6LACK On Why 'East Atlanta Love Letter' Is the Best R&B Album Of 2018: 'I Had Stories to Tell'

Stefan Hoederath/Redferns

6lack performs live on stage during a concert at Festsaal Kreuzberg on Oct. 24, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. 

“I knew I wasn’t going to give fans the bare minimum.”

Over the course of the next few weeks, Billboard will be allowing artists behind some of the year’s most notable R&B releases the opportunity to speak on why their respective albums deserve to be crowned the top project of 2018. The first artist to speak on his successful run this year is Grammy-nominated R&B artist, 6LACK, for his masterful sophomore album, East Atlanta Love Letter. -- As told to Carl Lamarre

Honestly, when East Atlanta Love Letter was all said and done was when I realized I had the best R&B project of 2018. Mixed, mastered. It took me a few weeks to listen to it after all of that, because I had heard those same songs for so long at that point and I was like, “I need a break to refresh my ears."

From an emotional standpoint, it makes people feel. From a songwriting standpoint, it combines hip-hop and R&B and delivers lyrically. It delivers as far as melody goes, it delivers as far as texture goes. It still has an alternative feel in some songs.

Also, just in reference to the first project -- I feel like they go together. It’s two different stories, but in the same time frame as far as the last two years of my life. You have everything that happened up to Free 6LACK, then everything that’s happened since then. Story-wise, writing-wise, and content-wise, we just did something that connected with people just like we did the first time. That’s all it’s ever about, with me at least. What are people going to feel when they hear this? What are people going to think when they read the words?   

I had stories to tell and I knew I wasn't going to just give fans the bare minimum. I was going to give the stuff that might make someone call me and be angry and leave a crazy voice message or text me something wild. I gotta tell stories, because people need to hear them, and people need to know that someone else is going through the same stuff. It makes the show better. People are singing, people are crying, people are laughing. The shows are a whole entire experience and it wouldn’t be that if my songs were just bare minimum.   

On both albums, the main thing was to always keep a strong female presence. With Free 6LACK, I Iaced some songs with female background vocals, like on “Learn Ya” and “Free.” These are things that sound like a sample when you listen to them, but they’re friends of mine. With this album, I saw I didn’t have any female features on it, which wasn’t on purpose but nothing worked out in time. I was like, "How do I keep that perspective? How I’m telling my side of the story but how another side is still needed?" That's why the skits were super important on East Atlanta.

In terms of features for East Atlanta, it was solely about bringing other people into my world. I do stay to myself, so people don’t really know who I work with or who I fuck with or who I’m friends with. So I decided to bring in people who are from different realms -- like Cole, Khalid, Offset -- but to make it all cohesive and give them an opportunity to do something that they probably wouldn’t do on their song or album. I wanted to do that and have it make sense -- because when you look at it, it’s like, “Future, Cole and Khalid? Offset?” It looks all over the place in some kind of way, but then you hear it, and it works.