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WEEKEND MUSIC PT. 36: IN CONVERSATION WITH 6LACK

It has been almost 5 years since the Atlanta-born singer & songwriter 6lack disappeared from the international stages to devote to himself, his mental health and his own personal journey – To return with an expanded, fresh perspective on music. The result is his new album “Since I have a Lover”, in which he comes to terms with his past and strikes a calmer note, filled with self-reflection and the feeling of having arrived.

We met 6lack before his concert in Berlin.

„Since I Have A Lover” is your 3rd studio album after a 5-year break. What personal meaning does this album have for you and what is it all about?

SIHAL has been a mantra for me in a way. It is something that isn’t just about improving my skills you know as far as being a partner you know in romance. Its something that also includes just having a better understanding of who I am and loving who I am and what I create. And SIHAL is for other people to figure out the things that they love and how to improve the quality of their life through the music and through the practices that they adapt once they listen to the album. For me this album has been a mantra, it has been practice and it has been a personal journey entry.

The title of the album is about a lover you have, you are talking about your partner, the soul singer Quiñ, with whom you also share a track called “wunna dem”. What significance does it have for you that she is part of the album and the track itself?

I think it has probably been the most important part of the creation process. I think when you look at the topics of my previous two albums you kinda wonder if I was gonna be able to figure it out, just from the way I spoke about love and relationships. But to graduate to a part of life where I am figuring out a healthier way to do that and to live through that. It has been like a new source of inspiration and it lets me know that there isn’t just place to create from like I don’t have to create from darkness or from stress. Its very easy to do it and I have been lucky enough to find success from doing it but I think for myself and for my friends and family and for my partner its easier to wake up and to actually play the music that I make for someone that I’m living with and not have to like hide it.

Yeah for sure. “Wunna dem” is definitely like a high point as far as how it sounds and what it feels like on a really really good day. I think also just as far as the lyrics of the song go is as nice as it feels. You know the main point of “wunna dem” is through the good days and the bad days I at the very least have someone I can work through it with.

“For me this album has been a mantra, it has been practice and it has been a personal journey entry.”
Rap often has something dark and melancholy about it, driven by the speed and continuity of the beats. “Since I Have A Lover” seems somehow calm and optimistic. Your previous albums dealt with dysfunctional relationships, emotional chaos, heartbreak, whereas in “Since I Have A Lover” you talk about therapy and healing. Are it strange feelings to share so much of yourself with so many strangers? And were you nervous about the reactions?

Umm it doesn’t scare me to share how I feel and my life in song form necessarily. I think when I zoom out of that and I look at my career as a whole that’s the only part that makes me a little bit anxious like waking up and just knowing that people are waiting for you to do something or create something, put something out or post something. You know that part in general for sure is the weirdest part for me. But as far as once I get into the studio and lock in, from there I have already made a decision. So nothing is scary about that part of it for me. In the beginning there was a bit of nerves that set in and I honestly think that they really set in because I just didn’t have a routine for myself and I wasn’t really taking care of myself the best way. So I was just moving in a very unprepared type of way. When your sleep schedule is off, when you have conversations that you didn’t have but need to have, when you’re stressed out – naturally all the little like insecure anxious thoughts start to creep in and really like feed off that energy. So I just wasn’t in a really good routine and that kinda crept in and once I like started to talk to my therapist and my partner and I got to the root of what the issue was I was just like ‘ok, there is no more space for me to be nervous about anything. I need to figure out my shit and I need to start to create from a space of knowing better and doing better’ Once I figured that part out everything else was easy.

I think that has been like one of the most effective and meaningful parts of having this as a job is realizing I have the opportunity to create my own world and create my own community and with that comes the ability to affect people in a positive or in a negative way. Its really dope to create in the studio but to then go out in the world and see the effects of it is like ‘oh shit’. Like this is really one of the craziest jobs that anybody can have.

Many artists say that art can only come from pain and darkness and that it is much more difficult to share the positive than the negative. How do you evaluate this with your current knowledge and your own journey between these emotions?

