“You have to go through the tough shit to get to where you’re sup­posed to be.”

find­ing bal­ance

Exclaim! - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Luke Fox

ON THE COVER OF EAST AT­LANTA LOVE LET­TER, A SEVEN- MONTH- OLD SYX ROSE IS STRAPPED TIGHT TO DADDY’S CHEST. A grey baby car­rier keep­ing his daugh­ter close and his hands free, Ri­cardo Valen­tine is able to mul­ti­task. He has the free­dom to cook up break­fast and fun­nel his feel­ings through a makeshift kitchen stu­dio; he can do it all with­out leav­ing the pull of his daugh­ter’s or­bit.

“The al­bum cover is a de­pic­tion of how I wish things were ev­ery day,” At­lanta singer 6lack ex­plains on the eve of his new LP’s re­lease. “I want to leave some­thing be­hind for her to make sure she knows why I’m do­ing this.”

For 6lack, a heart­felt if not heart­bro­ken trap soul star, mu­sic yanks him away from the other love of his life more of­ten than he’d like.

“Just like that, my life re­volves around a new per­son, and that per­son is an ex­ten­sion of me. The great­est feel­ing ever,” he wrote in an In­sta­gram post of baby Syx in Fe­bru­ary. “For so long I’ve seen the world in a way that was al­ways beau­ti­ful, but still I felt like some­thing was miss­ing and now I know what it was.”

Ful­fill­ing dad du­ties while con­quer­ing the R&B charts and trot­ting the globe ain’t easy. In a per­fect world, 6lack says he’d bring his daugh­ter on his up­com­ing three-month world tour that will whisk him from South Africa to New Zea­land and through ev­ery ma­jor city in North Amer­ica. But there are health con­cerns and sleep sched­ules and he knows that’s not a smart choice.

“It’s a pretty tough thing, with what I do and how much I’m gone. I’m def­i­nitely ab­sent more than I’m present,” 6lack says. “Fa­ther­hood has pro­pelled me to align­ing my­self with my pri­or­i­ties and mak­ing sure I’m work­ing on the things I need to work on.

“It’s like a bat­tery in your back­pack to get the work done you need to get done on your­self.”

Brood­ing and sear­ing, thump­ing and hon­est, East At­lanta Love Let­ter is a more star-stud­ded and ar­guably more thought­ful and mood­ier com­pan­ion piece to the song­writer’s beau­ti­fully dis­grun­tled 2016 break­through, Free 6lack, a pro­ject that sold gold and earned him a Grammy nom­i­na­tion and a boat­load of crit­i­cal and peer re­spect.

As cool as he is to spill his re­grets and weak­nesses, his fail­ures and fears, all over his lyric sheets, in real life, Valen­tine cops to a prob­lem with di­a­logue. He can pour out his heart­break over 808s, or pitch his pain away through Auto-Tune all day, but star­ing at some­one he loves face-to-face and dish­ing out truth? That’s a dif­fer­ent story.

“This pro­ject is made in hopes of open­ing up con­ver­sa­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. That’s some­thing I strug­gle with in my per­sonal life, and I know a lot of other peo­ple strug­gle with. It’s a nudge to talk a lit­tle bit more. I don’t want to in­trude on any­body’s own shit or com­mand what you do in your own life, but I do know that’s sti­fled me and put a halt on a lot of shit in my life.”

Though slower to rev than he’d hoped — blame poverty and “two bad deals” with mu­sic im­prints — the 26-year-old’s ca­reer is not slow­ing.

The early re­turns on EALL’s sales vault him near Bill­board’s peak, and the 6lack sound, an ac­ces­si­ble and clear-eyed twist on early Weeknd, places him firmly in the now. Valen­tine sounds like the lovechild of T-Pain and Sade grew up rhyming cyphers in Glen­wood Park, but got bored and turned to po­etry.

Friend­ships with 2018 ra­dio sta­ples J. Cole, Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, Khalid, Off­set and Fu­ture all led to col­lab­o­ra­tions in which his guests dive into 6lack’s down-tempo realm. De­spite lur­ing a fan base of all ages and per­sua­sions, Valen­tine in­sists he doesn’t step into the stu­dio tar­get­ing tro­phies. If ac­co­lades fol­low? Hey, bonus.

The song­writer cred­its his pen game to his nascent bat­tles as an MC striv­ing for recog­ni­tion. There’s old video footage of him trad­ing bars with Young Thug.

“Word­play, metaphors, punch line — in gen­eral, with bat­tle rap, you’re fig­ur­ing out how to say the most and get the most across. With song­writ­ing, you’re do­ing the same thing, but with fewer words. I learned as many words as I could write, then I just com­pressed it into song form,” 6lack says. “I don’t think I’d have the skills that I have with­out bat­tle rap­ping. It’s where I started, where I come from, and it doesn’t re­ally ever go away, [but] I can re­ally say I do love singing and lay­er­ing things more.”

6lack has a the­ory for what causes the sopho­more slump — or, rather, two the­o­ries. Flop­ping on your se­cond al­bum is ei­ther from a lack of con­fi­dence or too much. “It wasn’t some­thing I re­ally strug­gled with,” he says. “I felt I was do­ing what I was sup­posed to be do­ing. I wanted to make sure I was grow­ing mu­si­cally.

“You see peo­ple who don’t be­lieve in them­selves and they trip and fall, or you see peo­ple who get the hot hand and they be­lieve ev­ery­thing’s all good, then get their re­al­ity check.” 6lack’s re­al­ity has long been checked.

Valen­tine de­scribes his child­hood in At­lanta’s more ar­tis­ti­cally ad­ven­tur­ous East Side — a district that’s given us both Fu­ture and Child­ish Gam­bino — as “scat­tered.” He moved solo through the mu­si­cal hot­bed, glean­ing street smarts and in­dus­try wis­dom through trial and er­ror.

“I would wake up, start the day on my own and be out till the sun went down. You can get into pretty much any­thing you want to get into be­ing in At­lanta,” 6lack says. “The big­gest thing you learn is find­ing out where you want to be ver­sus where you need to be.”

6lack orig­i­nally wanted to be signed to Flo Rida’s In­ter­na­tional Mu­sic Group, but what he’s since called a “shady” deal left him pen­ni­less and home­less in Mi­ami, where he’d sleep out­side or on stu­dio floors.

“Be­ing broke and try­ing to fig­ure out how to do ev­ery­day nor­mal things and take care of ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties when I didn’t have money for it, and I wasn’t in a po­si­tion to get me a job. It was just hang­ing out wait­ing for some­thing,” 6lack says.

“I’ve won­dered, ‘Is it re­ally worth it?’ but never do I want to quit. It’s just weath­er­ing the storm. You have to go through the tough shit to get where you’re sup­posed to be.”

And for whom you’re sup­posed to be there.

“It’s weath­er­ing the storm. You have to go through tough shit to get to where you’re sup­posed to be.”

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