In 2009, it was Paramore and Blink-182 who relieved teenage angst, a commiseration rendered in the form of lyrics scribbled in black and white marble composition books. Those teenagers are older now, turning in those tattered pages for sleek leather bound moleskine journals to internalize a new form of mood music.
Atlanta based rapper 6lack would know. With the release of his second album “East Atlanta Love Letter,” lines are blurred between the impressionistic beats of rap and smooth languor of R&B, allowing 6lack to subtly crawl to the summit of the category.
6lack’s sense of bravado shines without the aggression and hyper-masculinity that other Atlanta based rappers seem to channel. What separates him and his album from the pack isn’t just the charm and the brassiness in his vocalization, it’s that he is genuine. In track three, titled “Switch,” 6lack writes an ode to perspective, an exercise in living life in someone else’s shoes.
6lack’s rise to fame isn’t one that came easily. After years of SoundCloud semi-hits and financial insecurity, 6lack signed with Interscope Records in 2016. The rapper has talked about the days before representation, in which he lived out of a backpack and the struggles he faced during his rise to the charts, and so when he raps that “ain’t nobody gotta go through what I’m going through,” his delicacy comes in the form of transparency. He cautions, “it wasn’t what you thought it was, that’s another story to tell,” and in slithering through the notion of a misunderstanding, he alludes to the struggle of others too. He writes, “tell me how it feels, to be somebody else,” not just as a caution to others, but to himself too. He raps about about being mindful — a rather unique topic for a song in the world of rap.
In fact, it seems like 6lack is one of the few rappers to express this vulnerability at all. In “Let Her Go” and “Sorry,” the listener is reintroduced to the familiar topic of a tempestuous relationship, a subject he has made a genre of. In “Let Her Go,” 6lack hopscotches through the realm of girl problems and mistrust, bouncing through his doubt, asking “If I let her go, will I regret it, will I forget it? Well, it’s somethin’ I don’t know.” Swaddled with strong baselines, 6lack offers the listener a look at his consciousness — questions back and forth in his mind about choices he must make about a woman. In the next track, “Sorry,” 6lack answers those questions.
The gauzy synth track reflects the softness with which 6lack expresses his heartbreak. “I know I’ve said some foolish things before I know that I’ve been swerving on this course,” 6lack raps. The silkiness of the track also expresses a sense of regret. It’s real. It’s a cacophonic apology camouflaged in a syrupy sound.
The thing is, is that 6lack can act real because he stays real — a reputation he’s cultivated over countless meet and greets, listening parties, and group chats with fans. It seems 6lack’s album is firmly rooted in his humility and gratitude for his past. Perhaps that’s why he named the album after his home town — Atlanta.
His titular track “East Atlanta Love Letter” is a work of jazzy decadence, a tale of lust for both a woman and the city itself. Future joins 6lack on the song, complimenting the track to create a rap-soul groove, finding its balance in the mellowness and slow beat, hinting at desperation and addiction, love and desire.
The juxtaposition of the luxurious R&B sound with its trap footings mirrors Zone 6 — an area that both Future and 6lack call home. The zone contains upscale ritzy neighborhoods alongside a harsh urban street life. One can’t help but notice the similarity between the “zone du jour” and the sound of the track — a sound that’s raw, yet so swanky and smooth.
But while 6lack masters the art of an intoxicatingly smooth vibe, he falls victim in the pursuit of the top. The 14 track album fails to replicate the freshness and simple elegance of his last album “Free 6lack.” All of the songs on “East Atlanta Love Letter” seem to thicken into one clot of melodrama and passion, but that’s the beauty of 6lack’s musical style. While listeners may have been expecting something slightly different, they weren’t necessarily expecting anything more.
Listeners can overlook the album’s lack of ripeness in exchange for 6lack’s hypnotic delivery, and his remarkable ability to generate a powerful vibe. His reflection of emotion is richly textured with a mix of chilly verses and dreamy choruses, his pieces resonating with the listener. The album is about the integrity of the soul, and its broodiness is captured in between the bass and a cloudy haze of feelings. It’s the new emo. But it’s 2018, and listeners are so ready for it.