6lack Rebel, Toronto ON, November 14

6lack Rebel, Toronto ON, November 14
Photo: Wendy Wei
6lack made good on his promise.
Back in January, when the trap-soul star-on-the-rise tore up Toronto's 600-capacity Mod Club, he made a vow.
"Every time I come back, it'll be a bigger venue with more people," 6lack declared that frosty winter night.
Well, 6lack's prophecy bore fruit Tuesday night (November 14), when he headlined a 70-minute set for a packed Rebel, more than quadrupling his adoring throng of 20- and 30-something couples and single ladies. Toronto, 6lack pointed out, was the first stop on his "Free 6lack" tour to sell out.
"Feels like a second home," he said from that bigger stage.
He's another in a long line of young Atlanta talent making excellent music and building a devoted following. The songs written by the 25-year-old artist born Ricardo Valentine, appropriately enough, all centre on one thing: love. He tackles the good, the bad and the ugly of our strongest and most fragile emotion.
His hair shorn and head topped with a cap, 6lack took the dais clothed head to toe in his namesake colour (all 6lack everything?) and launched into "Never Know," the opening track from Free 6lack, 2016's gratis Soundcloud gift that instantly made him one to watch.
Supported by a three-man crew — drummer Nathan stage right; keyboardist Slim and DJ/hype man Tone stage left — and a slick backsplash of curated video, 6lack operated the stage front with a veteran's confidence.
Though his subject matter is familiar ground, Valentine wields the pen of a hit-maker, and his eschewing of auto-tune for raw vocals in 2017 is throwback refreshing. Yet his beats — molasses-thick creeping thumpers — are planted firmly in the now. He can make love and love lost feel fresh, which is no easy trick.
Still, the singer could use a touch more fire live, which gives him room to grow, bigger venues to fill. Maybe it was the result of fatigue, or that Valentine has been touring the same record (a deluxe version of Free 6lack dropped mere hours before his Rebel appearance) for roughly a year; he recently cancelled a European swing so he could properly craft his follow-up LP and spend more time with his baby daughter.
That said, the guy made the most of his limited catalogue. The sombre "Worst Luck" was brightened by a sea of illuminated cellphones, "Free" soared with emotion and the former Zone 6 battle rapper flexed his MC skills during a 16-bar verse accompanied by black-and-white images of dilapidated urban housing.
A shoutout to all the single females in the crowd gave way to the newish "First Fuck," and opener Sabrina Claudio returned to the stage for a stirring duet of "Belong to You."
The highlight was the addictive breakup anthem "Ex Calling," which was punctuated with blasts of dry ice and preceded by the amplified noise of the iPhone's default telephone ring.
After bowing, tapping his heart and exiting stage left, 6lack waited a few beats before storming back shirtless and tearing into a one-song encore of his most familiar hit, "Prblms."
The crowd left giddy and satisfied. Next time, they'll come back in droves to hear more love songs — and in a bigger venue, to boot.

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Order FREE 6LACK on vinyl via Umusic here.