The original version of 6LACK’s debut album, 2016’s FREE 6LACK, was featureless. T-Pain and BANKS appeared on a pair of bonus tracks, but the tracklist featured 6LACK exclusively and constituted an impressive debut, led by the certified platinum ‘Prblms’ and ‘Ex Calling’. FREE 6LACK not only paved the way to success for the Atlanta native but announced him as a star of the present, securing a pair of Grammy nominations.
Since that debut, 6LACK – real name Ricardo Valdez Valentine Jr., stage name pronounced ‘Black’ – has regularly collaborated with other artists to great success. Fusing his smooth, minimalist vocals with some of hip-hop’s biggest names has proved a recipe for tremendous chart and streaming success. J. Cole, Future, Isaiah Rashad, SZA, JID, Schoolboy Q, Denzel Curry and Ty Dolla $ign are just some of the big names he has worked with.
And yet, on Since I Have A Lover, 6LACK enlists only two features in the album’s second half. Rather than proving he can make it independently, the project somewhat highlights why he’s had such success collaborating. You’re waiting for the album to grab your attention and make you sit forward. Instead, it just drifts as perfectly pleasant background music.
6LACK isn’t quite as heartbroken or melancholy as he once was, but he’s still sad. He’s not sleeping with as many different women or doing as many drugs as he once did, but the thoughts remain. There’s sparse political commentary, but it lacks conviction even when it does appear. It’s clear he’s matured, but there’s no real insight on Since I Have A Lover. The album is full of allusions but lacking in conclusions.
I realise some things are better left unsaid, and 6LACK doesn’t need all the answers. But this is a coming-of-age record that was five years in the making. He’s no longer the brooding, confused, angry artist that appeared with FREE 6LACK, nor the ruminating rapper-singer who made East Atlanta Love Letter. On Since I Have A Lover, there was an opportunity – and I would argue an intention – for 6LACK to create an assured, confident album that left you with something. This is not that record.
That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. ‘Inwood Hill Park’ is probably the best song on the album. 6LACK again proves his range on what seems to be a dialled-down, serene version of a boom-bap beat. ‘Preach’ is another standout, and ‘Wunna Dem’ – one of the two songs with features, in this case, QUIN – is an impressive track for how short it is, serving almost as a guitar-led interlude. ‘Rent Free’ showcases 6LACK’s real strengths – it’s got a great chorus and tinges of heartbreak and longing, but after the second hook, it’s just crying out for a feature. Instead, 6LACK’s own auto-tuned final verse is not as good as the rest of the song.
The titular ‘Since I Have A Lover’ is catchy and pleasant, but it’s not a good enough song to define the album and is a decent embodiment of the project’s shortcomings. The song threatens to take off, but at the two-minute mark, you instead just hear the title over and over as the song rather peters out in the end. Describing the song, 6LACK himself said it was “The highs of having a healthy love, compressed into song format.” Where the best artists can convey emotion without ceding an inch, the fact 6LACK acknowledges he ‘compressed’ this feeling is, in a way, telling.
Since I Have A Lover is not a bad album – the production is smooth from top to bottom, and 6LACK’s talent is evident. The issue is: we knew this all before. And therefore, it seems a step sideways, not forwards.