For "Studios Sessions," we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
"Singawd is my in-house producer, my go-to guy, my best friend," 6LACK said in a November 2016 interview with Billboard.
There's an air of vulnerability that can permeate a studio session. Artists as transparent as 6LACK have to bare parts of their soul, and the studio not only invites it, but the isolating space almost mandates it. Lucky for the singer, he gets to do it with his homie, 27-year-old Atlanta native Trevor "Singawd" Slade.
Singawd started producing in 2013 after saving up his Burger King income to buy a laptop. A year later, a chance encounter in the studio led to him meeting 6LACK, a union that has since birthed genre-influencing projects Free 6LACK and East Atlanta Love Letter. Singawd has his hands in almost every facet of 6LACK's music. He also understands that in the studio, though there are many ears, only one perspective matters.
"I know as an executive producer, and someone who works closely with an artist, at the end of the day, it's the artist's vision. They're the ones who have to go onstage and perform that music for the rest of their lives," Singawd told REVOLT TV.
In this installment of Studio Sessions, 6LACK's go-to guy talks about why they never really stop recording, how recording led to 6LACK being hospitalized and why he trusts the process.
6LACK appears to be a very mysterious and reclusive artist. How is he in the studio and how has it changed over the last four to five years?
(Laughs) I guess 6LACK is sort of mysterious. He doesn't try to be. We're both introverted. But, 6LACK has to be extroverted for his purpose as an artist. He has to perform, do interviews, and meet and greet people. He's a very introverted dude, he doesn't talk a lot in the studio. He has to pretty much be your best friend for you to get the best possible outcome of anything you do with him.
In the studio, do y'all sit, listen to the beat and then, he writes his lyrics? Or is it more of a collaborative process? Or is it him saying, 'Give me the beat and I'm going to kill it'?
Honestly, all three. For instance, while he was on 'The Starboy Tour,' he asked for some beats. So, I sent him some beats. In that pack was the 'East Atlanta Love Letter' beat. He didn't record to it on tour. Then, he got off tour and we were working at the studio house in L.A. He asked me, 'Could you send me a pack and could you send me anything I may have missed during tour?' I sent him a lot of stuff, and through that stuff, I sent him the 'East Atlanta Love Letter' beat. This time, he did record to it. That was one of the first songs that kicked off the process. He wrote his verses that same day.
There are times when he does that. There are times when I can give him three beats and he'll kill all of them. But, most of the times 6LACK is very meticulous. He's not just going to write a song for the hell of it. As artists, they have to live through things and experiences to talk about them. It's not like he writes songs every day. There are times he goes three or four months without writing a song.
Like you said, artists have to go through life to write about experiences. One of my favorite song y'all have done together is 'Scripture.' On that song, he's talking about being held at gunpoint in gritty detail. Did he explain that story in the studio?
I think he told me the story once. The gist of that was he was walking home from somewhere in Atlanta pretty late. A guy put a gun in your face, I can't even imagine all of the thoughts that would run through your head. He was saying he was thinking about a kid he didn't even have yet. I think he pushed the gun in his face, took off and went home like nothing ever happened.
On East Atlanta Love Letter, I noticed you're credited on five of the songs. But, they're mostly on the second half of the album. Was that a conscious decision?
It just worked out that way. It's pretty cool that you noticed that because I noticed that, too. We tried to put the album together to sonically sound the best and to tell the best story. That's why the order was chosen that way. But, obviously that order changed a million times up until it came out. If I'm not mistaken, he recorded 'Let Her Go' during the mixing part of the album -- the last two weeks. So, we had to throw that in there.
You said to get the best out of 6LACK, you have to almost be his best friend. You linked with him in 2014, two years before he said in an interview that you were his best friend and go-to guy. What were some things you guys ironed out in your relationship over those two years to get to the point of being that close?
