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It’s not easy for young artists to stand out. Great music is the first requirement, but it also takes something else—something beyond just the music—to makes fans gravitate towards an artist. In 2017, a personal connection has become a necessity as well. By looking at the rabid fanbase he’s amassed (his recent No Ceilings show with Pigeons & Planes sold out in under a half hour), it’s clear that 6LACK has developed that difficult-to-pinpoint quality that forges a connection with listeners.

His Free 6lack project was a standout last year. “PRBLMS” is an absolute slapper that pulls right at the strings of your heart. Though he’s still a young artist—only 24—6LACK isn’t new to making music, and has quite a different past than most. He’s been signed to a label since his late teens, and was a battle rapper in high school. Yes, a battle rapper. You can hardly tell from his loose, melodic style of rapping and singing he’s picked up since then, though.

He’s still a relatively new face to the game, but major players are already starting to take notice. Just yesterday, he was on the Weeknd’s Instagram, for instance. Eyes are opening and though the journey will be long, the future is looking bright for 6LACK. We were able to sit down with the young Atlanta artist to talk about his roots, new music, and what’s next.

Talk to me about your roots coming up on the Atlanta scene. When did you first take hold of music and develop your sound?
Well, most people have been doing it their entire lives, so, since I was four, but maybe around like 2009. Around 2009 I was like, “Alright this is a little bit more than just rapping, let me figure out how to make songs, figure out how to hold a note, how to be familiar with different melodies.” That’s when I zoned in and figured out what’s gonna be my sound, what’s gonna be my message, what’s gonna be me.

How did you do that, did you teach yourself?
Yeah, when a lot of people ask me—cause a lot of people ask me tips and shit—I think the biggest thing I can say is just working on myself as a person helped everything around that. I didn’t have to figure out music, or aesthetics or anything like that because I was just working on myself. The more I came into myself the more I was just like, I don’t have to strategize or figure out anything. I just have to be, and everything else follows.

Were you always able to sing?
Nah, I mean, I guess technically since you don’t just do it out of nowhere, but that wasn’t my thing. I was a battle rapper, so that’s what I stuck to and then I saw where all of them ended up so I was like, “I might have to do something a little bit different to have some kind of longevity.” Just from listening to a lot of R&B, I would imitate, and then more and more I would tip-toe into holding a note a little bit longer than I did initially.

Who are some of your R&B influences?
I love Sade. I feel like it ranges all over the place. I could literally say Sade and then T-Pain, and The Dream, and I could say Usher. I get so many different sounds that come within R&B and soul so I just kinda pull from a little bit of everything.

Your lyrical content is very personal. You put what you’re going through in your music. Has that been the best way to write and express yourself?
It’s not to say I don’t love everything that’s going on in music right now, but I feel like everything is basically general right now as far as songs. You hear stuff, and for the most part, same topics, same few lines kinda just alternated. And it’s cool to have fun and listen to them and enjoy them but I just feel like nobody really digs a little bit deeper than surface level right now. I wanted to talk about the stuff that people obviously go through and experience but nobody is actually hitting right now. Nobody’s really striking those chords.

You’ve really tapped into social media, was that by design?
I feel like that’s a part of being me too. It’s dope to be an artist and to have that wall of separation, but also I feel like social media is there for what it’s there for. I have a group chat with about 40 fans who I communicate with on the regular. They threw me in it one day a few months ago, and at first I was like, “What the hell is this?” and I watched them. Day after day, they wake up, they talk about me, they talk about my music, they talk about tons of different shit, their day. Then eventually I just started popping up in there like, “What’s good?” and they’d be like, “Oh shit!” That’s exactly what it’s there for, to connect with people like that, and make them feel like you’re apart of this.

Fans really care and it’s happened really quick with you. Not everybody has that. Did you anticipate this?
When I went in the studio for this project I just wrote the word: “relatable” on the board. I wanted everything to center around that, because it does. Once this project dropped and I started seeing reactions, the main word I saw was, “Yo, I relate, I feel this, I went through this.” It was just seeing tons of people actually connect instead of saying, “Oh, that was a cool song.” It was designed to make people give some kind of reaction. Whether you like it, love it, or it’s not for you, at the end of the day I just wanted to get some kind of reaction.

How did you get your name?
Honestly, I had the same name since I was in middle school, and it was always spelled the same. I got it from my OGs and just all the people in my neighborhood. Over the years the meaning of it just took on its own life—from being from Zone 6, to being more in tune with spiritual stuff, and my life path, being born in the 6. It’s just a number that followed me forever.

