Ricardo Valentine, better known as 6lack (pronounced “black”), spent late April to early June opening the Weeknd’s Starboy: Legend of the Fall tour, performing sparse, dreamy, moody music that fits somewhere between trap, cloud rap, screw and alternative R&B. He originally gained buzz by releasing freestyles over songs like Partynextdoor’s “Break From Toronto” (aptly named “Break From Atlanta”), and late last year Interscope put out his first release, Free 6lack, a brooding rumination on feeling free that plays like a hip-hop-informed version of The xx’s tight and skeletal gloom. Single “Prblms” currently has 39 million views on YouTube and was certified Platinum last month. With the tour over, 6lack has been spending time in his personal recording space in the offices of LoveRenaissance, an Atlanta-based creative agency and newly minted record label also affiliated with D.R.A.M. and Raury.
Rolling Stone talked to the rising star about the follow-up to Free 6lack and why he cut the hair that hung over his face on its cover.
Why did you cut your hair? Cutting it was the perfect transition. It’s more of a personal growth than anything. I just feel like moving forward. I shouldn’t be moving with my head down or hiding behind my hair or thinking about my hair while I’m performing.
Was there a correlation between the hair and your new music? Yeah. Definitely. They were synonymous.
What was the first thought you had the day after? I was still kind of traumatized. It was a quick change, a big change. Like, immediately. Even though it was a weight off of me, I felt like what was concealing me, my curtain, was gone. I gotta walk with my head up now. I gotta make eye contact with everybody regardless if I want to or not. It was a lot to deal with initially, but after the first day, I felt a lot lighter.
What did you take away from your run on the Weeknd’s Starboy tour? Every single night, I watched every single show. … I went into it with the mindstate that every single night, the show has to get better. No matter what the case is, I get off stage and I’m never mad and let’s do better tomorrow. … I’m watching him, the fans, the lights, the reactions. … I was there for a reason. I was watching somebody who came from nothing. Everything matters.
What’s one thing you’ve learned musically since you’ve gotten a Platinum single? The only thing that has changed is that I’m more careful. I’m more particular about every line, melody. I try to listen to through other people’s ears too. I like this song but maybe it won’t carry across as well – I gotta figure out a different way to say what I want to say. I’m way more careful about what I say. I know attention spans. It only takes one boring line for people to say, That song is okay. I don’t think making a song like “Prblms” really changes anything. I didn’t go into it with the intent of making a Platinum record. It was just what I was going through at the time.
In your new music, is there anything present from the new process that was absent before? I didn’t write at all for Free 6lack. I haven’t written on paper or on phone for six years. For this one, I know at some point I want to pick up a pen. I will sit here [in LoveRenaissance Studio B] for 12 hours and not record one thing – not until I get a line out. There’s hundreds of songs. For this next album specifically, a lot of music. There’s always more than enough to make an album. It’s about having the sound that you want.
What was working with Jhené Aiko like? I met Jhené in the studio and our managers were in the studio waiting for something to happen. We just kind of looked at each other and realized we don’t work with tons of people around. We had our session later on. She walked in, I was halfway done with the song. I walked out, she finished it.
What’s the process of working with Gucci Mane like for you? With Gucci, I had some stuff that clicked with him and he had some stuff that clicked with me. We made six songs in a couple of hours.
What’s a new lyric you wrote for the album you’re especially proud of? On my new song, “Eyes on Me,” at the end of each verse, I just kind of say something to my daughter. “I hope I make you proud. I might make some mistakes.” This is for her to listen to one day and to come back and be like, ‘My dad was talking to me.’ That’s the thing that’s sticking out the most right now.
What was a proud moment with your child? Just looking. Everyday. Knowing that I created something, that she’s going to be here with me for the rest of my life and that she’s going to grow and take after me and look to me for guidance. Every single thing that you could possibly think about makes you happy when it comes to a kid, even if they’re screaming [at] the top of their lungs and you just want to get sleep. You also think about it and it’s like … Well, I’m also grateful for you being here and screaming and being upset right now. Whatever you need, just [tell me]. It’s cool to have to take care of somebody and watch them grow. She’s growing fast.