6LACK is very laid-back. He just lost his wallet somewhere in New York before coming to Complex’s Times Square office, but I wouldn’t have known he was frustrated if he hadn’t told us so himself. Instead, his demeanor is cool as we inch closer to his album release date.
Over the years, the Atlanta-bred artist has earned a reputation for being one of music’s most easygoing figures, but his new album, Since I Have A Lover, demonstrates just how liberated he is right now.
The project marks 6LACK’s first full-length album in over five years. Like many, he has experienced both highs and lows as well as a global pandemic. But now, he says that he’s in a much more grounded state of mind. “Free 6LACK was somebody coming from turmoil and heartbreak and bad situations and trying to pry their way out of it. East Atlanta Love Letter was me coming to terms with my emotions a little bit more and starting to be open to the idea of different things in my life that I was closed off to before,” he says of his musical evolution. “Since I Have A Lover is my everyday practice.”
6LACK acknowledges the music industry’s current trend of championing toxicity over anything else, saying, “I think it’s a lot easier to create from that space.” But he wants to use his album as a way to counteract that. “Being in a good place made me want to talk about good things. I think that music is a little bit cluttered right now with everything else,” he explains. “Toxicity seems to be the punchline at the end of every song, but it feels good to feel good. I wanted to spread that as much as I could. If that’s the one thing I can do while I’m here, then I’ll do it.”
When our video interview begins, we have to stop every few minutes because of loud construction drilling coming from upstairs, but 6LACK is still chillin’. His 19-track album, out today, includes features with Don Toliver, QUIN, and Wale. Below, we discuss how he created this album, toxicity in music, and more.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
You had a listening event in New York City that started with a meditative session. Why did you choose to go that route?
I think that it’s really nice for people to get a break before they go into things. Personally, I’ve had a long week, so it was cool to have a moment to scan [my body], see what hurts, why it hurts, what I need to work on later, and just have a moment to acknowledge myself and then go into doing whatever’s next, which was listen to some music.
When did you start practicing meditation?
First time I ever attempted any meditation was maybe around 2013 after a time where I had hit my lowest point. I got into a self-discovery mode and was trying to figure out things I could get into, just to make me feel better throughout my day. And yeah, when I first jumped in, I won’t say that I’ve been the most consistent with it, but I will say that when I am consistent, I can see and feel the results.
This is your first studio LP in nearly five years. Where are you as a person and artist now, and how does that differ from where you were at the start of your career?
I would say the trajectory has always been an urge to grow and an urge to mature and to be a better communicator and express myself. In the beginning of my career, I was a lot more closed off. I had a lot of trouble and issues getting things out of my body if it wasn’t music related. So I finally graduated to the part where I’m so much more aware of my emotions and how I feel, and the result if I don’t do something a specific way. I’m still working on it, but I speak a lot more freely than I used to speak. And I trust myself a lot more than I used to trust myself. I just trust the process more than I used to.
When you’re in this industry, it may feel like you don’t have enough time to work on evolving, because there’s an expectation to keep making music. In the time you took to yourself, did you feel pressure from fans or your label to put something out?
The pressure exists. I would be lying if I said I didn’t see and feel an outside influence on me needing to hurry up or get something out, because people are waiting. But it wasn’t pressure from my label, and it wasn’t pressure that was actually dictating what I wanted to do. It was more so just the pressure of me making sure I was getting my life together first, because I had already prioritized music first for two other albums. So this was my turn to just have myself.
“Toxicity seems to be the punchline at the end of every song, but it feels good to feel good.”
You’ve highlighted that you’ve made music at all different stages of your life. How did being in this current stage of having a solid foundation affect or influence your creative process?
Being in a good place made me want to talk about good things. I think that music is a little bit cluttered right now with everything else. Toxicity seems to be the punchline at the end of every song, but it feels good to feel good. I wanted to spread that as much as I could. If that’s the one thing I can do while I’m here, then I’ll do it.
That’s a great point. Toxicity in music, especially R&B, seems to be a popular trend right now. Why do you think this generation has latched onto that?
When it comes to the toxicity that’s permeating through the music industry right now, I think it’s a lot easier to create from that space. And it’s not to say that it doesn’t make for amazing art. I’m a fan of everything, but at some point it’s like, when does it become a fetish or when does it become a crutch or a trend? For me, if I ever had to make Free 6LACK 2, that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing. I wouldn’t want people to want that for me. I don’t want that for myself. Ultimately I think it’s our job as artists to uplift whenever we can. So let’s do it.
A lot of Black people talk about how their hair is representative of certain stages or events in their life. What did your previous hairstyle represent to you, and what did it represent you when you cut it off?
My hair at the beginning of my career carried a lot of emotional weight, everything that I had gone through prior. So, years of having a goal of what I wanted to do, but still having to go through the process of being broke or not having a stable place or not being as expressive as I wanted to be and not knowing how to get to that point. It was just years and years of weight and self-doubt and insecurity covering literally over my face. And it took me cutting it to really free up that and to be able to look up and look people in the eyes and to move differently on a stage and to have more incentive to be direct. I know at one point in my life it felt like it was my strength, and maybe it was. But the second that moment expired, it was time to cut it.