I don't think we had to iron anything out. We're both introverted, and back then, we were more introverted. We both have been homeless at times. We didn't have anything. I really just wanted to be his friend and make music with him. I don't think he's ever talked about this. But, I remember this time he went to the hospital because he was having back problems because he was recording in a chair every single day. He pretty much put 10,000 hours in our manager's house. He would literally sit in that chair and record every single day from morning to night.
It gave him extreme back problems and he went to the hospital for that. I didn't have my job, but I still had my car somehow. I went to his mom's house to get him after he went to the hospital and I took him back to the manager's house to keep recording. He was like a machine. I think, ultimately, it was that friendship. This happened a long time before Free 6LACK came out.
6LACK's Facebook page
What's the longest session you've been in with 6LACK?
Truthfully, I'm grateful he gets tired (laughs). 6LACK has a bedtime. When we were recording Free 6LACK, we had a blackout where you work from 3:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. or something. We did that for Free 6LACK every day. That was our time for the room. We were supposed to be in L.A. for three weeks and that turned into three months.
East Atlanta Love Letter had more collaborations than Free 6LACK and you produced on two of those: 'Balenciaga Challenge' with Offset and 'Seasons' with Khalid. Were either one of those artists in the studio with y'all?
No, the Offset one was sent to Offset and we thought he would kill that. He did. I'm actually glad he wrote a very deep verse. With Khalid, I think 6LACK was, maybe. I wasn't. Khalid's voice is amazing.
What was the most impressive thing you've seen 6LACK do in the studio?
That's a good question. Honestly, the day I saw him write three songs in one day. When we're in album mode, he walks through songs. He can be so meticulous [when] he can write a song for two weeks straight and then, scrap the song and start all over.
To that point, are there 6LACK songs that had entirely different verses?
I can tell you that 'Switch' had a different second verse and we had to pick between the two verses. They both were flawless, so that was difficult to do. I definitely play the [alternate version] all the time.
It's been roughly eight months since East Atlanta Love Letter came out. When was the last time you two were in the studio? Have you already started on the next album?
Before I came back to Atlanta, we were in a session with J.I.D. in March. We're extremely close to him. I think he was the second artist I met after 6LACK. J.I.D. and EARTHGANG. But, this was years before they were the artists they are now. We did a crazy session with J.I.D. for... I actually don't know. I personally feel like we don't ever stop working on the album because after Free 6LACK, I didn't stop working. I met Yakob, the other executive producer [on East Atlanta Love Letter] while I was working on Free 6LACK.
After we did the album, I was like, 'Yo, bro, there's no reason to stop. So, let's just keep working.' We made a lot of music after Free 6LACK. 6LACK went on tour and came back, and started to record to stuff that we already created for him. We technically don't ever stop working.
Since you're the executive producer, are there any songs that you and 6LACK had disagreements about?
I'm not sure. I know that I know my role and I know how to play it well. I'm an extremely good No. 2. I know that about myself. I know as an executive producer, and someone who works closely with an artist, at the end of the day, it's the artist's vision. They're the ones who have to go onstage and perform that music for the rest of their lives. I know how to be like, 'It's OK. This is 6LACK's vision.' I think a sole purpose for me is to fulfill that at any cost. I trust 6LACK. Free 6LACK was Grammy-nominated. I didn't even think that would go gold. I just trust the process.
What's the most star-studded session you've been part of?
The most star-studded session I had was in L.A. with our idols Doc McKinney and Illangelo. They shaped The Weeknd's career. It was February 2018. We did a few sessions. They're as nerdy as you think they are. We played FIFA and Mario Kart. That was the first thing we did, actually. We didn't even make no music. We played FIFA and Mario Kart and smoked. Then, we got to business. Watching it come together with them is like art, literally.
What do you think producers need to understand about the business of producing in order to succeed?
My suggestion is be open-minded. I wasn't always open-minded. When I started, I was very closed off. I think the more I worked with 6LACK, the more I became open-minded. You have to be open-minded to other people's ideas unless you're Frank Ocean or somebody that talented. Collaboration is key. Be receptive [to] other ideas.
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