On his laid-back and locked-in new EP, the Atlanta singer-rapper sounds more subtle and assured than ever.
He may not be the genre’s biggest star, but few R&B singers have demonstrated a better understanding of the genre’s commercial winds than 6lack. On his 6pc Hot EP, he name-checks Usher and T-Pain, touchstones of popular ’00s R&B, but his own style mines more of-the-moment inspiration, from the late-night melancholy of Drake to the art-house soul of Frank Ocean, both of which he shades with the atmospheric trap of his native Atlanta, the longtime gravitational center of rap and R&B radio. He prides himself on his ties to the city. 6pc Hot, which opens with a cruise through the Atlanta of his youth, is titled after his favorite neighborhood wing spot (he’s marketing the EP with his own hot sauce). Even his stage name, cumbersome as it is, is a nod to the Zone 6 district where he was raised.
Like most Atlantans on the charts right now, 6lack’s talents lie somewhere between rapping and singing, and on his first two albums, he sometimes seemed to resent being boxed in as a singer. Even on his smoothest songs, he adopted the jaded detachment of a rapper. “Fuck me like you about to lose your place to the girl next store,” he sang on 2018’s East Atlanta Love Letter, where he leaned hard on The Weeknd‘s tropes of toxic men and hateful sex. That’s not a great look for anyone, and it was especially ill-fitting for an everyman like 6lack, who’s always been more convincing playing a wounded soul than an asshole.
6pc Hot shows what a pleasure he can be when he loses that sour edge. These six songs wallow less and luxuriate more. Soothing and sumptuous, more bittersweet than outright sad, the after-hours dispatches “Long Nights” and “Float” pair the coziness of an overstuffed couch with the sleek angles of an Eames chair. “I just followed the emotions of quarantine,” 6lack has explained of his process for the EP, and his lyrics periodically touch on the crisis—the isolation, the longing for out-of-reach comforts, the sense of being locked in an inescapable cycle—yet the music is too nimble, too free for lockdown. We should be so lucky if our quarantine felt like this.
Even when 6lack is kicking around dopey boasts just for the fun of it on “ATL Freestyle,” he’s gotten so improbably good at pairing together free associations that even lines that read like groaners on paper (“My life is VVS, I practice clarity”) breeze by like sweet nothings. And where 6lack’s nonchalant delivery could previously scan as too cold, too removed, he’s gotten bolder at playing up the yearning and fragile beauty in his voice. The wait-until-quarantine-is-over ballad “Outside” is his most unabashedly sentimental song yet, and he sells the sweetness and romance.
There’s just one feature on the EP, and it illustrates how delicate of a balance 6lack strikes between laidback and locked in. Lil Baby, who may be on the hottest streak of any rapper on the radio right now, attempts a quick lap on “Know My Rights,” yet he’s unable to find his footing amid the track’s vaporous bump. His verse isn’t so bad that it derails things—four tracks in and the EP’s mood is too established to be upended by one miscalculated verse—but his flow is too hurried, too frantic. He’s doing too much, racing against the music instead of making it work for him. 6lack’s great instinct is knowing when to do a little less, and on 6pc Hot it pays off sublimely. He no longer sounds like a replacement-level R&B singer. He’s starting to sound like a master.
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