How did you settle on the title, Since I Have A Lover?
Every album title so far has come at the end of the cycle. So, originally I made the song “Free” towards the end of Free 6LACK. I made the song “East Atlanta Love Letter” towards the end of making East Atlanta Love Letter. And then “Since I Have A Lover,” we had the idea and the story that we wanted to tell. But once I heard the music and I started to gut out the song, we got to the part of the chorus where normally people flood a chorus with plenty of words and plenty of melodies and make it big. I was just thinking this doesn’t really require me to do that much vocally. So I’ll let the music take the front, and I’ll just repeat this mantra that I’ve been thinking and this answer to every question that everybody’s having, “Where have you been? What have you been doing? What’s the inspiration?” And it just kind of rolled out as Since I Have A Lover. And from there, we were just like, that sounds like an album title.
“There’s no point in building communities without using them.”
What was your intention in creating a more acoustic and instrumental-focused album?
My intention was knowing that sometimes for me personally, I write some of my most favorite songs when there’s just a guitar to start with. Acoustics just put me at ease. And it was the one instrument that I resonated with the most, and the one instrument that I wanted to learn to be able to play on tour this time around. So you add those things together, I’ll have a little bit of a different show when I go on the road this time and it’ll be super exciting to bring something new to it. Guitar’s always been my favorite. Now that I’m learning it, it’s absolutely difficult, but it’s pretty cool and it sounds beautiful.
You said you created the single “Spirited Away” on mushrooms? You aren’t the first artist to use shrooms when creating. What are the medicinal or creative benefits of doing shrooms?
When it comes to shrooms, I do not promote the use of any substances. I think everybody’s body is different, and everyone has different reactions to things. But for me, in moderation, I’ve learned that they bring me a little bit closer to the source and they make me a little bit more honest and sharper than I normally am, which is super cool for me because I can’t really do anything. I don’t even really want to smoke weed if it’s not for a reason. I don’t want to do anything unintentionally. So shrooms open me up a little bit more. And sonically they make me hear things a little bit sharper. It’s almost like my version of a cup of coffee. I don’t drink coffee. Caffeine doesn’t do it for me, but if I add just a little bit to start my day, then my attitude and everything would just be a little more lifted. And yeah, I’m just more aware on them. So that’s not to say that you will be. It’s not to say that you should try it, but it works for me, and I think all of the herbs and things that come from the Earth are worth researching.
You seemed to be very selective with your collaborations on this project. What was the collaborative process like for you this time around?
The collaboration process is normally hanging with friends. I like to work with people who I’m cool with. It makes the process easier. The bulk of this album, I made by myself to myself. When it came down to the end, I’m always trying to figure out different textures and sprinkles that’ll give it a little more color. So it’s just a matter of texting somebody and being like, “What you doing this weekend? I got this song I need some background vocals on. I need some narration on. I need a small verse.” So on this album there aren’t heavy features. Don Toliver is the only full feature. Besides that, there’s an interlude with QUIÑ. She also narrates the project in two or three different moments. And besides that, India Shawn is doing background somewhere. Mereba does a couple harmonies somewhere. Ty Dolla $ign does some harmonies. It’s a few people here and there. Wale has a verse at the end of a song.
Speaking of QUIÑ, have you two discussed working on a joint project in the same vein as your single “Mushroom Chocolate?”
Me and QUIÑ have absolutely considered doing a joint project. The process of me getting this album out the way was the only thing in the way of that. So now that I have more free time and free space to tap into that with each other, it’ll be fun. We got a handful of songs together that people haven’t heard, so it’s just a matter of figuring out the direction we want to go, the story we want to tell, how we want it to look and sound. It’ll be a future Valentine’s Day type of project.
How does having a partner who is also in the music business impact you?
Having a partner that is an artist as well is a teaching experience, for sure. Most people think you do art, I do art, let’s get together and be an art couple. But you learn a lot about sharing space with somebody, and you learn a lot about ego and patience. And you learn a lot about what it means for one person to be in the front one day and then the other person be in the front the next day, and having to figure out what that means and how it feels, and talking about real feelings that come up that people are normally too shy or too scared or too embarrassed to talk about. So it’s been a teaching experience, and more than anything, I am super grateful for it because it allows me to see things from a different perspective, and vice versa.
You said 2022’s “Float” was the first time you worked with other writers. What was that experience like for you, and how did you carry that experience over to this album?
Yeah, “Float” was the first song that I ever worked with another writer on, and since then, that has opened up my capacity to allow other people to help me, which I was never against or anti, but this album that I’ve been working on, is the first album where there are people who help with multiple songs. In general, it’s been a weight off of me, to not feel like I have to prove anything to myself. It’s like I know how to write music, I enjoy writing music, but I also appreciate other people’s perspective and take on what I’m doing. So if someone can offer something that feels unique but also feels like it aligns with what I like and what I want to say and how I want to express myself, then perfect.
