How 6 Dogs’ posthumous album ‘RONALD.’ honours a great talent: “He loved making art”

The SoundCloud rapper sadly died this year at the age of 21, leaving behind a body of work that inspired a generation. Kyann-Sian Williams meets the fans and artists ensuring his legacy lives on

Although he remained a relatively underground artist, the Atlanta, Georgia-born rapper 6 Dogs (real name Ronald Chase Amick) enthralled a generation of young music fans who were in love with his emotionally intelligent rhymes and melancholic sound. 6 Dogs’ secret weapon was his likeability: from his 2016 SoundCloud hits ‘Flossing’ and ‘Faygo Dream’, fans watched the artist develop from a lost kid – both songs dealt with adolescent confusion – to a young man who was tuned into his surroundings, as demonstrated by his second album, 2019’s ‘Hi-Hats & Heartaches’.

The rapper tragically died in January, aged just 21: the world will never know quite where else Amick’s talent could have taken him in the fullness of time. Yet there is some succour for fans in the wake of his death: 6 Dog’ third album ‘RONALD.’, released last week, is the artist’s final statement. He had finished work on the record before his untimely death; teaming up with his friend Daniel Hartzog, a Georgia-based beat-maker who executive-produced the project, Amick again proved his musical prowess with 12 songs that wrapped his emotional, adolescent-themed musings in more muted soundscapes.

“Chase loved making art for his fans and for himself, Hartzog tells NME. “He just wanted to share it with everybody.” With songs that openly addressed his emotions, 6 Dogs was an advocate for mental health and looking after yourself. The rapper, says the producer, wished to support those who might be struggling, and his message was: “‘Push through it – you’ll be OK; you can do it.’”

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His musical persona could be that of a hyper-moody, emo version of himself – there’s certainly a sense of fatalism, for example, in 2019’s ‘Trust Issues’ – but ultimately ‘RONALD.’ is the work of a musician whose legacy is that of hope and positivity. In a four-star review, NME concluded that “a sense of reverence in the moody ambience permeates the record, which aches with whistling synths and melancholic percussion.”

6 Dogs was no pack animal: he remained independent throughout most of his career. However, he did sign to pop juggernaut and hitmaker Benny Blanco’s label Mad Love, a subsidiary of Interscope Records, in 2018. True to form, Amick soon went it alone again to release ‘Hi-Hats & Heartaches’, but Blanco – who discovered the rapper’s work on SoundCloud and reached out to him personally – says that during brief time together “the lines between working and friendship really just blurred”. The producer adds: “His spirit and his soul were infectious.”

During his time at Mad Love Records, 6 Dogs teamed up with fellow emo-influenced rapper Lil Skies for the acoustic guitar-based ‘Saturn’ and the moody ‘Off The Gas’; it was here that his musicianship began to blossom. Although he had yet to achieve the nuance and complexity explored on ‘RONALD’, these tracks did see 6 Dogs move from the Auto-Tuned semi-novelty rapper of his self-titled 2017 debut album to a musician who could finely articulate his feelings every time he touched a mic. As with any artist in flux, there were some fans who couldn’t handle the sonic change that was underway – 6 Dogs lost and gained fans during this period, if comments online are anything to go: in late 2018, one fan wrote on Twitter: “6 dogs fell off because of his signing with interscope.”

Ronald Amick was an unknown teenager at high school in Georgia when he found his good friend and longtime collaborator Pretty Pacc, who produced ‘Faygo Dreams’, which remains 6’s most popular song on Spotify, with more than 109 million plays at the time of writing. After falling into one another’s laps, they became a force to be reckoned with. “We bonded over a few classes and stuff and by the time sophomore year came around,” Pacc tells NME, “we started getting into music. I started making beats at the same time. We probably made like 100 songs before we even put out anything, but the first song we did put out was ‘No Savage’ [via SoundCloud in 2017].

“His first song, ‘Demons in the A’ [which appeared on 2017 debut album ‘6 Dogs’ along with ‘No Savage’] is very different from what he usually makes. I was heavily influenced by trap beats and 808 Mafia instead of the melodic stuff. I guess when we stumbled across the melodic stuff, we fell more in love with it. That’s when we realised, ‘OK – this melodic stuff is for us!’ But no way did we have a particular direction we wanted to take”.

6 Dogs was a pioneer when it came to emotional rap, influencing emerging rappers like Florida’s cartoony but emotionally astute Lil Boom. But Pacc states that while “it was good to get in there first, it wasn’t to flex. I’m just glad to be there and make the music we did.” The two went on to create a plethora of feel-good, lo-fi tracks, and Pacc executive-produced ‘Hi-Hats & Heartaches’.

