If 6LACK‘s debut, FREE 6LACK, says anything it’s that 1) Atlanta is the new Motown and 2) once a sad RnB singer makes it, another comes up who is sadder and moodier. FREE 6LACK follows the same grimy RnB put forth by Abra but with a distinctively self-reflexive vibe. When Abra skews sensual, 6LACK focuses instead on his regrets and mistakes.
The album starts with “Never Know.” Warbled and swooshing instrumentals give the song its base–the perfect foundation for 6LACK’s Drake-esque delivery. But more than reiterate the rhyming couplet formula Drake has mastered, 6LACK piles bars on bars, developing and complicating his persona’s narrative at every moment. Lyrically, the musician flits between subjects with ease, so at the end of the song’s four minutes he has established a full voice, one that constantly demands an ear.
Instrumentally, FREE 6LACK unfurls much like The Weeknd’s three mixtapes before Kissland. Slightly minor and lush soundscapes give the Atlanta singer’s voice a lot of leeway. While 6LACK doesn’t have the vocal range of The Weeknd, he more than compensates for it by creating beats and full songs that far surpass what The Weeknd has put forth so far. Whereas Kissland, Beauty Behind The Madness, and Starboy have bangers they also have a lot of fluff. On the opposite side, every song on FREE 6LACK hits hard.
This is mostly because 6LACK knows how to control tension–whether his songs are slow or fast. One of the former, “MTFU” has a definite Frank Ocean (circa his channel: ORANGE era) feel. “MTFU” churns through its music with a moody and obsessive tone. While the obsessiveness is nothing new when it comes to scorned love in RnB, 6LACK refocuses it, channeling the obsession away from the scorning lover to the ways he himself might have brought this upon himself. This subtle shift does a lot to freshen the themes that run through FREE 6LACK.
From start to beginning, FREE 6LACK elliptically examines what is to be a man in love or how masculinity (as currently defined) might be complicated by the act of falling in love. Whether this is an intentional construct within the album or just something that bloomed naturally by the images and tropes that 6LACK’s brand of RnB clings to is up for debate. What is not up for debate is that the Atlanta singer has written an album that is moody and sensual.
The penultimate track of FREE 6LACK embodies the concept’s 6LACK has been wrestling with throughout the album. “Ex Calling” seems to be a consequence track, one in which 6LACK’s persona’s behavior and attitudes towards his lovers are seen in action. There seems to be a dramatic irony happening in what is left out. That this speaker’s ex is calling him surprises him though it forces the listener to question the truthfulness of the story thus far. This complicated narrative is what differentiates 6LACK from the slew of sad RnB that he came from.