We know 6LACK as the brooding Atlanta artist who quietly made his mark on hip-hop with 2016’s FREE 6LACK and subsequently retreated to let the music do the work and be a father to his daughter. As legend has it, though, venerable producer DJ Burn One—the man behind early career milestones for Yelawolf, Gucci Mane, A$AP Rocky, and more, among other achievements—knows 6LACK as a sharp songwriter ready to bring to melodies and chord structures to strip club-certified anthems.
At least, that’s the story of 6LACK and DJ Burn One’s unreleased track “Zoe Kravitz,” named for the actress and arranged like a sonic roller coaster complete with guitar samples, blooming arpeggios, and hypnotic vocal breakdowns from 6LACK himself. Co-produced by DJ Burn One, Go! Ricky Go!, and Walt Live, the production team and 6LACK linked up over two years ago right before 6LACK moved to LA and left his Atlanta identity behind him. This, Burn One reveals, is why the track never came out.
“It wasn’t for any specific project at the time,” DJ Burn One tells me over the phone. “I think he was just cutting records and then I think part of the reason it fell by the wayside—from what I gathered from all the interviews I read—he kinda wanted to get a fresh start on the West Coast when he moved out there. From what I gathered, he scrapped everything he had from Atlanta and started recording all new material.”
Luckily, not all is lost, as Burn One also alludes to 6LACK’s manager recently inquiring about the record. “Yeah, he saw my tweet and reached out!” he says excitedly. “I’m on standby waiting to see if he’s interested in bringing it back to life. I would hope so. Even outside of production, it’s a really well-written song.”
Before “Zoe Kravitz” sees the light of day, DJ Burn One has plans to revamp the percussion, but otherwise, he considers the track a finished product in a sea of half-baked ideas flooding the market. As for the ultimate vibe of the track? “It sounds like the song you wanna get a dance to at Magic City,” he explains with pride. Sounds perfect to us.
DJBooth’s full interview with DJ Burn One, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Starting with the basics, who’s on the record, does it have an official title, when was it recorded, was it done in-studio, and was it for any specific projects?
DJ Burn One: The song is called "Zoe Kravitz," after the actress. Basically, I’d been hearing 6LACK’s name around the city, just kinda buzzing a little bit. He was just getting moving around. Maybe he just got out of whatever deal he was in, and I think Ricky [Go! Ricky Go!]—me, Ricky, and Walt Live produced it all together—reached out to him and sent a pack of beats and he sent us back that record. That was the only record we ended up doing.
It wasn’t for any specific project at the time. I think he was just cutting records and then I think part of the reason it fell by the wayside—from what I gathered from all the interviews I read—he kinda wanted to get a fresh start on the West Coast when he moved out there. From what I gathered, he scrapped everything he had from Atlanta and started recording all new material.
Did you link up after?
We linked up after that. We did one session afterward. He came through the studio and we played some more beats, but it was really chopping it up more so than anything. That was the last time because it was all made within a month-and-a-half between us recording it and him moving. It was a really short time period.
This was like three years ago, so we’re in 2018… So maybe end of 2016?
Did anyone else record over this beat?
I think he’s the only one who has that beat because when he did it I didn’t think I could hear anyone else do a better song on it. I just put it to the side, and if it comes back around, then it’ll still be open.
Will the track ever drop? You mentioned his manager reached out.
Yeah, he saw my tweet and reached out! I’m on standby waiting to see if he’s interested in bringing it back to life. I would hope so. Even outside of production, it’s a really well-written song. It just sounds like a really good record. I feel like if he does listen to it, they’ll probably wanna go back in on it, freshen it up… I hope so, I got a good feeling.
Things have been working out like that. We just did that record on the Superfly soundtrack, the Sleepy Brown record “If You Want It.” It ended up being the first song on there, and that was a similar situation. We worked hard on the record and they told us towards the last minute that they’re not gonna use it… And then, I got a call out of the blue, “Hey, we’re using it, send us the files.” You never know in the industry.
Does that ever affect how you create?
It’s crazy ‘cause you really gotta work off of faith—blind faith. Even the Sleepy Brown record, we did the record and I spent a month really shaping it and putting it together, not knowing if it was ever gonna go. I wish we’d be clued in more. If Future had just called me, you know? Just kinda the way business works now, if you’re not really signed to somebody or in the immediate circle, you’re not really being consulted like that. Producers is beatmakers really, but we have a lot more value to offer. That’s one of the things that, once I get myself in the position, that’s one of the things I wanna extend my hand to do.
It must be frustrating to just sit on the material.
Yeah, as far as the 6LACK case, I definitely understand the need for a clean reset. There’s a point in everybody’s life where we just hit the reset button, you know? I don’t really fault him for that. But on the whole, that’s just how business is handled and it is really frustrating. If you start doing business with people, you should at least keep them updated… I feel like everything is just so fragmented now. It would be nice to see people working more hand-in-hand and just be closer.
As people become better producers—because that’s what’s coming around. There’s a lot of great beatmakers, but also a lot of great producers that are really cropping up and then people gonna be like, “Oh, the producer should have some say on the song and not just send the track and not have any input.” In the case [of 6LACK] we did just send him the beat and he did just write a great record, but certain artists do need some help. I feel like that was the brilliance of Mannie Fresh and how Cash Money was so successful because you have a producer who truly understands songs.
I feel like a lot of songs I listen to just sound unfinished, which is fine. Everything doesn’t need a thousand bells and whistles and people can try stuff, but I think that producers have a certain value that you can’t discount.
What makes the track with 6LACK sound finished?
Really, I wanna go in and touch up the beat a little bit, but it sounds finished already because we had already arranged the beat. I feel like that’s my strong suit. Walt and Ricky are the musical backbones, but my arrangement and the ability to hear a song the way I wanna hear it… Just arranging the beat and how it starts with the Ricky-sampled guitar riff, then it’s got drums, and then it breaks into this little part with arpeggiated synth where [6LACK] sings this “hypnotize” part. Then it breaks into this whole little section and escalates real quick, and then it drops back down. I just see records like a roller coaster. It’s like a great story.
What would “freshening up” the 6LACK record entail?
Mainly the drums. I think that specific beat was on a drive that crashed a couple years ago, but the riff at the beginning plays open so I just take that riff and do the drums and the rest of it over again. I feel like I’m so much better just from last month. So from two-and-a-half years ago… It’s night and day. My mixing has gotten so much better, my musicality has gotten so much better. I understand how to make the drums knock but not take away from the music.
Just that, and tightening up the groove of the percussion. But I feel like the bones are there. [6LACK] wrote a great song, and the arrangement is there. If we were afforded the opportunity to go back in on it, I would do all that… He gave each section what it needed. After the buildup, he breaks it down and does something a little simpler with the melody. That’s perfect.
If you had to sum up the vibe of the track in a single sentence…
It sounds like the song you wanna get a dance to at Magic City.