6lack is Becoming a Better Man On ‘Since I Have a Lover’
Atlanta singer and rapper 6lack is so good at making a specific type of R&B — think Maxwell’s neo-soul by way of Massive Attack’s trip-hop — that it’s tempting to want him to keep doing it forever. His first two LPs, 2016’s Free 6lack and 2018’s East Atlanta Love Letter, were the sort of records you sunk into. Even the hits, like “PRBLMS,” bloomed darkly, like ink in water. 6lack (pronounced “Black,” by the way) cuts a quiet presence in these velvety spaces, whispering surprisingly hard bars and crooning gently through a haze of smoke and depression, not so much about heartbreak as a more all-encompassing doubt about the possibility of human connection. It was as if the relationships with the women in his life — including his daughter, featured memorably on the cover of East Atlanta Love Letter — were tiny candles he tried to keep lit amidst a gathering dark.
Of course, it’s one thing to enjoy a person’s maundering, ruminative music, and it’s another to be the person grappling with those quiet demons, day in and day out. And so if you have enjoyed 6lack’s music, it’s nice to hear him, on Since I Have A Lover, finally detail the other side of his heart. If his debut was defined by nightmarish synthesizers, and his second LP by melodramatic pianos, his third record is driven by almost floral arrangements of acoustic guitars, sometimes palm-muted, sometimes spiraling lightly. The title track sounds like SZA at her most effervescent, 6lack practically skipping alongside handclaps and colorful bursts of backing vocals. “Feel like a million bucks, or something,” he reveals, as sly and heartfelt as ever, twisting one up as he scopes a day lolling with a lover.
The record is at its best operating in this mode, drawing clear lines around the positive relationships in his life and pairing these soft reveries with music of characteristic richness, like the psychedelic orchestral flourishes of “Spirited Away” or the Roc-A-Fella grandeur of “Preach.” More remarkable is the sea change in 6lack’s perception. The artist who once demanded “if you love me, better fuck me like you ‘bout to lose your place to the girl next door” is here extolling the virtues of long-term monogamy (“B4L,” “Temporary”) and, on “Talk,” even the transformative power of therapy. Across 19 tracks, the metamorphosis isn’t exactly comprehensive: about a third of the songs here sound submerged in the fog of his early records, and another third are too sketch-like to land as well as the best songs do. But that may be by design. As 6lack sings on “Spirited Away,” “Perfect ain’t the type of life I’m living and I never will.” Like any of us, he’s a work in progress.