6lack’s ‘East Atlanta Love Letter’ is a marked, mature improvement

 6lack releases album “East Atlanta Love Letter”. (The Come Up Show/Flickr Creative Commons)

6lack releases album “East Atlanta Love Letter”. (The Come Up Show/Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s pronounced “black.” Not slack, not six-lack, but black. Get used to pronouncing it correctly, because 6lack’s sophomore album is fantastic and one of the better rap/R&B albums of the year.

In a time where musical fame comes and goes faster than ever, an artist’s second studio effort can make or break their lasting impact. The Weeknd’s second album “Beauty Behind the Madness” cemented him as the figurehead of modern R&B. In contrast, Lil Yachty failed to capitalize on his initial mixtape success with his 2017 fluke “Teenage Emotions,” a critical disappointment. Second albums are everything—they determine if you’re real or fake.

Atlanta musician Ricardo Valentine jumped onto the mainstream stage in 2016 with “Free 6lack,” scoring a Grammy nomination and unleashing the killer single “Prblms.” The success of his first effort scored Valentine a spot as the opening act on The Weeknd’s 2017 tour, and the music world watched with waiting eyes if he could catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Spoiler: he does.

“East Atlanta Love Letter” retains 6lack’s ferocious balladry from his debut and then some. “Unfair” brings the album in with an encompassing synth passage, previewing the album’s stellar production. It can be easy to describe the album’s soundscape as moody or gloomy, but that’s short-selling it. This album sounds like walking through a cloudy, cold autumn day after you got a C on a midterm in the best possible way. This album feels like chicken soup after a bad breakup, complete with warmth and heartbreak.

These days, R&B albums aim for creating a certain vibe—whether it be the club, bedroom or somewhere in between. This album’s vibe is as infectious as mono, with none of the side effects. Be careful though: I found myself bobbing my head aggressively in the library on multiple counts. No shame.

The vocal performance by 6lack on this album is superb. In an era where overbearing autotune controls the charts, Valentine pulls back the majority of studio aid and croons right into the microphone. “Switch,” one of the album’s standout tracks, showcases Frank Ocean-like harmonies in its peaks. Any time an artist reminds me of Frank, they’re doing something extremely right.

Like many upstart debuts, “Free 6lack” had no features, with the two lone exceptions lying on bonus tracks. With newfound success, Valentine enlists top-shelf stars in Future, J. Cole, Offset and Khalid to provide their services on “East Atlanta.” Features can often bring down otherwise good albums, but I’m pleased to say that all four hit their marks, with Cole’s work on “Pretty Little Fears” standing out as stellar.

My only real complaints of “East Atlanta Love Letter” are mirrored in my views on the current state of the R&B genre as a whole. The tracklist is pretty same-y, and lacks some of the grittier tracks I appreciated from his debut. “East Atlanta,” while containing some great lyricism, can’t quite escape the black hole of laughable R&B lyrics that seems to exist nowadays. “Getting bread across the Mediterranean like a pita” is hilarious, but it breaks up an otherwise grounded song in “Scripture.” However, I still appreciate any food bar in a ballad.

“East Atlanta Love Letter” is a beautiful album that should propel 6lack to further heights in the music industry. Coming in at an easy 47 minutes, this is an album that you should slip on in your next gym session/party/forlorn walk. It’s that versatile, that good. Don’t slack on this.

Rating: 4/5


Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.cohn@uconn.edu.