As 6LACK strides onstage, all of Carmichael Arena's considerable population sinks a little deeper in their feelings.
The Atlanta native isn't known for turning up. His darkly smooth, early Weeknd-flavored material is more of the 2 a.m. drive variety, meant more for wallowing than getting hype.
This seems to make him an odd choice to play a show for a throng of stress-wracked college students looking to drown their finals anxiety in adrenaline. Waka Flocka Flame was understandable, but an R&B singer? UNC's Jubilee is one of the school's last hurrahs before the semester's end, meant to be a celebration of the year and a fitting sendoff at the same time. A lacking performance would be a hell of an anticlimax.
As the stadium opens up, worry mounts. The hype DJ delivers droning, mindless bangers at a constant, mind-numbing rate. The opener, a rapper named RETRO, comes on, seemingly to deliver the decidedly not-hyped audience — but his performance falls with a wet thud, and it's back to “SICKO MODE” before long. There's precious little to allay the growing sense of unease. All one can do is hope.
Well, rest assured that 6LACK knows his job and knows it well. For a little over an hour, the chill is consistently turned into the very much not chill as the rapper-singer's dusky trap-R&B grooves are pushed to their limits. Vibe follows vibe — OK, with a few bangers sprinkled in — and honestly, it’s all we could have hoped it’d be.
Opener “Unfair” appears to set the expected tone with all its silky ambience, and “Loaded Gun” doesn’t deviate too much. It’s after that, though, that 6LACK settles into the classic flow. Bring the audience up on a sea of hi-hats and 808s, and then take them down with muted keys and subdued drums — the pattern repeats, to greater and greater effect, throughout the show’s duration. At one point, he proclaims that he’ll “leave the audience in their feels the rest of the night.” For a minute, it sure seems like he means it — until the trap hats kick down the doors again, and the pattern continues.
Of course, you don’t really need to innovate to put on a good show, and make no mistake: this is a good show. Consistently entertaining, 6LACK rides grooves like a hawk rides air currents, gracefully weaving through the music’s dense atmosphere (provided by a live drummer and keyboardist who perform their jobs admirably), before dropping into a hard-edged flow to deliver sets of cutting, heartbroken bars. Credit must be given to the lighting team, who take every opportunity to elevate the tunes with surprisingly brilliant displays. All in all, everything’s just executed about as well as it could possibly be.
As the set nears its end, the whole crowd’s with the singer. It must be said that his constant shoutouts to UNC do nothing but help his case — 6LACK is a Tar Heel day-one, and for a set from an Atlantan, the Carolina vibes are strong. They peak right around “Pretty Little Fears” with the most agonizing tease possible (come on, don’t mention Cole if he’s not coming on!), and from then on it’s all highs through to the end.
The encore is “PRBLMS” — a cloudy, lean-soaked, gently seething banger of a track that provides unquestionably the best distillation of everything that makes 6LACK who he is. The title of the song’s a little misleading. That night at Carmichael, all throughout the set, there are as few problems as can be.
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