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Some old-school hip-hop fans are dismissive of SoundCloud, which enabled young artists to find young audiences without so-called ‘quality control’ from the music industry; detractors still deride the new gen as technically imperfect ‘mumble rappers’. Eminem famously rapped on 2018 track ‘Caterpillar’: “The boom bap is coming back with an ax to mumble rap”. Yet Pretty Pacc insists that 6 Dogs’ route to fame made him the talent he’s known as today: “For him to start music [via SoundCloud] and to be immediately thrown in the big league… is pretty respectable.”

He adds that the communal aspect of the site, which peaked in the mid-to-late ’10s, encouraged creative risk-taking: “It wasn’t that people couldn’t rap on Soundcloud – it was that people just said whatever they wanted to say. Some people took this as a negative thing, but I saw it as: everyone could put out whatever they wanted without other people judging them, except from their friends or others on the app. There was no one in the way to stop what you put out, and I thought that was good.”

SoundCloud enthusiast and rap fan Billy Bugara, an admirer of 6 Dogs’ work, doesn’t feel that Amick ‘fell off’ when he began to take himself more seriously after those Lil Skies tracks, insisting that there was “so much potential and passion still there”. He’s clearly not alone: the rapper’s Instagram account, @6dogsgnarly, is a communal space where almost a quarter of a million followers get together to share their love for the artist’s music. When the account posted the ‘RONALD.’ album cover upon its release, one Instagram user spoke for many fans when they wrote: “this album is a 10/10. hands down one of the best i have listened to… 6 dogs forever.”

daniel Hartzog explains that he wound up producing ‘RONALD.’ after 6 Dogs, having appreciated his work on ‘Hi-Hats & Heartaches’, approached him one year ago: “[He said]. “Hey! Produce my next album for me, please?’ Who wouldn’t say yes?” They created the album at Airwave studio in Atlanta, hiking in Georgia between sessions – Hartzog’s favourite part of making ‘RONALD.’ was “spending every minute I could with [Amick]… We’d ride out to the mountains for 10 minutes and take a hike.” They even recorded some of the songs in a cabin in the woods, and this grounded, down-to-earth perspective permeates the record.

Only two guest artists drop verses on ‘RONALD.’: Atlanta’s Tahj Keeton and New Jersey’s RIZ LA VIE (aka Ronny Hamarde), both of whom were friends with Amick. The latter bonded with 6 Dogs over a shared sense of spirituality, discussing a passion for crystals and precious stones; before his passing, Amick gifted Hamarde with a crystal that represented that they were one another’s “twin flame”. No wonder the resulting ‘RONALD.’ collaborations ‘Beach House’ and ‘Post Malone’ exude a kind of magnetism – you might even argue that they could have gone on to become the underground’s next Jay-Z and Kanye.

RIZ LA VIE tells NME: “I was playing him some music, and then me and Dan [Hartzog] started making the beat for ‘Post Malone’ – the first song we did together – and I wasn’t even really even trying to get on the song. Then 6 was like, ‘You’ve got to hop on this’, and asked what I thought of this and what I thought of that, and we started talking about the guitar tones. I tried to do [my verse] in one take so I could surprise him. It was awesome. When it was done, we played it so loud for hours.”

“I will always remember 6 Dogs as a truly brilliant artist and an equally inspiring human being” – Benny Blanco

In anticipation of ‘RONALD.’, 6 Dogs fan Billy Bugara expected “a collection of songs that reflect how pitch-perfect he was at his craft.” He adds: “[Amick’s] most defining feature was that whatever he set off to do, he did so well. [That was] his unique presence as a musician; I expect nothing but spotless music. He set the bar. If you have a specific approach and way of going about your own career – for him, it was expressing himself transparently – you’ll be celebrated. He stood for that [transparency]. He had no boundaries.”

Benny Blanco agrees: “I will always remember Chase as a truly brilliant artist and an equally inspiring human being.” Part of Amick’s appeal was that he was absolutely honest and transparent about his feelings in a notoriously artificial music industry. He was, as Hamarde puts it, an “artist’s artist”, always looking out for his friends (for example, gifting Hamarde with a precious stone that he can now remember the rapper with) and fans (last year he told them via Twitter, “we are all connected, so think positive thoughts! Collectively our positivity is multiplied by each other…. This applies to the whole planet”) however he could.

The nuanced and carefully produced ‘RONALD.’ is a fitting symbol of 6 Dogs’ progression throughout his too-short career. Having had a huge impact in a just few years, Chase Amick was still a relative newcomer with a lot left to give. Luckily there’s a fleet of digital-savvy, alternative-loving fans such as Billy Bugara out there to keep his name alive.

Asked what 6 Dogs’ lasting legacy might be, Blanco replies honestly that he’s “not sure what anybody’s legacy really is”. But perhaps it’s this: honesty can get you to where you want to be in life, so hold on to your authenticity.

– 6 Dogs’ ‘RONALD.’ is out now. Main image credit: Tucker Walls

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