There is no shortage of incredible R&B out right now. The Weeknd gave us "My Dear Melancholy"back in March, Teyana Taylor dropped "K.T.S.E." in June, and Drake even gave us the entire B side to "Scorpion" later that same month. Without a doubt however, there is always even more mediocre R&B to wade through than there is good. That’s why when 6lack dropped his sophomore project “East Atlanta Love Letter” this past week, I was not immediately moved. Until about 10 seconds in, that is. After that, I was immediately pulled in to his world.
“Hope my mistakes don't make me less of a man
But lately it feel like them shits really can
I'm prayin' I don't wake up all alone
It's hard to say it, so I write a song
But that ain't equal to me righting wrongs”
East Atlanta Love Letter is unapologetically thoughtful and introspective, coaxing listeners into slowing down - if only long enough to enjoy the music - and unearthing vibes that are reminiscent of the early days of Bryson Tiller (“Trapsoul” in particular), or “House of Balloons” era Weeknd. This isn’t to say that this album actually sounds like either of those works, because it certainly doesn’t. 6lack has a sound that is uniquely his own, but I would argue that the long, introspective and self-actualizing ballads and interludes heard on East Atlanta Love Letter have been missing from our playlists since the aforementioned albums. This is in large part due to the fact that contemporary R&B as a genre has moved in a new direction.
I am of the opinion that in 2018, the type of R&B we hear on East Atlanta Love Letter is often overpowered by contemporary Hip-Hop. We do see the two fused together beautifully and regularly (a perfect example being Tory Lanez, who also dropped a project this year entitled “Memories Don’t Die”) but the more aggressive forms of Hip-Hop seem to be taking center stage as far as the mainstream goes. This does not leave much breathing room for the brooding sounds we would have embraced 2011, back when Drake dropped Take Care (I can almost feel all those tears shed listening to “Doing it Wrong” and “Marvin’s Room” now...).
All of this isn’t to say the state of mainstream Hip Hop and/or R&B are in disorder. They just are as they are, continually developing, redeveloping, changing and redefining themselves. Some of my own favorite sounds from the south are much less openly sentimental than 6lack (Migos, Rich the Kid, Young Thug and Future), so this album was one that cast the area in a new light for me. One could even go as far as to say that with such hyper-masculine sounds dominating Atlanta-bred music, EALL is a work of beautiful, understated resistance in all its vulnerability and sensitivity (whether 6lack intended it or not).
"Haven't I already shown
What it's like to love someone so much you treat their heart like it was your own" - "Sorry"
6lack’s voice on this record is magnificent, each emotion evoked on each individual track is palpable and empathetic, and it is impossible not to catch a vibe off the album. Producers and audio engineers alike have raved over the high-quality production value. I myself, was particularly enamored by the intros/outros featuring a woman sounding off in all her "niggas aint shit" glory. To me, the inclusion of these snippets felt like a gesture of accountability for the ways he has either hurt women or not contributed to bettering their lives - a very grown up moment. The title of the album appears to pay homage, in part, to his home, and the people and experiences there that have shaped him. It also seems to point to a type of quiet reflection over past and current relationships, and his own vulnerability within and without them.
The album includes features by Future, J.Cole, Khalid and Offset which, though each enjoyable in their own right, were only accents and adornments to an already full masterpiece on 6lack’s part. Variety perfectly describes this album as one where 6lack “directs most of his attention to love’s decay, and the moments in relationships when both sides confront the likely outcome. The new father (that’s his one-year-old daughter on the cover) writes with a mature sense of responsibility for such results, but with a heartfelt resistance to letting go.”
And, yes, let’s talk about that cover. Admittedly, seeing the album art on social media is what got me interested in the release in the first place. I must confess that I previously found 6lack a little boring, and perhaps some audiences still do. His somewhat sleepy and dark trademark sound is not necessarily for everybody. But the album art, which features 6lack standing in front of a microphone set up in a kitchen with his one-year-old daughter strapped to his chest, triggered a visceral response for me (I guess I'm in my child-bearing years...is it the hormones?!). I absolutely lived for this choice in album art. If you have read any of my work in the past, you already know how much I love positive representations of masculinity & fatherhood. So I found this one extremely powerful. This reaction would be followed by endless more emotional responses once I got truly lost in the music. Lyrically, 6lack makes reference to "carrying" both his city and his daughter, feeling indebted to both, and determined to make both proud. To me, the imagery was a bare-bones self-portrait that epitomized the young artist’s life, priorities, and his soul. Most of all though, it symbolized growth, both as a man and an artist.
“I got one baby, that's one lady I'ma answer to
She be the reason I'm righting my wrongs and shit
Love is the reason I'm writing these songs and shit” - “Loaded Gun”
I will say, if you’re not introspective, if you don’t like facing your emotions or reliving triumphs and failures, this one won’t be for you. But if you are anywhere near as sentimental as I am, if you are a romantic, or an artist… Stream the hell out of it. You may have a breakthrough. You may feel seen and understood, which is what music is for, after all. What strikes me as a brutal honesty reveals itself through 6lack’s lyrics - which are extremely well written - effectively holding up a mirror to himself, his relationships, and ultimately, to the listener.
September 10, 2018
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August 17, 2018