of reference that all their other albums will be judged upon. I see the debut album as the very first season an athlete plays after being drafted into the league―this is the true first impression, and hopefully, not the last.
6LACK, pronounced "black," is an artist who signed his first deal in 2011. The label he signed to has never been named, but I believe it to be a fairly major subsidiary. He was 19 back in 2011; I imagine he was a young ambitious artist that saw an opportunity that would be his first step in making his art a career. A record deal is like being hired to do the job you always dreamed of―except it can come with some unsavory stipulations. The same contract that you sign as a way of entering a new partnership can become the chain that stifles your creativity. Before he could release an album, before he could even drop a project, he found himself in a predicament that was more of a prison than a paradise.
When I wrote of 6LACK a few weeks ago, the headline championed him as the new R&B star coming from the LoveRenaissance camp. I could foresee a future where his abilities would continue to push him further. Yet, all of his current success (and hopefully future success) doesn’t erase the five years he spent struggling to escape from his old deal. The release of FREE 6LACK, his debut album, is in many ways a testimony to freedom. When you press play, you’re hearing songs that at one point were unable to come out because a label said they couldn’t. When he sings, you’re hearing a voice that a label told to be silent. For this album to even see the light of day is a victory.
It’s a bit strange to talk about an album starting at the end, but the song “Alone/End” says a lot about who 6LACK is as an artist. It begins within the middle of a conversation about making music, and how 6LACK doesn’t want to conform to anyone’s vision or formula. He wants to avoid doing something popular that isn’t within his integrity, or as he puts it, “You become a song, and not a person.”
It's true, some artists aren't known beyond the big song that got them popular. You are simply the name that brought us this song we dance to, and when the song ends so does your relevance. This is a problem you could face when the label only wants you to make hits and nothing with any heart. 6LACK isn’t someone who wants to be a pop machine who churns out hit after hit, he wants to exist as a person, and not a brand with a voice. He made sure to make records that weren’t copies of his popular hit, but music that speaks to who he is. You'll hear of his child on the way, his being homeless during his labels issues, his relationships, and his growing up on the Eastside of Atlanta. If you didn't have an idea of who 6LACK was, you'll walk away with a better picture of the mysterious artist.
Most of the album is a cohesive blend of moody, mid-tempo instrumentation. 6LACK’s unique voice shines through the production like the North Star twinkling in a starless, black night sky. He is another vocalist that can blend eloquent talking, dreamy singing and effortless rapping to create an atmosphere for his tales of love, intimacy and loss. An early record that sets the album's pace is "Rules," it feels like something that I can hear Future running rampant on. His flow on the second verse shows he has a prowess for flows that would make some of your favorite rappers envious. One song that captures the many sides of his artistry is “Luving U”―it puts the listener into the very heart of a crumbling relationship. I enjoy R&B songs that feel human, songs that tell you about the place between blissful love and aching heartbreak―”Luving U” sits in that middle ground and captures the very slow journey to doomsday.
“Gettin Old” is an early favorite, it quickly stands out by flipping the soundscape. The atmosphere is less dark but contains the slow pace that is the album’s flow. Once again his voice is the shining instrument that is at its most elegant and conspicuous. This will be the song for anyone that finds enjoyment in his tone. “Worst Luck” is another standout, it’s the only song where 6LACK speaks from the perspective of a woman. The ballad begins over soft piano keys but the song slowly begins to pull you into a darker room of sounds. Making this song a duet and singing it along with a woman is the only thing that could make it better. If you ask me, as a song that showcases his strength as a songwriter and vision as an artist, “Worst Luck” shows there’s more to 6LACK, more so than any other song on the album.
It’s a short album, only 11 songs in total. Most of the album is 6LACK’s take on modern R&B within this trap era of sound. It makes sense to group him in with PND, Bryson Tiller, Roy Wood$ and Post Malone as peers. What I feel about 6LACK is a sense of an identity. The way he writes his songs, the way he sings his notes, the approach to his flow―for every similarity there’s something that makes him stand out. I believe that his long journey has helped him cultivate a distinguished voice, and that will be his greatest weapon. FREE 6LACK is the introduction to a new artist who is here to stay.
Welcome to the big leagues, 6LACK.
'FREE 6LACK' is scheduled to hit digital retailers and streaming services on Friday, November 18.
By Yoh, aka Yohlack., aka @Yoh31.