As the sophomore album of Atlanta hip-hop artist 6LACK, East Atlanta Love Letter has a lot riding on it. Like movies, it is often the case that the sequel isn’t as good as the original. This album can make or break 6LACK. It would either solidify him as a legitimate hip-hop artist, or everyone will forget about him as we move on to better artists. How did 6LACK and this album hold up?
East Atlanta Love Letter is a solid album that offers a lot to fans of 6LACK and casual audiences who are new to his music. His voice is reminiscent of a pop artist, but his lyrics and production are very much hip-hop. This is particularly evident on the track “Sorry.” 6LACK sounds like a hip-hop version of somber pop artists. He’d fit right in next to Adele or Alessia Cara, especially on a gloomy track.
6LACK utilizes auto-tune more than once on this project. 6LACK employs this effect not to cover vocal shortcomings but to enhance his overall performance. As auto-tune becomes more and more prevalent and widespread in the music industry, it is refreshing to hear an artist who’s using this tool in a way that isn’t lazy. The auto-tune effect doesn’t take away, it only adds.
Most the songs on this release are not bangers. There’s not an extremely heavy focus on 808’s or other staples of trap hip-hop, outside of a few exceptions. Heavy bass and 808 drums are always the extra seasoning of the track instead of being the main meat. Most of the album consists of deep and introspective songs instead of upbeat party tracks. These are the kind of songs you listen to late at night on a Tuesday when you think to yourself, “damn, she really isn’t thinking about me.” This project is filled with melancholy, maybe not quite the levels of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” but you get the idea.
“Stan” is probably the most interesting cuts from this project. On the surface, it’s a standard love song. 6LACK sings about how he’s going to write his love interest (who often starts or ends the tracks on this album with a short interlude) his “best song,” and how he “will love [her] when [she is] old and…[loses her] words…” The twist comes during the chorus. It starts innocently, with lines like “Say you’ll be my greatest fan,” then a punch comes out of nowhere when 6LACK sings the words “Only if you love me like a stan, stan, stan…” To some people, this might not mean much, but it’s a reference to Eminem’s hit song “Stan.”
Eminem’s “Stan” tells the story of an unhinged fan who constantly writes to Eminem in the hopes that he will respond. Eminem never does, but the titular Stan continues to send letters, each one becoming more and more unsettling. Stan eventually kills himself and his pregnant girlfriend by driving his car off of a bridge. All of this because Stan never got a letter back from Eminem. 6LACK’s “Stan” is not a thoughtful commentary on fans and their unhealthy idolization of celebrities, but instead a love song with a dark tone. 6LACK expects the love of his life to love him just as much as Stan loved Eminem. A rather unorthodox and very unsettling request, but the point is made clear.
East Atlanta Love Letter is a solid work. The consistent themes of relationships and heartache unite the songs to create a coherent album. This isn’t just a collection of songs that sound good, there’s thought behind it. Although it is closer to a pop and R&B record than traditional hip-hop, there’s enough here to satisfy both fan groups alike.