“Hope my mistakes don’t make less of a man / But lately it feel like them shits really can” opens 6lack’s second studio album East Atlanta Love Letter. The introspection and lack of self-trust are motifs littered throughout the record creating the perfect winter sound of sorrow and loneliness. Despite the title, the record is not a tribute to his city but falls into the classic struggle with a famed life, mixed with 6lack’s newfound responsibility as a father (that’s his one-year-old daughter on the cover). While the post-fame depression is not a new theme, 6lack’s newest record is more than a humble-brag but a door into his fears. The bleak, pessimistic opening lines provide an accurate entrance to the artist’s anxiety in his new environment. Rather than an homage to his city, 6lack created a track list of love letters to what he’s lost or will soon.
When a friend first recommended 6lack to me, she called gave him all the emotional pain of the Weeknd’s early mixtapes with more of a hip-hop edge. Sonically, there is no doubt of the early Weeknd’s influence; reverb-drenched piano keys, the lilt of the synth washes, as well as the strict, heavy low-end percussion. However, that is where the comparison ends. Where the Weeknd became polished and poppy, 6lack thrives in murkiness. Unlike the lights and grandiosity of the Weeknd’s drug-fueled universe, we stay with 6lack in his hotel room—sometimes we even hide in a closet alongside him.
The entire album sounds otherworldly and dark and is locked in 6lack’s own narrative. The first half of the album is especially haunting, rooted in chilling songs like “Loaded Gun” and “Unfair”. 6lack spits his sorrowful lines without any humor; he is to be taken seriously or not at all. While the album teeters on monotonal, the interspersing of more upbeat songs like “Switch” and “Sorry” keep the listener grooving.
“Loaded Gun” out of all the songs best captures 6lacks’ ethos. While it opens with 6lack’s new life hopping from groupie to groupie, enjoying fame, the chorus returns to 6lack’s never-ending introspection. “All I’m ever askin’ for is time / I just needed time to clear my mind / When I want is already mine” Even in the pleasures of excess, 6lack still fears his mortality and want to create. He worries that the fame takes away from his ability to produce and discusses pulling away. He ends the song by discussing his daughter, citing her for his growth. The theme of balancing newfound responsibility and all the new pleasures open to him is seen throughout the album as 6lack tries to grow from his first studio album.
Future’s feature on the title track maintains the murkiness and haunted-synth wash.
While at first blush one must wonder how Future would sound over the sonnet-esque melancholic beat, his crooning suits the innocence of the track. J. Cole, however, probably had the best feature on the album. “Pretty Little Fears” is one of the more optimistic songs on the record; it captures the moment in a relationship when both parties come forward to discuss their vulnerabilities and fears. Cole’s voice is dipped an octave lower than usual, grounding his wounded verse. It becomes a beautiful, honest, down-to-earth love song.
“Seasons” is undoubtedly the most hopeful track. At this point, it is safe to say the combing of Khalid’s bright voice with 6lack’s dark is an amazing combination. Their collabs are infallible and that remains true on this album. The happiness does not outweigh the bleakness of the beat and 6lack still sounds untrusting of the happy mood, but as the second-to-last track, the listener can believe that 6lack is in a better place than he started. The journey through his depression is not solved but doesn’t end on a totally morose note.
The use of voicemails to tie together albums has been used over and over again and sometimes the lecturing gets tiring. 6lack’s album is not above this trope, but the use of a female voicemail talking down cheating grants listener’s both a humorful break as well as true wisdom about toxic masculinity and the difficulties between men and women relating to one another. She offers a completely oppositional point of view to 6lack’s emotional femme-fatales.
While the album rises from the depths of mysterious sorrow, not unlike an ode by John Keats, it grows more complex and upbeat in the second part. The careful organization keeps the album from droning or becoming dishonest in its melancholia. When the album ends with a love-song to his fans, there is a bit of emptiness inside that 6lack has made us remember. The hopeful aspects of the album remain drenched in pessimism and anxiety, but things could get better in a few months. As winter brings out the loneliest of feelings and gray fills the skies, East Atlanta Love Letter is perfect listening for the cold.
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East Atlanta Love Letter Album Review; Image Credits: @6lack on Instagram