Photo: Jack McKain
6lack On His Comeback Album 'SIHAL': "I’m Playing A Different Game"
6lack's first album in five years, 'Since I Have A Lover,' is an emotional, romantic overture. In an interview, the rapper explains how he transcribed years of healing into sound.
6lack enters our Zoom call wearing a forest green beanie and hoodie. It’s St. Patrick’s Day; for someone so given to superstition — his stage name is both a testament to Atlanta’s Zone 6, where he grew up, and his penchant for numerology — it’s unsurprising that the rapper and musician is dressed head-to-toe in green. For 6lack, the universe moves in pointedly poetic ways. Case in point: soon after our call, 6lack loses his wallet. Then, before sundown, he posted a photo of his found wallet on Instagram that his wallet has been found. Thank goodness he was wearing green.
It’s been almost half a decade since 6lack (real name Ricardo Valdez Valentine Jr.) last released an album. In the mid-2010s, 6lack established himself as one of the doyens of introspective post-Soundcloud rap and R&B. He gained hundreds of millions of streams, a devoted fanbase, three GRAMMY nominations. Then, he went away. He bulldozed himself and built 6lack back up. He got a therapist. He honored himself. He relived his past so that he could shape his present with intention. He healed.
"What I learnt through that was that I didn’t really need solutions, I just needed to say things out loud," he tells GRAMMY.com.
With the release of his third album SIHAL (Since I Have A Lover), 6lack has transcribed that healing into sound. A vast departure from his previously sepulchral sound, SIHAL is breezy, with a psychedelic palette and paeans to romance and self-love. GRAMMY.com spoke with the artist about his new record, which dropped March 24, and how he got to this point.
This album strikes me as deeply romantic at a time when, post-pandemic, romance seems to be in a kind of crisis. How did the pandemic affect your romantic life and your idea of romance?
Being forced to share space with someone was a test that we hadn’t necessarily had to go through as a generation yet, it was brand new. It went from the idea of: I’m always at home, I love to be at home — and then you realize you can’t go outside, you can’t have the extra space you need, and it forces you to really look at yourself and at the person you’re with.
It made me figure out what unconditional love really consists of, what patience really consists of. It made me more aware of the ups and downs of being in a relationship. It’s not always flowers, it’s not always romance. It made me look at love for what it really is and not just what my idealistic view of it was.
I’ve always drawn from love and my relationships as a way to create — whether that’s heartbreak music, reflective music, in-a-better-place music my relationships have never really stopped me from wanting to create.
There’s been a pretty clear thematic shift in your music. You were once well known for your heartbreak songs, but this latest album feels a little more idealistic and romantic. Has learning to love yourself better in recent years affected how you love others?
It’s super, super simple. A better me equals a better you equals a better us. That’s been the formula of my life. I can’t thrive unless I’m around people who are constantly trying to better themselves as individuals. It took a second of me really looking at myself in the mirror, being honest and saying: I am not doing as much work on myself as I claim to be doing and want to be doing on myself.
That was harder to actually act on than most things I’ve had to fix in my life. I needed to go to therapy, I needed to figure out how to talk about things that didn’t make me comfortable. I needed to stop prolonging situations because I was scared of what might happen. I had to honor myself, do what makes me happy, keep up a schedule and routines. All those little bits and pieces have made me feel better waking up in the morning, it’s made me feel like I have less weight on my shoulders.
How did you land on the album title Since I Have A Lover?
It was one of the tracks I made towards the end of this album process. For the past three albums, the titles have come towards the end. Knowing the theme, knowing the story I wanted to tell, the feelings I wanted to convey — I wanted to repeat this mantra that had been stuck in my head.
The last words on the album are "Just wanted to check in and see whether or not you were feeling like coming through tomorrow?" What made you end the album on a question?
I think because the last track isn’t necessarily where I personally have landed at in my life, but I think it’s a question a lot of people have in their relationships. To me, it’s an honest question, though it’s not always a fun question to entertain. Like, what would my life be like if I were to have done something different, if I were to be with someone different?