I think like almost everything else in life unfortunately it takes someone else to do it first for other people to be okay with it. We’ve been in a very long era of people just kinda pulling from negative things and you know creating from that space and coping through whatever the issues are you add real life things on top of it like covid and everything that’s going on in the world and end up in that pool of negativity. It takes someone to step out of that for people to start to think about it and it might come to them as a realization that’s really just common sense like we just have to talk about feeling good and doing good. Somebody has to put the practice in front of other people. For me I can see that it might be less of a common or a cool thing to most people. I’ve been able to feel the benefits what it does for my life and I feel like I just have to share that with other people and the task is figuring out how to share it. Because there’s an art to it like everything else. It might have been second nature and very immediate for me to create songs like “PRBLMS” but you know also when I’m in a really good mood its second nature and immediate for me to create songs like SIHAL so it’s just a matter of tapping into those feelings and putting them in front of other people. It’s okay to be okay.

“Its really dope to create in the studio but to then go out in the world and see the effects of it is like ‘oh shit’. Like this is really one of the craziest jobs that anybody can have.”
Why can you express yourself well through music?

Music became my main channel of expression…. I would say the original spark was my dad doing music and having access to seeing him do his thing. But once I was about six years old I had pretty much taken that inspiration and just started to create my own thing from it so it started in just poem form and it would be about something simple… like being a kid and having a crush on somebody, on some other student and sometimes even having a crush on a teacher. And just like get my creativity out, it wasn’t even necessarily about like developing romance because obviously I was a kid, but more so about learning how to express myself. It might have been as simple as a different spin on why roses are red and why violets are blue and having someone say ‘this is good you should keep working on that’ was enough for me to take poetry and turn it into rapping and songwriting. Once I got into middle school and highschool battle rap was the peak of my interest in rap. Figuring out how to think of things on the spot and how to be clever and witty and make people react to what I was saying. There was so many different ways to express myself and develop as an artist. I used poetry, I used battlerap, I used songwriting, I used all my different all my favorite artists and I just pull from as many different lands as I could to just create my own thing. Honestly it was easier to do that than it was to have regular conversations. As long as I could like, get it off some kind of way, that was the easiest and the clearest way for me to communicate was to just put it in a song. That’s it.

Even with school assignments: It’s a lot more nerve wrecking for me to just get up and talk regularly to people about whatever it is I’m presenting but If I could just let my teacher know like ‘look I’ll do the project  but I’m just gonna rap it’

“It’s okay to be okay.”
The topic of therapy is now more and more accepted in society, but many people still don’t have the courage to take this step. When was the turning point for you when you knew you had to tackle it, something has to change? Was there this one specific moment?

It was just watching everything start to fall apart in my life and realizing that it was very self-inflicted. To be in my dream field and to be able to travel the world and to be able to make a living doing this but to also have very conflicted feelings and to not know how I felt on a day-to-day basis and to not know what to do about personal life things.

For me it took a little bit of me being resistant to it and then watching the consequences of that. Almost every single week just a new conversation I either didn’t wanna have or it was too late having or I’m like ‘I created something so dramatic out of something that could have been so simple’.

Repeating that took me a ridiculous amount of times to finally be like ‘This is embarrassing’, ‘Now I’m starting to feel ashamed’, ‘Now I’m starting to take the form of anger’. It took me feeling that and it took my partner to being able to call me up and to say “You look like you got everything together to everybody else but to me this is not it, this doesn’t feel great’ and from there I was like: ‘Alright I need to talk to somebody else’ and that was the biggest thing for me.

I’ve never had a mentor or anybody in my life that I could go to for stuff like that. To be that person for other people, you kind of develop an arrogance about needing to do that for yourself. Realizing that and then finally making that first call to when where I was able to just finally let it out, start talking about things, not worry about the judgement of it and have somebody say ‘Ok you did good there, you did really bad there and you need to fix this’ made me able to figure out myself a lot more. It wasn’t even about needing a solution. It was just getting it out of my system. From there I have a better ability to figure it out on my own.

You have talked about how in the past how music was your Outlet in these situations. Was there a conscious decision to decide that music is not gonna be solving these circumstances?

It became a decision later in the process creating this last album. It was a feeling that I couldn’t really put words to initially. It really took that repetitive bad feeling. There would be moments where I would go to the studio and I would think that I was going to work and then I would end up with my head on the desks from 10 pm to 3 am . I’ve tried four or five different beats, nothing that’s coming out of me is anything that I’m really resignating with. More than likely is because I have all of these other things that are looming over me and taking up space in my head and in my spirit and in my body. Those things just created so much fuzz that it’s like taking a jumpshot and being so discouraged that you’re like ‘Oh my god I’m just gonna sit here and sulk about it.’ It took moments of the feeling being creatively stuck before I was able to snap out of it and to make a decision. It was just like ‘Alright if you feel this bad about all this stuff then you really just need to take care of that first and come back to music when you are the right to come in here and to create.

