Songwriters are unsung heroes in the music business. They are the minds behind lyrics that get recited around the world, but they usually don't get to be the voice that brings the lyrics to life. Songwriters dedicate so much time to making music for others that it's impressive when they build artistic identities of their own.
This duality is what makes Eric Bellinger such a special talent. He has written songs for some of the biggest names in R&B and Pop, such as Usher, Chris Brown and Justin Bieber. Yet, Bellinger has his own catalog that can stand up alongside the music of these superstar collaborators, and he continues to prove his worth as an artist on his new album Eazy Call.
Bellinger embraces today's trends in R&B on his latest effort, but he uses them as tools rather than crutches. The blurred lines between R&B and rap suit his writing style as a solo artist. He tends to forgo the graceful, poetic lines that characterized R&B in past eras. Instead, his lyrics are often more straightforward and conversational. And a lot of times they're lighthearted—the types of lines that would prompt an eye roll if they weren't being sung.
From the very start of Eazy Call, his writing style stands out. He opens the album with "Legs," an ode to...you guessed it, a woman's legs! The song is built for the bedroom, as he describes the (for lack of a better term) excitement he gets at the sight of his lady's legs. He makes some playful comparisons along the way, from telling his partner to give her "dog a bone right now" to borrowing from a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony lyric. The lines will sound cheesy to some listeners, but they show that the song's machismo doesn't make Bellinger take himself too seriously. And the song's jokes won't stop "Legs" from showing up on late night playlists, thanks to a nocturnal beat and a mix of vocal runs and Bellinger’s high notes.
Eazy Call starts with a slow jam (or at least the 2018 equivalent of a slow jam), but Bellinger picks up the energy soon after. The following track is "Not a Love Song," an uptempo collaboration with Ma$e that is indeed not a love a song (I told you Bellinger was really straightforward). The collab proves to be a party-ready anthem that further establishes him as a master of melody. The chorus that he sings is catchy, and on his verse he bends syllables in a way that makes the simplest phrases stand out. He keeps the club theme going on "Main Thang," a song that's even more infectious than its predecessor. The two songs would be automatic hits for the big names Bellinger has written for in the past. But even if the songs don't make it onto the radio, they'll surely be heard at pool parties throughout the summer.
A lot of songs on the album are designed to help people have a good time, but Bellinger still dedicates tracks to the complexities of relationships. A prime example is "Silent Treatment," one of Eazy Call’s standout songs. Over a woozy, guitar-based beat, Bellinger describes the frustration that comes when your partner is unhappy, but refuses to explain why that's the case. He conveys vulnerability not just in what he sings, but also in how he sings it. His tone and delivery are sullen throughout the song, especially during the bridge as he says that he's been "on autopilot" and doesn't "wanna go through the motions."
The anxiety of "Silent Treatment" is countered by the ego of "Ain't Ya Ex." The song samples a classic '90s cut from Faith Evans, but it's every bit of a modern R&B song, from its sound to its attitude. Mila J and Tink are featured on the song, delivering boastful verses that challenge Bellinger’s views on new relationships. He approaches the song with a calm confidence, emphasizing that he's not afraid of commitment. Then Mila J comes in and gives the song a spike in energy, demanding a level of respect that her partner’s ex didn’t receive. And Tink pulls the song into a smooth descent, thanks to her nimble vocals.
"Ain't Ya Ex" works well in large part because of its conceit, but a more sentimental song proves to be the best offering on Eazy Call. On "Bagged," Bellinger displays the strong affection that is felt when a man finds the woman that he wants to be with. He sings, "You're an angel / I ain't never seen nothing so beautiful / It's like you're able / To change any man, but am I in your plan?" His words convey a mix of hope and doubt, joy and disbelief. These conflicting emotions make it intense to fall for someone, which explains why he sings so passionately on "Bagged."
In a perfect world, "Bagged" would conclude Eazy Call. However, it's followed by "Eric Bellinger," one of two songs on the album (the other being "Money Float") that borrows too liberally from rap inspirations. Granted, the tracks may give Bellinger a ticket onto playlists that are dominated by trap music. But as the price of admission, these songs disrupt the flow of his album.
Nevertheless, the Eazy Call’s highlights easily outweigh its drawbacks. Bellinger proves that he can adapt to the sounds of today's R&B without totally abandoning what he's done in the past. His pen is as potent as ever, but it’s clear that his artistic prowess runs much deeper than this.
Notable Tracks: “Ain’t Ya Ex” | “Bagged” | “Main Thang” | “Silent Treatment”