Welcome To Gabriel Black’s Beautiful Life
2017 has been kind to Gabriel Black. The elusive artist who jealously guards his personal details was propelled from relative obscurity to online sensation, his music becoming a forum for mental health discussion and his unique approach to fan interaction winning him boundless millennial loyalty.
Such is the nature of the internet that Gabriel Black managed to create all this from the safety and security of a windowless room in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area whilst piquing the interest of the music industry’s major players and continuing to keep his private life very much that. For these reasons Gabriel Black is one of our Ones To Watch this year.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Gabriel Black’s interest in performance stemmed from his love of legendary hip hop artist Immortal Technique. “His message really drew me in as he was a very political rapper and I was a very political kid at the time” he says. “I fuck with Animal Farm, I was a Che Guevara nut job, I loved Che”. After dropping out of college in Boston Gabriel found himself working at Immortal Technique’s label Viper Records in New York who set him up with an apartment on the Upper West Side.
“I entered a bad spate of depression, my friend told me I needed to move back to Penn with him. So, I left the apartment and moved back to Philly to be with the kids I grew up with.”
Struggles with mental health and a sense of wanting more led Gabriel from New York to Philadelphia then on to the Golden State where the likes of Benny Blanco and Imad Royal voiced approval for his seamless blend of emo and hip hop, the latter offering him a job. “I became their intern as a way to learn the music business and to meet people. It was best experience I could have asked for” says Gabriel. Alas, another bout of self-doubt settled in leading our young hero to Monterey, California where isolation and boredom led him to creating some of his greatest work.
“Monterey is this little coastal town, it's actually pretty beautiful. I had one friend there and I’d go out to bars with him like once a week. Other than that, I would just stay in the house all the time” he explains “I don’t know what it was but when I was in Monterey I started to make all this music. It was the most efficient and crazy musical and creative time of my life.”
Whilst there Gabriel wrote “sad boy”, a song as diverse sonically as the cities it’s writer has resided. The sound draws on everything from emo to hip hop, from Kid Cudi to Red Hot Chili Peppers, all bound together by Gabriel’s distinctive vocal tone and sparse production. This theme entrenched in simplicity runs through all his offerings from the eerie falsetto of “Pine Trees” to the face melting guitar solo in “Freedom”.
“I made ‘Sad Boy’ and the hook was a freestyle and I just kept it and I called my mum right after I recorded it and told her “this song is going to mean something to me, it’s going to do something.”
Even though it is evident that Gabriel and his managers have a read on the market none of them could anticipate the platform the music would create for discussion about mental health. “It just happened. I think the sort of music I make asks for that almost. It draws people to being open about those issues.” Gabriel muses. “I felt like I had spoken to these people and I needed to have a dialogue with them. When you’re struggling mentally you are alone and I know that feeling. I just wanted to help kids not feel like they are alone you know?”
“At that moment, I just felt I had this obligation to respond.”
Controversially, Gabriel made the decision to give his fans a direct line to him by posting his phone number online, a particularly dangerous marketing tool if not handled carefully. “I like danger” he laughs. “I think it will become a lot harder to mitigate. It’s starting to get harder to text everybody back. We have a few hundred people texting me and when a bunch of them text me at the same time it’s hard to get back to them all.”
Gabriel seems unfazed by the amount of psychological pressure he is putting himself under by becoming a confidant to literally hundreds of people at the same time whilst also dealing with his own issues. By befriending a vulnerable fan base he may have cracked the code to amassing legions of die-hard followers or on the reverse, opened Pandora’s Box as their demands on his time become increasingly hard to deal with. All that remains to be seen.
What cannot be denied is that Gabriel is an artist trying to make sense of a world with increasing pressures and demands whilst creating a place where he can be fully free to be. Whilst his creative process may be secluded, the environment he has created for himself and his burgeoning fan base is inclusive, supportive and authentic.