Just making sure that I was holding myself accountable and for trying to remind myself that as much as this has been a lane for me to express myself I can’t really abuse that and can’t really treat it as if it’s that one trick kind of thing to where anytime I’m feeling bad all I gotta do is go in the studio and something magical will come from it. That’s more of like a if necessary type of trick that you can use whenever you need it. But it shouldn’t be something that you’re waking up everyday – just basically creating an issue to make something from it.

“It might have been as simple as a different spin on why roses are red and why violets are blue and having someone say ‘this is good you should keep working on that’ was enough for me to take poetry and turn it into rapping and songwriting.”
When did you get to the point when you knew you could and wanted to make music again? Did you have any fears?

It was as soon as I started to see my therapist consistently, as soon as I started to wake up and to go to the yoga class and go to the kickboxing class. As soon as I started to diet and cleanse for at least a couple of weeks. Any time I did something that was good for myself I could listen to a beat that I had heard a million times before and magically I would just be hearing it differently this time. Those were definitely moments where I would raise my brows and go ‘Oooh okay, this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now.’ Like I actually don’t have access to creating unless I take care of myself so let me just really take care of myself. And those were the moments where the creativity can start to unlock.

How did it feel to be back on stage when you were on tour?

It felt really, really refreshing to be back on tour. We have had a really really fun tours, we’ve had a lot of amazing first shows but surprisingly this tour was just…. There were some places where we’ve been a few times where we’ve had our best shows this time. And to me that speaks to just how beneficial it is to get to a place where things are just for a bigger and better purpose. You know we’ve been to shows where we have kinda wrote certain places off like ‘in this place they are a little bit more chill or in this city they get a little too high so we can’t expect too much from here’ but every expectation that we had was just completely reset this time around. And I think that that is also a testament to how there is no limit on making myself new. Like with this album I had to reintroduce myself to people in a way that they might not have been familiar with. But it was just for the benefit of feeling better and being better and leading a better example. So to go to all these cities that we’ve been to so far and to be able to look back and say ‘wow, this is probably the most eventful tour that we’ve ever been on.’ These stories that we were getting from people, they are coming from people who were depressed during the FREE 6LACK era and were in and out of a relationship during the East Atlanta Loveletter Era and now some of them are married, some of them brought their kids. There is so many people that grew with the projects. So to see that in real time and get that response and that validation was very, very helpful and reassuring. It brought a lot of just peace and happiness while we were on the road, just knowing that we did something right. And remembering that it doesn’t always have to be measured by any metric, really. Its not about a first week sale or a radio single or a playlist spot. Its more so about the impact that you have on people and through that you end up getting a grammy nominee like ‘oh shit’. On top of what we’ve been getting in real time, there is also somebody who recognizes it. We have just patted ourselves on the back the whole entire tour and continued to look at each other like ‘we did what we were supposed to do’.

“I could listen to a beat that I had heard a million times before and magically I would just be hearing it differently this time.”
You’ve already got the ball rolling. What do you wish for yourself?

Personally, for me it is continuing to feed myself and all my different interests. We talked a little bit about how I am setting myself up for the future. So as far as music goes, being able to be an instrumentalist I think will unlock any other parts of my creativity that have a wall in front of them right now to where I can start ideas for myself and for other people without needing someone else to lead the way all the time. I think production wise that’s how I can continue to grow as an artist. And then outside of that just figuring out to do shit with people that I care about. I have been really open to this year trying to get my green thumb together so I can learn how to just have my own stuff. Whether it be small things, herbs. Bigger things, fruit, veggies. I just need to know how to do more things so that I can continue to expand the quality of my life. Like now I have the resources, now I have the community and every now and then I have the time window. So I’m just trying to make sure that I fill those windows with things. Because as we get older its really easy to just be like ‘hmm not right now’. And than right after ‘not right now’ becomes ‘I can’t’. So, I’m really trying to make sure that ‘I’m unable’ or ‘I can’t’ is really, really far down the line. That’s it. Just filling all of my gaps with things that are productive and inspiring and self-sufficient.

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