For me, it’s all about pulling myself back into my current reality and saying: this is perfect. But the thought will always be there. We’re all human. We’ll constantly think about all the different possibilities, all the different roads we could have gone down. It’s just a little bit scary to say it out loud because we’re scared of offending people, hurting their feelings.
You've explored lots of different genres and sound palettes; do you feel you’ve found your identity as an artist on this album?
Yes, absolutely. I think with each album, it’s a rediscovery of who I am. My first album, FREE 6LACK, was me emerging from turmoil, heartbreak, and a bad record deal; my second, East Atlanta Love Letter, was about stepping into new love and new things; this album has been my everyday practice.
This album reminds me of the goals I have for myself, the impact I wanna have on the world, the responsibilities I have. In this album, I think what I rediscovered about myself was that I’m playing a different game than most people are playing. I don’t worry about numbers with this. It just feels like a calling that I just wanna follow.
SIHAL follows a period of a few years where you took time to focus on yourself and your healing — was there a trigger or a moment in your life that forced you to embark on that journey?
There are always multiple things that push me into that uncomfortable space. The main one was having a partner, having someone next to you, who can really see you, who goes through what you’re going through. It took a lot of disagreements and uncomfortable conversations and ego-checking for me to really admit that I wasn’t as on point as I wanted to be. It took almost getting to a point of her being like, "I’m not gonna deal with this anymore unless you speak to somebody." If that isn’t an incentive, I don’t know what is. I got a therapist, I opened up the conversation. What I learnt through that was that I didn’t really need solutions, I just needed to say things out loud.
In that time, did you learn anything about yourself or your past that surprised you?
Absolutely. It was about getting to the source of who I am in relationships and why I am that way, and then going back to moments that might have influenced that. Like, I remember in third grade, when I went from all A’s to B’s and C’s. I was starting to care less because my relationship with my parents was starting to change, I wasn’t a baby anymore, and they weren’t as hands on or as loving and caring as I wanted them to be. Naturally, if I couldn’t talk to them then I didn’t wanna talk to anybody. I started to handle stuff on my own and keep things to myself.
Fast forward 20 years, and I was starting to repeat those patterns with the people I was in relationships with. I wondered why it was so hard for me to just say how I felt to the people I loved. Going back to the origins of what made me behave that way made me realize who I was wasn’t so definitive. It was just the consequence of what I went through. Now, I’m in the part of my life where I’m just reworking myself.
As a parent yourself, I imagine it must be extra important to work on those problems so that they don’t recur intergenerationally.
Obviously, it’s a little crazy in the world right now, but I’m so appreciative to be a part of this new generation of parents who do seem to be a little bit more patient, a little more understanding and lenient. I don’t want my child to have to think so many negative or hateful things about me if it doesn’t have to be that way. If she makes a mistake, it’ll be easy to talk it out and say that I understand why she might feel that way, and teach her how to maybe express herself in a more productive way. I’ve really just learned that kids are always learning, and how you react to what they do will determine what they’ll do next.
You’ve always been very emotionally articulate in your music; "chasing feelings" from this record goes to some especially vulnerable places. Are you that way inclined in your personal life?
I think I was lightyears ahead when it came to expressing myself musically and creatively, but in the realm of my personal life, I was lightyears behind. It was easier for me to put it on wax because it’s almost like a journal entry. Whereas, actually talking to people about it has been way more intense for me.
I think that after all the work I’ve done in the last couple years, the way I handle conversations is way more different. It’s almost like having a rulebook in your head, and as soon as somebody says something you don’t like or don’t agree with, you can either say something to get back at them or you can make more of an effort to really understand what they’re saying.
Did you feel much of a pressure from your fans to come back and create while you were still taking time away for yourself?
