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“As I got older, I realized black and white really fit my personality best. I feel like color is something I have to graduate to and will come at a different chapter in my life. The black and white definitely paralleled feeling trapped and set in my ways for a long time. I feel like with growth, change and new things come color,” says Ricardo Valentine, the elusive Atlanta-by-way-of-Maryland crooner who goes by the stage name 6LACK.

In late February, after the birth of his daughter, Valentine’s once monochromatic Instagram page was suddenly flooded with color. The first photo to receive the pigment treatment was a snapshot of his newborn girl – she appeared swaddled in a white linen cloth decorated with (appropriately black) stenciled flowers and teddy bears.

The accompanying caption – a heartfelt note from a father forced to honor work commitments during the first moment’s of his child’s life – illustrates the organic quality that makes Valentine’s music so darkly emotive. He is an artist unafraid to share his feelings, even when they loom larger than the soul and bring with them all the pains of life. Valentine’s debut studio album FREE 6LACK is a testament to this; it is inspired completely by personal experiences, which the singer communicates with the oddly paradoxical numb kind of emotion this generation’s depressive crooners have perfected. His breakout single, “PRBLMS” charts the downfall of a relationship that Valentine can clearly see his role in helping to destroy. “Tell her you love her when next week you just want your space / Why you do that? Why you do that?,” he asks himself.

And even in the here-today-gone-tomorrow cycle of today’s music, the sentiment behind singles like “PRBLMS” is still as relevant as ever. Just last week, 6LACK, who is notoriously camera shy, gave his first on-camera interview to Zane Lowe following a performance of “PRBLMS” for Apple Music’s “Up Next” series.

We also had the opportunity to chat with the burgeoning talent about the relationships that inspired the album and living life in color through music.

What prompted FREE 6LACK? It feels a bit cathartic…

FREE 6LACK is definitely all personal experiences. Every single song is a direct reflection of something that has happened, whether in actual conversation or text message. All of it is tied directly to my personal life because I just wanted to make something that people could relate to. I didn’t want to have anything super thematic, nor did I go into it thinking about themes. I just wanted to talk about things that I know people hear on a daily but don’t talk about, or things that they hear but only talk about on a surface level. Nobody really gets down to the ins and outs of their relationship and what they really feel.

How does your songwriting affect your real life and vice versa?

For the album the song’s were easy to write and work through because I had these all fresh thoughts and situations. Whenever something is going on in my life I literally run to the studio to get it out. I can’t really filter, censor or hide that for anybody; those are the moments I make my best music. I would say that “PRBLMS” was one of the most difficult songs to present to others. 

At the end of the day I do really care about the people involved in these situations, so I never wanted to make it seem like I’m going after anybody or putting out business that people don’t want to share. Song like those I literally get in contact with people who were involved and let them know before I release it.

Does making a song like “PRBLMS” ultimately help clear things up or complicate things? It’s sort of the song equivalent of writing someone a letter full of your feelings…

The relationship that inspired that was one of my most difficult relationships. We weren’t even talking at the time I made the song, so it was definitely partly a stream of frustration and anger. I got it out of my system and she just had to hear it when it dropped. That was the only song where I didn’t let the person know before I dropped it, but when she heard it, there wasn’t an argument. It was more like, “I see what you were talking about,” and we haven’t spoke much since. 

By the time I’d finished the project I was mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually past everything. The minute I get it out of my system and record it, I’m over it. I’m not dwelling on it, I’m not listening to the song over and over again thinking about things or trying to figure it out. Once it’s out, I’ve reached my conclusion and this is for somebody else to apply it to their own life.

You’ve expressed a dislike for interviews – how is adjusting to the reality of being an “entertainer”?

Well, I don’t feel like what I look like is as important as the music I make or the message I want to send. I also don’t like to be in front of cameras. The music industry is so different than my personality. Being an extrovert, talking to people and being in front of cameras and all of that is very opposite of who I am, but I do understand the importance of it. I understand that as an entertainer and a artist I have to make those sacrifices sometimes.

Are 6LACK and Ricardo one and the same?

At this point I’ve been 6LACK longer than I can remember, probably since elementary or middle school. I think that other side of me is something that has been a bit suppressed and put on hold. It’s kind of weird to say, but I don’t wake up and really think like Ricardo Valentine. I wake up and my calendar says 6LACK, my text messages say 6LACK, and my social media accounts say 6LACK. It’s something that is more than a stage name at this point. The other side (Ricardo) has been put on hold until I get what I need to get done, done.

Also catch up on what your favorite celebs wore to the final weekend of Coachella here.

Words by Stephanie Smith-Strickland
Contributor
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