This week sees the return of two of 2016’s breakout stars with second albums that may just reverse the idea of the sophomore slump. Noname’s Telefone and 6lack’s Free 6lack were genre-shifting debuts that put the rap game on notice of their prodigious talents in blending soulful R&B with sharp, observational raps, and in Noname’s case, smart, singalong spoken word that expressed core emotions and ruminated on relationship drama and music stardom.
Since then Noname has semi-disappeared from the spotlight, aside from a handful of festival shows that she plays with a live band. That live band has turned out to be instrumental in bringing her jazz-rap inclinations back to the fore and re-establishing her self-confidence enough to attempt a comeback after her first album left some sizable shoes to fill. Nothing is harder than measuring up to a prior success, but the 26-year-old Chicago rapper is finally ready to try.
6lack, on the other hand, spent much of 2017 touring, but also making live television appearances and raising his profile with guest appearances on tracks by everyone from Dreezy to teen singer Khalid. After an intriguing promotion that included sending out actual love letters to his most dedicated fans, he too is ready to deliver his own follow-up, making good on the promise and potential displayed on his debut.
6lack, East Atlanta Love Letter
Ricardo Valdez Valentine, aka 6lack (pronounced “Black”), became a father in 2017, and that seems to inform his work now as much as his prior experiences in the music industry did on his debut. The cover of East Atlanta Love Letter features 6lack standing in a makeshift studio with his daughter in a harness on his chest, seemingly participating as much in his recording process as he is.
East Atlanta Love Letter is about 6lack learning his new place in the world as a father and as a man, dealing with new and old relationships, and the responsibilities and sacrifices of fame, which doesn’t often mix well with family. That sentiment is threaded throughout the album’s lead singles “Nonchalant” and “Switch.”
Noname, Room 25
Room 25 is about Noname’s growth as well, but utilizes much of the same cast as her debut, Telefone. Smino, Saba, and producer Phoelix are her primary collaborators as she looks to explore adulthood on the other side of creating a groundbreaking album that made her a critical darling. Where Noname describes Telefone as a “very PG record because I was very PG,” but on Room 25 it appears that she wants to break out and address more adult relationships, both emotionally and physically.
At the same time, Noname was also open about the financial obligations prompting Room 25‘s creation, but don’t expect her to spend any time on club-ready pop jingles. By self-financing the recording of this album, she’s beholden only to herself and her own tastes, meaning she won’t need to fill it up with label exec-pleasing radio reaches or trap anthems. Her style is as individualistic as anyone’s can be in 2018; despite comparisons to frequent collaborators like Chance The Rapper and Saba, Noname does her own thing and does it well.
Wale, Free Lunch
The Maryland MC has been on a roll with his EPs this year after inking a new deal with Warner Bros. Records and refocusing on proving that he’s still one of hip-hop’s premiere lyricists. Free Lunch, his third short project of the year, features appearances from both longtime collaborator J. Cole and rising R&B star Eric Bellinger. Clocking at just five tracks, the EP is a testament to Wale’s tenacity, hustler mentality, and the fruit of his yearlong labor to, as he put it, “find a job.” His first two EPs impressed, earning him a new label home where hopefully, he’ll be able to take the creative reins of his career in full, getting to do more full-length projects that sound like his extended players. Wale is a Warner Music Group artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of WMG.