I’m always aware of fans. The internet is a heavy place. I can’t act like I don’t see it, feel it, that it doesn’t affect me in some way. But really honoring myself and taking the time I needed was the priority, though I do understand the impatience some people might have felt.
As someone who grew up in the Atlanta battle rap scene, does competition and competitiveness still play any part in your career?
Yeah, not as much as it used to. In the beginning, maybe, but as of right now, I feel like I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I am just playing a different game. I’m not really competing with anybody, I’m just competing for a better space to live in, a better climate for music. That’s really the only competition for me:How many people is this gonna help?
What are your aspirations for this album overall?
I want it to do for other people what it’s done for me. It is a bit of a calming album. It brought me peace listening to these songs. With my last two albums, they weren’t bringing up good feelings for me to revisit. Putting myself back in those emotions on tour was never really fun.
Now I’m at the part where I can listen to these songs and know where they brought me, so I’m not harboring the same emotions that I had been for the last couple albums. I just wanted to make people feel better and for people to know that love and relationships, though they come with ups and downs, that it’s all just part of the process.
Do you have any collabs coming out or do you have anyone you’d like to get in the studio with this year?
Me and Jessie Reyez have been talking about doing a project together. As far as getting in the studio with someone, it’s always been about building relationships. If I get with someone and it feels good, then we’ll make music. I’d love to get an André 3000 verse someday. It’d be a dream to get Sade back in the public eye in some kind of way, too.
Do you have any material for another album?
Yes. We’ve made more than enough music for another project, so we’re just gonna figure out how we wanna package it up and what style we wanna roll with.
Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined R&B
From Trap&B to a 90's revival, revisit some of the biggest trends that defined R&B this year
Anyone who's still asking if R&B is "dead" in 2021 just isn't paying attention. Not only did R&B singers enjoy record-breaking success this year, but the genre also became more intertwined with mainstream music than ever before.
In charting accolades, Summer Walker clenched her first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with her second album, Still Over It. The 20-song LP also broke the Apple Music record for the most album streams in a single day by a female artist and became the highest-charting album by a woman R&B singer since Beyoncé's 2016 masterpiece, Lemonade. Meanwhile, An Evening with Silk Sonic, the debut album of Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars' superduo Silk Sonic, entered the Billboard 200 chart at No. 2 and also became .Paak's first No. 1 album on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Sonically, artists like KIRBY advanced the sound of modern soul on her Sis. He Wasn't the One EP, and Ty Dolla $ign and dvsn led the '90s R&B revival through some clever samples. R&B continued to grow and change this year, with innovative newcomers incorporating new sonic influences and R&B legends reminding fans why the genre will always live on.
From Trap&B to the return of girl groups, read on for eight trends that emerged in R&B music this year.
Lil Tjay and 6LACK hit the perfect combination of R&B and trap music with their melodic collaboration, "Calling My Phone." Soulful R&B feels and sparse trap production has been a popular pairing since the 2010's, but the two artists turned the trend into a major win. Along with being certified double platinum, "Calling My Phone" debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 — an all-time high for both Tjay and 6LACK — and took the No. 1 spots on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, Hot Rap Songs and Streaming Songs charts.
As "Calling My Phone" suggests, the genre-blurring combo of R&B and trap is here to stay. "Woo Baby," the Chris Brown-featuring single from Pop Smoke's second posthumous album Faith, melded the genres with a sample of Nelly's 2005 song "So Sick," and modernized trap production. Yung Bleu also captured the crossover with his long-awaited debut album, Moon Boy.
Return of the '90s
Many '90s trends made triumphant returns in this year’s fashion and culture, and R&B was no exception. On their collaboration "Memories," Ty Dolla $ign and singer/producer duo dvsn (Daniel Daley and Nineteen85) sampled Silk's "Freak Me," adding their own updated spin to the 1993 bedroom hit. With nostalgic production by 40 and Nineteen85 and steamy lines from Ty and Daley, "Memories" demonstrates how the decade is still a major influence on R&B.
