Our new Cover Story Intersection No. 41
I Just Focus On Love: A Conversation With Rising Star 6LACK
It is 8pm in Germany, 12pm in L.A. when I hear a quiet, soft voice answering the phone. It is hard to tell if this voice is tired of just being woken up or if this calmness is simply the way he speaks. Most likely, both are the case. Regardless, his voice sounds sexy as hell, just like his music. In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, I am talking to the Atlanta R&B and Hip Hop artist Ricardo Valdez Valentine alias 6LACK. Most recently, the iconic virtual band Gorillaz have joined forces with both him and Elton John for a track on their new album Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez. This year, rising star 6LACK can not only look back at exciting and successful past years with a.o. being nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2018 and releasing his album East Atlanta Love Letter which was also a No.1 album on the Billboard R&B album charts. This year, the 28 year old singer is using the world’s pause to work on his unique creative journey. Rapping about painful relationships but also about the endless strength that love holds, he is reaching an impressive number of people with his music which helped him to live the American Dream. 6LACK – pronounced as „black“ with the number 6 maintaining a powerful meaning in his life especially being raised in Atlanta’s Zone 6, birthplace for rapping icons such as Gucci Mane – is almost moving in spiritual spheres. On a sunny day we photographed the rapper and young father with his beloved Lamborghini Urus in his hometown Los Angeles and asked him about what driving means to him. A conversation about car crashes and his biggest promise in life. And about what women are better at than men.
Sina Braetz: Hey 6LACK, how are you? How’s life during this crazy pandemic for you so far?
6LACK: Smooth, just kinda working from home and making music.
Amazing. I have a few quick, short questions to start this conversation. You can answer them spontaneously and as short as like. Let’s start easy, your favourite dish?
Your favourite drink?
The world’s most beautiful spot?
Bali is amazing. I like Bali.
How many tattoos do you have?
I won’t be able to actually count them right now, over twenty though.
When did you do your first tattoo?
The first tattoo I got was in my first year of college during spring break. I didn’t really know what to get, so ended up getting ‘self made’ on my chest which is not really such a bad thing. People have worse first tattoos.
Your first kiss?
Oh (laughs), it probably was in Elementary School. Nothing crazy you know, just a kiss.
What makes you upset?
That’s a hard question. Howling makes me upset. I don’t like to raise my voice.
What makes you lose your patience?
People who are patient (laughs).
Oh! Would you consider yourself impatient?
I’m very, very impatient, yes.
The biggest promise you ever made in your life?
I promised myself that I’d be big in doing music, that would be it.
What are women better at compared to men?
That’s a good question, I like it. Probably organisation.
The hardest thing about love?
Your thoughts on monogamy?
Everybody has their own thing so if you desire being with one person and you need somebody who’s about the same thing, then obviously it works. Some people are in relationships where that sort of desire is difficult though.
Your thoughts on marriage?
I like the idea but I’m not fascinated with all the other stuff that comes with it, like all the paper work or this pressure that if you are with somebody you should get married. If you wanna get married just because of the idea of being with somebody forever or for a very long time, then that’s great! So yeah, I’d like to get married one day.
Your biggest dream?
My biggest dream is to just reach as many people as I can. When I first started, the objective of one million was in my head, reaching and helping one million people in some kind of way whether through music or meeting them in person. Now, I think we surpassed one million but it is an ongoing thing, to inspire the world.
Your biggest longing?
Retire comfortably one day.
Your biggest fear in life?
Let’s start speaking a little about your childhood. You were born in Baltimore, Maryland. What do you particularly remember of that time and of that place?
I remember it being a lot different than Atlanta – just big city vibes, but for the most part I remember it for when my mum was leaving Baltimore to have a better opportunity, better living and better job. It was just kinda tough up there, a little bit rough in the areas that I grew up in. So, it started off as this growing up around family, but then recognising that we can get through it and find somewhere else to be more productive.
When did you move to Atlanta?
We moved when I was four but when I was out of school, I was on a back and forth until I settled again.
In Atlanta, you started discovering the battle rap scene. How did that scene influence your vision on hip hop at that time?
Well all had started with just rapping for myself, for my family, friends and neighbourhood but then other people started to admire the rappers and it all became that competition type of thing. I think it helped me more than anything. We were just playing but I always had been making sure my vocabulary and thinking was on spot and was as good as it could be.
Later on, you moved to Miami with some friends, mainly to get a record deal. How come Miami?
It was a collective thing. At that point, we were already in a group. I had spent a year in college but it wasn’t really my thing, so I left college and went back to Atlanta where we talked about moving and that was where the opportunity was. All we wanted was Miami and once we rode down there, we just never came back.
Apart from the friends you moved to Miami with, was there someone particular in your life that pushed or supported you in becoming a musician?
Well, with these guys – we were all helping each other. We all knew that this was the best opportunity regardless of what would happen. We were just making sure we got through rough days and that meant putting money together to eat, to go out to do something or go attend special events. It was just kind of a hassle mind state but I had equal support from all of my friends. I still talk to them until this day where we are in the middle of figuring out business plans and stuff. Since you know, things are obviously different now from how they had been in Miami.
Was your dad a supporter as well, being a musician himself?
Yes, both my dad and my mum have always been supportive but I rather do things by myself and on my own. And it was not like I really went to him for much. I just took the gift that I saw him on earth, that I saw him like that at a young age made me be in awe, it was sharpening my mind.
Did you use to do music with him?