Talk about how coming from Zone 6 shaped you as an artist and helped you with your career.
I think it helped me put a lot of things in perspective. I’ve been lucky enough to watch a lot of people come, and a lot of people go. To see what people from my area do right and wrong, has been a learning thing for me. Atlanta and Zone 6—they produce amazing artists, not just the club bangers but people who go on to become international. There’s an extra sense of pride that comes with being from Atlanta and coming from the East Side. We’ve seen enough to know it can either be this for you or it can be that for you. You can chill in the hood and be known locally and pop up at all of the clubs every weekend, or you can maybe take the other route and make something bigger than everything else.

Did you always anticipate that you would make it to this point and then keep going further? You’re still a young new artist, your whole career is ahead of you.
The goal has definitely been to be at least in question to be the best. I’m not here to be temporary, to be seasonal. If I’m here I want to be great at what I do.

How was the Atlanta show the other day?
That was crazy because literally that crowd was a mixture of people from elementary school, middle school, high school, college, neighborhoods, and then just a bunch of new faces who don’t know shit about me. Just to see that mixture of a crowd and to see the expressions on their faces…for the most part people were just like, “Yo, you really did it.” Or, “I saw you battling at lunch in high school, you really did it.” So, to have that, it was kind of just a big-ass family reunion. I think it’s gonna be hard for any city to match that. Because they were proud. That was definitely amazing.

You had your first New York show the other night. New York doesn’t accept everybody, but your show here was packed. What was that like, having one of the biggest cities in the world accept you at your first show?
It’s always surreal. Honestly, I don’t ever think I’ll get used to it. Like, obviously you do it and you expect certain reactions from doing what you do. Anytime I come out on stage, it’s always a moment where I just take it in and smile, and be like, “Yo, what the fuck are y’all doing here? Like where the fuck did y’all come from?” Before the show in Atlanta, the first one we did before the tour, when I pulled up to the show and I hopped out the truck I was wondering like, “Where were y’all two months ago?” Because there was a line that was just all the way around the building. At least 500 people didn’t get in. To see that, in my head I’m just like, “Where the fuck did y’all come from?” But I get it. If it would have happened any other time it wouldn’t be what it is today.

With the first project out, going forward, what would you say your immediate goals are, and your long-term goals?
My only goal is to stay consistent and to always put out quality music. I don’t want to rush anything, but I don’t ever want to fall back and become mysterious or make people wonder if I can do this, or do that again. I just want to stay consistent. I tell them all the time: what’s next? Whatever’s next I’m working on that. The minute I thought I was taking a break after Free 6lack, I was in the studio a week later working on the next one.

Do you already have plans to release something new?
There’s always plans to release something new. Always. I don’t know when but always.

Have you been working with anybody interesting?
Yeah.

Any hints?
Nah. (laughs)

Who are some people you haven’t worked with yet that you want to work with?
I’m a fan of pretty much everything and everybody, so it’s kind of hard for me to pinpoint. But I have my favorite people. Everybody knows I’m a Thug fan, so if that ever happened that would be cool. Just anybody who I honestly connect with.

You and Thug have a video of you guys battle rapping back in the day.
This was at the What’s Up video shoot for Rich Kids, so this was when Rich Kids were like, Rich Kids, and Thug was kinda like in the background. Even then, Thug kinda had that star quality, cause he was just looking at me and nodding in approval, like, “okay.” Fast-forward four years later, and he’s who he is.

For you to go from the battle rapper stage, I don’t think a lot of people know that. That transition isn’t easy. What’s it like in a live setting for you?
I feel like the battle rap background kind of gave me the confidence I needed. All my nerves got shaken at an early age, because when you’re walking down the hallway and somebody taps you, and the next thing you know there’s like forty people in the circle and they’re waiting for you to rap, it’s like, “Oh shit, do I have anything? Am I in the right space to freestyle right now?” So, I think the nerves got shaken early, I had to go to through a lot of random being pulled to the side and rapping. Now I just take that and just project that on stage.

As you get more popular, how do you deal with people who like to compare you in a lane with Bryson Tiller. How do you deal with those comparisons?
I think what separates anybody from anybody is just who you are. You can compare sounds all day, there’s like a million ways you can compare sounds and lyrics and content but at the end of the day what separates people is people. I’m always gonna be me, and I think the more people get to know me, they’ll see I’m not anybody else. I’m as me as they come.

This article was found on Complex.com