The West Side loves Eric Bellinger, and with good reason.
Despite a practically non-existent chart history, the 32-year-old singer/songwriter from Los Angeles has quietly been penning some of the most popping party R&B the Left Coast has to offer, all while sliding out mixtape after mixtape of under-the-radar bops to groove to at your ratchet cousins’ kickbacks and pool parties. Eric B is just as vocally inclined as an R&B superstar like Chris Brown — without the history of scummy behavior to make the more conscious partygoers uncomfortable.
In fact, Bellinger even won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album for his work as a songwriter on Brown’s F.A.M.E.. His lyricism later garnered an ASCAP R&B/Hip-Hop Song with Usher for “Lemme See” in 2013. He’s got a plethora of EPs and self-released studio albums under his belt and that veteran skill is on full display in his latest long-player, Eazy Call.
His years in the game have also granted him a pretty extensive Rolodex, which he puts to effective use here, calling on both underground LA rap stalwarts like AD and Dom Kennedy as well as fellow singers Chevy Woods, Mila J, Sammie, and Ne-Yo. There’s even a Mase appearance, which sounds way fresher in execution than it does on paper.
It’s always seemed odd that such a talent as Eric Bellinger can fly under the national radar for so long while basically becoming a superstar in his native Los Angeles, but that’s more or less the way things have always worked here. A regional hit just lands with a greater impact in the most populous state in the Union, which is how a bonafide hitmaker can carve out a decade-long career without seemingly ever actually leaving California.
Make no mistake, though, there are hits galore on Eazy Call, from bedroom shakers to bouncy, top-down-cruising-on-Pacific-Coast-Highway anthems. The 808-heavy “Main Thing” forgoes trying to resurrect the Dom Kennedy who actually cared about rapping, instead utilizing his laid-back vocals to drop smooth ad-libs as player bookends, while Bellinger sprinkles post-club come-ons throughout both his own rapped verse and his catchy chorus.
Meanwhile, on “Silent Treatment,” a spare harp sample frames his plaintive supplications for attention from a burnt-out paramour. There are inflections of The Weeknd, of Omarion, of Bryson Tiller, but always Bellinger’s vocals are distinctively his own, stronger than the former, bolder than the second, and less reedy than the latter, he makes effective use of more abrasive hip-hop influences to sharpen up the smooth edges of his wistful, traditionally R&B voice.
He delves into the Cash Money snare-borrowing modern rap production style, deftly blended with the washed-out, filtered-’90s-R&B-classic samples that have become a favorite of the PBR&B set, but with a bounce that no one else has. He never sounds too sad on the sad songs like “By Now,” but gives more gusto to the poppy party tracks such as the self-titled album closer and “Dirty Dancin'” with Ne-Yo than might be expected from that subset of songs. Where many singers would hold back, he goes all out with the vocal arrangements and full-throated, ad-libbed runs, while still allowing the hooks and beats to hold center stage. From the 112-sampling “Y.A.K.” featuring Sammie and Chevy Woods, to “Bagged,” the flirtatious ballad that finds him seeking his crush’s phone number, Bellinger’s vocals remain the primary draw, even as the slower songs start to blur together.
In an Instagram post explaining the title and goal of Eazy Call, Bellinger calls this album his “Greatest Hits” — a bold claim, considering so many fans outside of his region would be hard-pressed to attribute any of his “hits” to his name. Yet, as he closes the album declaring that he feels like “Eric Bellinger” and bragging that his “price going up,” all of that brash intent seems almost warranted. After all, a hit is a hit, whether regional, national, or international. And whether Billboard counts them or not, with Eazy Call, Eric Bellinger certainly proves he has plenty of them, and they’re pretty damn great.
Eazy Call is out now via YFS/Empire. Get it here.