Every time I watch an interview with an artist who just released a body of work, they’re inevitably asked, “What’s next?”
I don't blame interviewers for asking such a low-risk, high reward question. What’s frustrating is how many artists seem eager to blow past the project they just ushered out into the world to brag about how deep they are into their next project.
As a writer, I understand that creativity has to be pounced on in the moment. In that regard, it makes sense that an artist would want to milk every last verse out of an intense wave of creativity. But more often than not, this approach seems to brush aside an artist's most current project and tends to perpetuate the same insatiability that had the internet in a conspiracy frenzy over a potential second Kendrick Lamar album last weekend.
Considering the album construct is already at a disadvantage as it pertains to listener behavior in 2017—attention paid to a full body of work is at constant odds with a never-ending stream of singles and mixtapes pouring in from all angles that offer shiny new distractions—artists should constantly be reminding their fans to fully focus on what they've already delivered, not only with what lies ahead.
One artist who doesn’t fully subscribe to the “on to the next” mentality is Atlanta’s 6LACK, whose debut album FREE 6LACK dropped this past November. In a recent interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music’s new Up Next series, 6LACK was asked if his focus was still breathing life into his debut through touring and other means of support.
This was his response, and I love it:
Yeah, I don't feel like I'm at a point where it's time to move on, or to do anything else grand or crazy as far as a project goes. Obviously, on a whole other side bar, my job is to make sure I always have something on tuck regardless. Because you never know if you wake up and the internet is, you know... [Zane: "Hungry?"]...yeah like if they're hungry I'm always ready to press a button.
Preach. 6LACK allows the focus to remain on a project that’s been out for nearly six months—only half a year, yet light years set by the standards of your average SoundCloud rapper. 6LACK does, however, understand that fans are always expecting new material, and he’s ready for it, affirming that yes, there are “songs in the cannon.”
6LACK’s approach to his music speaks volumes to exactly why he’s not your average SoundCloud artist. He put a lot of effort into his debut and wants to make sure it has time to breathe with his rapidly broadening fanbase. At the same time, though, he knows that attention is a hot commodity in the digital era, and any time he senses his reach or relevancy to be waning, he’s ready to “press a button.” It's about balance.
While there’s certainly something to be said for the “churn and burn” mentality—it’s worked great for mainstream artists like Future and 2 Chainz—6LACK has chosen a strategy to cultivate a more patient, contemplative fanbase who doesn’t get a project in their hands and immediately ask for another.
This is not only smart from an artistic standpoint as it sets a bar for a relatively low-pressure schedule of output but from a business angle as well. 6LACK mentions earlier in the interview that while studying his Atlanta peers, he consciously took note of artists and sounds that didn’t last long and why that might have happened. Rather than going for broke and capitalizing on the type of intense flash that a quickfire release schedule is likely to foster, 6LACK is aiming for that slow burn, which takes courage, confidence and real talent.
Here’s to hoping 6LACK achieves that slow burn—his music thus far has certainly deserved it.