Published Jan 23, 2017There's a sense that 6lack is about to blow. That feeling you get when you catch a star on the rise — before your friends and the radio and the big promoters sink their teeth in — was palpable as he poured his heartbreak all over his trademark dark, bottom-heavy beats at the Mod Club on Sunday (January 22).
"Every time I come back, it'll be a bigger venue with more people," Ricardo Valentine prophesized from the stage. This was his first Toronto gig. "And every time I come back, I want to see the same faces."
The Atlanta-raised R&B singer recently said on a podcast that he wants hits. He'll be happy to cross over to the mainstream with his trappy jams on love and its complications, songs that flex a hollow allure easily grabbing fans of artists like Bryson Tiller and the Weeknd's earlier work. He just wants to strike gold on his own terms, which is why he wriggled loose of his deal with pop rapper Flo Rida's International Music Group, wrote 200 songs in his kitchen, forced himself to edit them down, and dropped a tight ten of them on 2016's Free 6lack — a freebie mixtape/album that made the 24-year-old one we need to watch.
After an energetic, 30-minute opening set by Chicago rapper Dreezy—a confident 22-year-old trying to score club play with modest hits "Body" and "Wasted" — 6lack's laptop DJ, Tone, riled up a near-packed house while wearing a Julio Jones jersey. (Their hometown Atlanta Falcons clinched a Super Bowl berth mere hours prior to showtime.)
As the strains of Free 6lack's opening cut, "Never Know" (co-produced by Toronto's own Frank Dukes) rumbled, Valentine emerged in long-sleeve black tee, his face shadowed by a beard and a mop of dreads.
The former Zone 6 battle rapper's knack for selecting beats nasty enough to balance out the R&B crowd with a fairly even male-female split is striking. So is his stage presence.
Backed only by a slim three-piece support crew — DJ Tone, plus a keyboardist and drummer who would go unnamed — 6lack commanded the room with seeming ease. His vocals rang strong but always respected the mood of the instrumental, never trying too hard or coming off too showy. It's this polish that must've attracted a giant like Interscope to sign Valentine. A brief a cappella laid his talent bare, and a rendition of the unreleased "Loyal" proved he's got more jewels in the stash.
A college dropout who grew bored of studying computer science, the stresses of Valentine's life — label head-butting, baby mama drama and even homelessness — have planted the seeds for some raw songwriting. "Free," "Gettin' Old" and the relatable "Ex Calling" (a crowd pleaser on this night) were all highlights.
Predictably, 6lack's refined 45-minute set climaxed with his best-known track, the wonderfully fed-up "PRBLMS." Not until the end did he pull off his black T-shirt and whip it into the audience's hungry hands.
Filing out of the club and into the night, a giddy concertgoer turned to a friend: "He's going to be a sensational artist."
Considering 6lack's quickly established image, concert charisma, ear for production and writing chops, it's difficult to disagree.