Not really, it was never like a ‘doing music with him’ type of situation. But he introduced it to me when I was super young. I’d be around so I got to pick up on it. By the time I was able to do it on my own, I was very much to myself about it, I’d write to myself or I’d just do something at school. Just like when you are a kid, you kind of keep your talent off from your parents until they call you out on a spot and want you to perform or something like that (laughs).
Which other artists have influenced you most in life?
It was more of a gang of people I think. Starting off, I was listening to a lot of rap, a lot of battle rap and I just feel like my inspiration springs all over the place from d’Angelo and Erykah [Badu], Lil Wayne, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, when they first started off it was really hot to see what they brought to R&B. I’ve always just collected as much as I can. I’m not really afraid to be a fan of everything.
What is the main message of your music today?
I’d simply just describe it as promoting love and love being first. I think it’s the common denominator in every single thing that I do and that we do. But there’s a lack of it, there needs to be more, always. So I just focus on love, I focus on relationships, I focus on communication. I know that the mood might be darker than how people look at stories but the overall message is: I just want to be helpful and grow.
Do you remember your first heartbreak?
Yes, that was probably after college.
What made it so bad?
I was just making a transition from my old life, growing up. Everything evolved in a certain kind of way from great school to high school and you believe it’s gonna be how things just gonna be. After my first year in college, it was time to make the switch from my regular life to a working life. So you leave high school, first college girlfriend and you have to figure out if this is really that much of a bad heartbreak or not. During that time it felt terrible but in reality, it wasn’t that bad. I just had to grow up.
Do you believe in soulmates?
Absolutely, in terms of friends, lovers, in general… And I believe that in life you meet those people that are supposed to be a part of your life, not necessarily forever or even forever, depending on the situation.
Three years ago, you became a father. How did this feel to you, how does it feel today?
It was the biggest turning point in everything. Right before Syx was born, I was still in the middle of figuring everything out, we were just working on plans. So by that time I knew she was gonna be on the way, I went to L.A., rescheduling since we had been buckling down to the new album. That was the one time in my life where it wasn’t about talking what I was gonna do, I actually had to do it. I made my album in a couple of months, maybe two or three months. Then it was out and everything changed after that. Syx was like my battery bank, my corresponding drive to get things done. When there’s nobody else there in your life, you can do whatever you want to without having to really deal with big consequences afterwards. But once there is a child involved, there is someone who picks up on what you’ve done or suffers from what’ve done or even benefits from what you’ve done. It’s about being responsible for somebody and this causes me to look into myself a lot more to make sure that if I have a problem or situation in my life, I’m handling things.
How important are money and fame for you in life?
I mean, money takes care of bills and necessities so it’s always a good thing to have. Being famous was – how can I say – I’m not really that out there kind of person, it just so happened to be in an industry where I had to put myself out there. It wasn’t the easiest or most natural thing to do but I think I understood my place and have become more social over the years, more of a person who can stand in the forefront because I realised it’s my responsibility versus it being something that I desired.
Have you developed some alter egos over the years?
Nah, I wouldn’t call it alter ego. All the way through, I have always been who I am, it’s just more about different little parts of being one person but not necessarily a completely different person.
Let’s talk about cars. In 2017, you had a very serious car crash in Florida. Tell me a little about that accident. Has it changed something inside of you?
It definitely was one of those scary near to death experiences. It was a moment where I was thinking this just cannot be the ending of the story of my life. It was a situation where you have to be brave and kinda hold on and ride it out until it’s over but very definitely it makes you think a lot about death. I’m obviously not trying to have any more of those situations that can just kill yourself, I have to take care of myself.
Were you driving or someone else?
Someone else was driving.
Did it take you some time to get back into a car?
No, because by that time, unfortunately, I was kind of used to car crashes and little fender benders. Sometimes, we would drive to Georgia with even bad ice on the road so there were a couple of minor car accidents, a couple of big car accidents. So no, it didn’t take me so long to get back in a car but you know, I never like to traumatize anything. I can make sure that I am super comfortable with the way I drive and that’s all I can do.
How would you describe your own driving style?
Well, everybody that drives with me knows that they’re safe because I’m thinking about everybody and everything on the road (laughs).
Thank god. Though I am sure you like driving full speed?
Oh, yes, of course. When the road is clear and when it’s safe.
Are cars a status symbol for you personally?
I mean, everything has happened in the last few years for me – before that, I didn’t even have a car since I wouldn’t have been able to have one of my own. I got my first car after my first album dropped and since then, I just love to listen to music, clear my head and get out of the house if I’m just bored. I’ll get into my car and drive without having a destination. I love my cars, I love driving, it just offers me a good peace of mind.
Was your Lamborghini Urus the first car that you bought?
No, the first car that I bought was a BMW X6 and after that a Range Rover.
What do you like most about the Lamborghini?
I kinda switch between the two, the Range Rover and the Lamborghini but the Lamborghini, I drive most of the times. It’s just the more sporty and aggressive looking of the two. I enjoy being in that one more. The Range Rover is more for long trips with a lot of friends or stuff you have to load in. So, they are two different things but I definitely drive the Lamborghini more.
What is for you the most important thing about a car?
I’m drawn to what catches your eye and if you wanna set it as a goal and you wanna get it to reward yourself, that’s cool. I’m that kind of person that likes to look at the cars and really appreciates them. Recently, I put an order down for a Tesla Truck, I haven’t cancelled it yet. We’ll see.
Photos: Bennet Perez
Interview: Sina Braetz
Styling: Natasha Newman-Thomas
Grooming: Esther Foster
Photography Assistant: Lonnie Dean
Car: Lamborghini Ursus