The Prince-Like Sensuality of Black Atlass
Posted by Isabelle 5 months ago in Features
Photo: Seth Fluker, i-D
When Prince left us last week, his passing left an achingly large hole in the world of hyper-sexual male crooners with a penchant for letting their creativity spill over into multiple mediums.
I know that sounds like an overly specific type of man, but in an industry dominated by stereotypical masculinity, any man who’s capable of pulling a Prince and embracing his sexuality in ways that are artistic and thoughtful, rather than aggressive and expected, is a person who automatically sets himself apart from the pack.
For me, that person is Alex Fleming, better known as producer, multi-instrumentalist and A-Trak collaborator Black Atlass. Although, I do feel kind of creepy saying that about him because he’s barely street legal.
At age 21, he’s already dropped two albums, a few EPs, a bevvy of high-production music videos, and is being hailed with such adoring labels as “fashion’s favorite new musician.” This is a much-deserved title, considering he’s accomplished more in both music and fashion than most people three times his age. When he was just 18, he’d already released a self-titled EP as Black Atlass when Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs scouted him out to soundtrack one of their ads, and with that, he insta-ascended into the fashion world where he refined and stylized his aesthetic of slinky, dreamlike R&B and sharply minimal imagery. The result is a complete, branded package of a man who clearly understands the importance of a coherent persona.
“I guess it just came about back in high school when I first did the Louis Vuitton thing, and that spiraled into where I’m at today, where it’s sort of synonymous with the music and my project, in general. It’s also something I try to apply to my work now, envisioning it in those sorts of campaigns,” he told Nylon.
Like Prince, Black Atlass has an unmistakable visual personality, the likes of which he’s borrowed from the lo-fi view of high fashion presented in projects Watch the Throne. Mix that with an inclination towards natural textures and the more elemental configurations of terrestrial life, throw a little unabashed sexual bluntness in there, and you’ve nailed it.
But perhaps the most Prince-like factor Black Atlass personifies for me is the balance he strikes between fragility and testosterone. While he inhabits a body that looks like a permanent Acqua di Gio commercial, the sound that comes out of his mouth is this mink-soft,-otherworldly falsetto that somehow oscillates between icy and intimate. Like really, alien-Jesus lives in his vocal cords. That’s the only way I can describe it.
His latest single, “Tonight,” is a great example of both his look/sound combo and his Prince-like capacity for tasteful sexuality. In it, Black Atlass takes a decidedly eerie and unsettling direction made all the more haunting by the shimmer in his voice and the sparseness of the synth melody and percussion. Half Aveda-Merman commercial, half arachnophobia nightmare, it’s got him capitalizing on the fetishistic exploration of the often confused circuits of arousal and fear. Acclaimed fashion photographer Kenneth Cappello gets creds for the visuals.
Another good example of what I’m talking about with the Black Atlass/ Prince connection comes across in his song “Jewels.”
Starting out cold, grim and ultra-minimal it explodes into a wholesale sonic affront near the halfway point, where it becomes clear there’s been a breakdown of composure and the feeling has turned from reserved to raw within milliseconds. It’s this kind of perfected build and ability to create connection through moments of controlled calm and then chaos that just flat out make me feel weird in my pantalones. Prince’s “Purple Rain,” as we all know by now, has the same effect. Some very “Violet the Organ Grinder” imagery in here, too.
His most famous song is “Paris,” which has this stunning, velvety piano orgasm noise that carries it though. At once a R&B track and a total fucking thunderstorm, it rides the line between delicacy and massive kinetic potential that feels like something’s waiting to burst forth. It’s probably my ovaries.
“My Body” takes a cue from some of Prince’s holier sounding offerings … but look at it! It’s almost cheesy in it’s hypersaturated sexual efforts. I mean, standing shirtless in the rain? If anyone could take their own sexual personality to such a hyperbolic level, Prince was the dude.
So yeah. It’s not like I’m saying Black Atlass is Prince or anything. He’s 100 percent less flamboyant and I have no idea how good he is at dancing … It’s just that both of them maintain a very distinct balance between delicacy and force, and with one of them in the heavens and one on the same plane we’re on, I guess it makes me feel better to know that there are little bits of Prince’s essence floating around in 21-year-olds with DSL.
Black Atlass is primal like Prince, yet he understands the different sonic palate of today’s romantic landscape in a way that makes him able to manipulate the hormones of a more modern audience. But the carnal core of both artists is still ever-present in both their music, and although they sound and look quite different, their mode of connection originates from the same sensuality. I’m beyond bummed that Prince is gone, but having people like Black Atlass who embody some of his best qualities is not a bad thing at all.