“Okay, East Atlanta playboy / Don't got much to say, boy” —J.I.D, “Off Deez”
Few things are more ephemeral than love and confidence. One impacts the other in a cyclical and often damning manner. Self-love, romantic love, and platonic love are nothing without a bed of security to blossom over. No self-assurance, no dice. Coincidentally, confidence and security are the two things J.I.D and 6LACK, our “East Atlanta playboy” duo, use to drive their albums in complementary tones. Both East Atlanta natives, the ways in which J.I.D and 6LACK talk about love, loss, and self-esteem are at once localized and universal. The pair knows how to take the fraying edges of their lives and tie them up into a bow to present to the world.
With their 2018 sophomore albums, both artists serve complete pictures of themselves to their audience—or so we thought. Playing DiCaprio 2 and East Atlanta Love Letter side by side, we find that the albums exist in conversation with one another and that the full portrait of an “East Atlanta playboy,” as J.I.D so thoughtfully dubs himself, arrives at the moment the two albums intersect. DiCaprio 2 and EALL dance around and inform each other in the much the same way SZA’s 2017 opus Ctrl dances around and informs Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy. The artists massage the same knot of our creative unconscious, and the final product leaves us with a better understanding of J.I.D, 6LACK, and of course, ourselves.
The relationship between the two artists is all but implied. They are both members of Atlanta’s Spillage Village collective, both released superb sophomore albums, both traipse between R&B and hip-hop, where one mode is primary and the other an effective flourish, and both struggle to fall in love without losing themselves. Privileging the craft over the woman is the theme of the first arc of EALL; this is where 6LACK derives his confidence. The whole of DiCaprio 2 exists as a smirking ode to craft with allusions to love as soul-sucking.
The base concepts of both albums seem symbiotic, and this is taken further when we note that 6LACK also features on DiCaprio 2, ironically at the center-point of the album: “Tiiied.” After a set of blistering tracks and showcase of J.I.D’s technical ability, the downtrodden two-piece of “Workin Out” and “Tiiied” exist as a humanizing moment for J.I.D and a portal into the world of EALL. After worming through the murky and pensive production on “Tiiied,” bridging DiCaprio 2 and EALL appears as a natural end.
Yet, DiCaprio 2 and EALL are not simply complementary in a vacuum. The records work in conjunction to lift elements of each artist’s respective debut album and inject them back into the “East Atlanta playboy” collective album. Where FREE 6LACK was understandably firey and irreverent, EALL is matured and thusly calmer. To make up for that fire, we have the vortex of flows J.I.D brings to the table on the first arc of DiCaprio 2. Where The Never Story featured a stretch of viscous R&B jams, EALL thrives in that same thick and contemplative space. Everything we love about both artists, including whatever was scaled back during the transition to their sophomore offering, lives and breathes in unison on their collected works.
Where J.I.D is breathless and rushing through his emotions, almost to the point of DiCaprio 2 missing key elements of narrative structure and tension, 6LACK exists to slow things down and consider the fallout of a feeling. Much of DiCaprio 2 sounds incredible, but the writing undersells J.I.D as a storyteller. Such is the way of the transitional album, and yet with 6LACK’s record in the wings, we get the stories (“Unfair,” “Loaded Gun”) that fuel J.I.D’s present fire (“Off Deez,” “151 Rum,” “Mounted Up”). This, of course, culminates in J.I.D’s slowing down and taking notes from 6LACK on potential song of the year, “Workin Out.”
Conversely, where 6LACK stews to the point of overcooking (“Sorry”), J.I.D knows how to usher us from mood to mood without so much as a second thought. J.I.D plays like 6LACK’s lifeline in the vat of tar that is heartache, which may well be why we get this bar from 6LACK on “Scripture:” “I’m a R&B n***a with a hip-hop core.” As in, “I’m an emotive guy, but I know how to get through it.” He certainly does, with J.I.D as a fine example of the process and forward motion.
The pair of albums helix until their combined DNA spells a complete story: to be an “East Atlanta playboy” is to be caught unaware. In the case of J.I.D, that unawareness comes by way of willful ignorance of hurt, whereas 6LACK boasts an ignorance of healing, but both artists appear nearly there on their sophomore offerings. Both of their albums flirt with emotional complexities, but by the nature of the power fantasies presented in their records, they play as too good for emotional resolve. They’re confident as an overcorrection. But as we know, no one is above resolution.
Neither J.I.D nor 6LACK can tread over their own emotional needs for very long, which is why months into 6LACK’s release, and eight tracks into DiCaprio 2, we finally get some holistic reprieve as the two come together on “Tiiied.” The slits of grey light filtering through the production set us in the throes of East Atlanta Love Letter, while the blitz of whispered bars from J.I.D reminds us we are still on that DiCaprio 2. The writing boasts J.I.D’s charisma and wit (“How you gon' dump me and then leave wit' my hoodie? / And you ain't comin' back, give me back my hoodie”), but the delivery is tender a la 6LACK. Suddenly, instead of looking to EALL to understand J.I.D’s narrative fire, we see that he’s been going through it all along.
Complementary in one way, J.I.D and 6LACK now appear on the same team as Bear comes in entirely in his element on the feature. “Tiiied” sounds like a moment of brotherly group therapy more than album standout. Working in J.I.D, 6LACK has his 2016 fire summoned and refined. It’s a blue heat this time, instead of an uncontrolled and roaring flame. 6LACK’s maturation and focus from EALL sounds intensified and pointed. It helps that this is the only track on the album to feature the woman’s perspective, with an addendum from Ella Mai, really selling us on the notion that “Tiiied” is ultimately the full story J.I.D and 6LACK attempt to tell in the subtext of their records. The song feels complete and narratively sound: three well-performed acts from J.I.D, 6LACK, and Ella Mai, and one sound theme that puts two albums in context.
All of this is to say, the “East Atlanta playboy” is a wounded soul, and he’s well on his way to feeling better, with a little help from his friends. The lesson to be learned here is not simply that J.I.D and 6LACK are expert collaborators. The lesson here is that growth does not happen in a vacuum. You do not become a better person on your own. We need those closest to us to challenge and push us through our emotions and force us to fill in the gaps of ourselves. J.I.D and 6LACK do this for each other on wax, and good friends do this for each other in the real world. It is one of the most cherished symbiotic relationships we can forge. And that’s all there is to say, boy.