Cardi B and Normani also struck gold with a '90s sampling, using Aaliyah's 1996 classic "One in a Million" on their hit collaboration, "Wild Side." Similarly, a sample of Montell Jordan's 1999 song, "Get It On Tonite" crept its way onto Mahalia's dreamy offering, "Whenever You’re Ready."
KIRBY breathed new life into classic soul with her 10-song EP, Sis. He Wasn't the One. Incorporating impressive falsetto, the Memphis-born singer and songwriter modernized the nostalgic sound with cuts like "Lately" (featuring BJ The Chicago Kid) and "Boyz II Men," in which she shouts out her neo-soul predecessor Erykah Badu (“Badu tried to warn mе 'bout these Tyrones,” she sings before the final chorus).
Sis. He Wasn't the One was one of several contemporary soul records released this year — including Cleo Sol’s Mother, Phabo’s Soulquarius and Leon Bridges’ Gold-Diggers Sound — giving the stylish sound room to grow in 2022.
Girl groups used to be a staple in R&B, but VanJess and The Shindellas might just be bringing them back. While Chloe x Halle focused more on their solo careers this year, VanJess held it down for R&B sister duos, releasing their sophomore album, Homegrown. The Nigerian-American pair carved out their own lane in contemporary R&B, mixing nostalgic, '90s-leaning harmonies with an expansive production palette, which included everything from hip-hop to electronic beats. Meanwhile, Nashville-bred trio The Shindellas harkened back to classic R&B, blues and pop sounds on their debut album, Hits That Stick Like Grits.
While throwing a rap verse into a smooth R&B track can be polarizing for some, Summer Walker and City Girls’ J.T. proved that the formula can offer the best of both worlds. The pair’s unexpected mashup, "Ex For A Reason," puts Walker’s glossy voice over a punchy uptempo beat, with the song’s don’t-take-my-man narrative accented by J.T.’s fiery bars. Singer Joyce Wrice also mastered the rap/R&B crossover on her collab with veteran rapper Freddie Gibbs, "On One," the breakout track from her debut album, Overgrown.
Toxic Love Songs
On their first-ever collaboration, Bryant Faiyaz and Drake continued the R&B trend of feigned indifference in love songs — a stark contrast to the gushing, romantic gestures that characterized the genre's early sound. On their Neptunes-produced track, the two crooners invite their quasi-partners to "waste their time" with them, but make sure not to come on too strong.
SZA also sang about toxic love on her re-released SoundCloud hit, "I Hate U," which broke Apple Music’s record for most-streamed R&B song by a female artist in its first week. Opting to emphasize her feelings rather than cloak them, the songstress used blunt, raw lyrics to further modernize the trend.
The resurgence of funk and its inclusion in R&B records continued to grow as a trend this year, especially with the release of An Evening with Silk Sonic, the debut project from Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s brilliant brainchild Silk Sonic. With production by GRAMMY-winning producer D'Mile and narration from funk legend Bootsy Collins, the nine-track LP boasted vintage soul and funk melodies that seem to be showing up more and more in retro-yet-contemporary R&B releases. Indiana five-piece Durand Jones & The Indications were also fueled by 70's funk this year, with their album Private Space calling back to the group’s classic influences, from the Isley Brothers to the Temptations.
R&B Legends Return
Anthony Hamilton released his first album since 2016 this year, making a welcomed return for old-school R&B fans. His eighth studio album, Love Is The New Black, puts his soothing vocals on full display, even tying in the rap collaborations trend with guest appearances from Rick Ross and Lil Jon. While R&B was mostly dominated by newcomers in 2021, there was still a newfound sense of appreciation for genre greats.
Besides comeback releases, Swizz Beats and Timbaland’s webcast series Verzuz highlighted R&B legends. The viral showdown series saw the Isley Brothers battle Earth, Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan take on Stephanie Mills, and D’Angelo recruit H.E.R., Method Man and Redman — all introducing R&B staples to younger audiences and driving the nostalgia that powered several R&B hits this year.