Have you found it easier to ask for help in all aspects of your life at the stage you’re at in life?
Working with songwriters, I do find it a lot easier than it was in the past. It used to feel like the weight of everything was on me to do. I got to make this album, I got to gut out as many songs as it takes. If it’s not right, I got to fix it. I got to do the verse, I got to do the chorus, I got to do the bridge. And now I’m at the point where if something doesn’t flow out of me immediately, and if I take some time to live with it and it still doesn’t pop out the way I want it to pop out, then I’ll hit my friend and I’m just like, “Do you hear anything right here?” And like I said, that really takes the weight off of thinking you have to do everything by yourself, because there’s no point in building communities without using them.
“I absolutely have considered releasing a straight rap album. I haven’t done it or worked on it yet. But there are a few producers that I have in mind.”
This album has 19 tracks. What was the selection process like?
It was a little rigorous, but only because I recorded so much music in the process of making this album that I was adamant about making sure that every song that we picked, was aligned with the story that I wanted to tell and nothing was extra. We didn’t have any moments where it was too high or too low. We had 20 something plus songs on the board that are our favorites, and as time goes by and as we get closer to finishing, we start to slice and maybe we make it down to about 20 max. And normally, I aim for 12 to 16. That’s my ideal number of songs. But for this album, I kept making songs that I loved, and the number just kept getting higher and higher. And we have an intro, we have two interludes. Besides that, some songs are just moments. We didn’t really try to follow a format.
How many songs do you have left in the vault?
I 100 percent have hundreds of thousands of songs in the vault. I know during the Free 6LACK era there were over 200, and I know during the East Atlanta Love Letter era, that probably doubled. So whatever the five-year time that has passed for this album, I’m pretty sure we got folders, we got titles, we got collabs, we got tons of things that have never seen the light of day.
Have you ever considered making a strictly rap album?
I absolutely have considered releasing a straight rap album. I haven’t done it or worked on it yet. But there are a few producers that I have in mind, who I think could help me execute it the way I want it to. No ID being one option. Hit-Boy’s been doing his thing recently, so it’ll be fun to see what comes from that. Yeah, one day. One day soon.
Why have you decided to pursue the R&B side of your artistry right now?
Sometimes I lean more towards the R&B side of things because of how it makes me feel. I am able to do a lot of therapy for myself and heal a lot of things with myself when I create a specific type of music, and R&B music consists of really calming production. Harmonies and stacks and melodies just do something for me. It serves a whole other purpose. Rap is more ego for me, and rap is more boastful. That’s cool, but I’ve been needing the softer side of things, and R&B is that for me.
Do you feel that you’re more accepted by the rap community or the R&B community?
I think I am equally accepted in the rap and R&B community. And I say that because some of my favorite rappers have always nodded towards me and let me know. I think one person, notably, Royce da 5’9” is a top tier lyricist. So anytime I see him he pats me on the back, and I know why. It’s because he sees through the R&B and he’s like, “nah, there’s a rapper in here.”
Are there any times where you want to prove to people that you are “that guy” when it comes to rap?
In the last week, there have absolutely been times where I’ve been sitting in my hotel room, like, “I need to bar up real quick, and exercise that, just so I can get it off of me.” So I think within the next few days, I’ll sit down and I’ll figure out a way to get back in that boastful mood. Let me just flex my chops real quick, mode. It’ll probably come in the form of a freestyle or something, so we’ll see.
You are known as the chill, laid-back artist that stays out the way until it’s time to drop music. How do you think your reputation or what people perceive of you has impacted your career?
I think the way that people perceive me, for the most part, is pretty accurate. It’s not really a mood board or a style or anything. This is just who I am. I enjoy my personal space. I enjoy the safety of the people that I care about, because I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to be out the way, but people still have something to say. So I try my best to minimize it and control it as much as I can, and just set boundaries. I’m mild-mannered, I’m chill, I’m easy to talk to, approachable. I do prefer to be just with the people that I care about. And I think that makes my life a lot more peaceful.
What do you think about the current music scene in Atlanta?
The music scene in Atlanta is always bubbling with something. It’s always been like a gumbo pot. I’ve grown up from the Outkast era to the T.I., Jeezy, Ludacris era, to the dance and snap music era to trap music to what it is now, which is a little bit of all of that, combined in one. I’ll always be a fan of everything that Atlanta has to produce, and I’m interested to see who the next star is, because I’m getting a little bit up there in age. So people are starting to call me big bro and OG and Unc. I’m not a kid anymore.
What is the most important thing people should know about you right now?
My journey has always been one where I’m focused on being a better version of myself than I was last year or the year before. And through that journey, I’ve learned that practice and consistency is what has the biggest effect on my life. So even when I fall off, being aware that it’s not the end of the world, all I have to do is wake up, and do it again. I would love for people to apply this album that same way to their life. Just wake up, try it. If it works, cool. If it doesn’t, you get a new 24 tomorrow, and it can all be good.