Apple Music today announced it is throwing its considerable weight (well-over 20 million subscribers at last count) behind developing artists with a new program called Up Next. The initiative kicked off today with artist 6lack (aka Ricardo Valdez), a 24-year-old rapper from Atlanta.
As part of the program 6lack will appear on tonight's (April 20) The Late Late Show With James Corden, where he will be introduced by Beats 1's Zane Lowe. Apple Music will also promote 6lack's songs on their playlists and on the iTunes store.
Each month Up Next will select a rising artist for which Apple Music said it will use "all of its resources to give their music visibility to new audiences." This will include a introductory documentary shot on each artist (watch 6lack's below), an audio EP from a live session which will include an interview and live performance on Beats 1 and an appearance on The Late Late Show With James Corden which Apple Music has partnered with.
One might reasonably wonder what the criteria might be for an Up Next artist, considering that 6lack has been signed to LVRN/Interscope since August and his current single "PRBLMS" as of today has close to 18 million views. In truth, however, Apple Music has been working with 6lack for much longer.
Just over a year ago, when 6lack was only signed to LVRN ,he caught the attention of Carly Chery Apple Music's head of artist curation who brought him to Interscope's attention, who quickly signed him. Interscope has spent the last eight month building early momentum at radio, press, touring alongside LVRN who they now have a joint venture with.
In an interview with Billboard from December, Apple Music's head of artist curation Carl Chery explained how he first came to work with the artist. "6lack was an artist that had absolutely no following," Chery said. "I may be extreme in saying that, but nobody knew who he was. And within his first week, "PRBLMS" got a million streams. That's a metric. Within the first week, a guy that no one had heard about had the No. 3 song on the R&B charts in the [iTunes] Store, he sold 10,000 copies independently. And then, he was the No. 6 streaming song on the chart. This was back in May."
"I was reaching out to all these people," Chery continued, "like [Republic's] Charlie Walk or [Atlantic's] Dallas Martin or whoever, and saying, 'Have you heard of this guy? I've never seen a song move that fast on Apple Music.' And everyone's reaction was the same: "Who is this guy? I've never heard of him, but this song is fire." When I started with 6lack, I put it on one playlist called Mood -- the playlist started with Rihanna's "Needed Me" and then right after that you had 6lack's "PRBLMS," it was the second song. And two days later I was looking at the charts and all of a sudden I see "PRBLMS," it was like No. 69 or something. That was an indicator: if it's just doing that off one playlist, what happens if I put my whole weight behind it?"
Chery rightly called it early when he concluded that, "6lack is gonna turn into a much bigger story."