Photo: Courtesy of artist
Premiere: Spinall, 6LACK & Fireboy DML Deliver Tropical Vacation Vibes With "Sere Remix"
Nigerian powerhouse DJ/producer Spinall taps in 6LACK for the fire "Sere Remix"—listen now
If you haven't listened to Nigerian DJ/producer Spinall yet, time to cue up his beats. He's been spreading the good vibes globally with his sunny, uplifting brand of Afrobeats ever since releasing his debut album, My Story, and launching his label and management company TheCAPMusic in 2014.
In November 2020, he dropped his vibey fifth studio album, Grace, on his label in partnership with Apple's Platoon. The collab-rich project features both new and known talent from Nigeria and beyond, including Tiwa Savage, WizKid, Crayon, R2Bees, and many more.
Now, Spinall's first release of 2021 brings Atlanta to Lagos, as moody R&B heavy-hitter 6LACK hops on the "Sere Remix." Both the original, as featured on Grace, and the brand-new remix feature fellow Nigerians Fireboy DML (on vocals) and Kel-P (on production).
Listen to an exclusive first listen of "Sere Remix" below before it officially drops tomorrow, May 7, and read below to learn more from the powerhouse producer Spinall about the collab, representing Nigeria, his influences, and more.
"Sere Remix" feels like being on vacation. What was the vibe you were trying to create for the track?
The song itself has done all the talking. It's literally the exact mirror to my vibe at the time. I have always made records that connect with the soul. Big love to my brother Fireboy DML & 6LACK and my ever-relentless team.
I have a personal connection with the music I make. From my discography, you can tell I can show you better than I can explain.
What was it like collaborating with Fireboy DML and Kel-P on in?
Amazing. Those are brothers and I'm not just saying that because we made a record. We all have history together, so creating magic was meant to be. I'm grateful to them and my team.
To you, what is the quintessential Nigerian sound and vibe?
You are going to need all the grammar in the world to describe Nigerian sound. It is a constantly evolving powerful sound. Our sound has all the elements of great music you can possibly think of. We are actually just getting started.
"You are going to need all the grammar in the world to describe Nigerian sound."
What does it mean to you to represent Nigeria on the global stage?
I'm extremely grateful. I have dreamt of days like this and now I'm particularly even more excited about the bigger picture for all of Afrobeats culture as a whole.
Who are some of your biggest influences in music and life?
Music itself. Music is the winner here. We are all just messengers. I'm also inspired by the legends and the amount of unnoticed efforts behind the scene. Additionally, I'm inspired by anyone who is fighting for a better life but, more importantly, a genuine soul always inspires me.
6LACK at Lolla 2019
Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy
6LACK On His New "Seasons" Video Featuring Khalid, Getting Back In The Studio & More
The Atlanta alt-R&B singer told us that pairing with his fellow GRAMMY nominee is like "two brothers working, it's super easy, super natural"
While On The Road at Lollapalooza 2019, the Recording Academy caught up with Atlanta alt-R&B artist 6LACK to talk about playing Lolla, recent collabs and when we can expect new music. We also learned more about his latest video for "Seasons" and how it felt to reunite with his fellow GRAMMY nominee Khalid.
Having originally linked up on 2018's "OTW," 6LACK revealed that reuniting with Khalid was like "two brothers working, it's super easy, super natural." He also said that the new, heartfelt video is a visual representation of seasons changing and focuses on capturing joyful moments.
"It's a video that isn't really focused too much on me and what I'm doing or what I'm wearing, or anything like that," he said. "It's more so about capturing moments that make me happy, that make me feel like seasons are changing, with other people involved."
He also talked about what he learned from working with J. Cole, another collaborator on his second studio album, East Atlanta Love Letter, as well as being ready to record new music again:
"I just got back in the mood to start recording, so I don't even know what to expect at all. I just know it's been a full year since I've made a full song of my own, and that's the longest I've ever gone without making music. But I had to spend time with my daughter and actually live for a second, and now I'm ready."
Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Your Favorite Artists React To Their 2019 GRAMMY Nominations
Share in the excitement as this year's nominees take to social media to react to the good news
The past 24 hours have been filled with celebration, gratitude and even some tears of joy, after the nominees for the 2019 GRAMMY Awards were announced bright and early on Dec. 7.
Nominated artists took to social media to share their reactions with fans, fellow artists and the Recording Academy, leaving everyone feeling the positive glow as the excitement for the 61st GRAMMYs continues to build.
Read on to see the reactions from some of your favorite artists, including first-time nominees Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, Ella Mai, Greta Van Fleet and H.E.R., return nominees like Cardi B and Pusha-T and past GRAMMY winners such as Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams and Zedd.
But first, let's check in with the 2019 Best New Artist contenders: Bebe Rexha, Chloe X Halle, Dua Lipa, Greta Van Fleet, H.E.R., Jorja Smith and Margo Price all took to Twitter to celebrate, with sisters Chloe and Halle sharing a video of them holding each other and crying, while Rexha shared a teary clip as well. Lipa shared several posts, including one that summed it up well: "TWO NOMINATIONS TWO GRAMMY NOMINATIONS IM SO HAPPY BUT I CANT STOP CRYING I CANT BELIEVE IT!!!!"
Chloe X Halle
Greta Van Fleet
Exceedingly humbled to be nominated for a Grammy Award. We are overwhelmed by your magnificent love & support in this unbelievable year. To share this honor & say thank you, we will donate $1 from every December Detroit ticket to @CHMFoundation, on behalf of The Peaceful Army. pic.twitter.com/hI8N5SPcMq— Greta Van Fleet (@GretaVanFleet) December 7, 2018
Woah! Woke up to my phone blowing up this morning... it’s an honor to get a Grammy nomination for best new artist! pic.twitter.com/uBEamgdt0T— Margo Price (@MissMargoPrice) December 7, 2018
In addition to Best New Artist nominees, there were quite a few more first-time GRAMMY nominees this year, and their joy about the news was equally palpable. Cabello, like Lipa, shared several posts on Twitter, one of which reading: "I usually can't shut up but right now I’m speechless. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU."
Florida Georgia Line
OMG OMG OMG OMG WHAAAAAATTTTTTTT https://t.co/6s83ZV6tnd— Missy Mazzoli (@missymazzoli) December 7, 2018
Unbelievable, speechless right now. I LOVE YOU— Shawn Mendes (@ShawnMendes) December 7, 2018
Next up, let's take a look at a few artists who have been nominated in the past: Pusha-T, who is nominated for Best Rap Album for Daytona, shared this message with his fans: "12/7/18: From this day forward it's, 'The GRAMMY Nominated' Pusha-T. Thank you for your cooperation... #Daytona."
Meanwhile, Cardi learned about her nominations in an unconventional way, but she was excited about her second round, nonetheless.
Finally, we looked to some of your favorite past GRAMMY winners who are up for additional awards this year: Zedd has added three more nominations to his tally for the hit single "The Middle" featuring Maren Morris and Grey, including Record Of The Year, posting "holy f* I just woke up to 3 (!) GRAMMY nominations."
Multi-hyphenate Pharrell may already have quite a few wins under his belt, but is still stoked to be nominated for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical, sharing: "THANK YOU @RecordingAcad. Truly honored."
Art is thriving. I’ve been so inspired by the creative climate this year has generated, and I’m SO thankful to be nominated alongside some truly brilliant & innovative artists. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Xx pic.twitter.com/G0FhNCpbOa— K A C E Y M U S G R A V E S (@KaceyMusgraves) December 7, 2018
Congratulations to all of the nominees! Come back to grammy.com for more 61st GRAMMY Awards content with your favorite artists and tune in to Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 10 for even more excitement as we find out who the winners are.