The quickest connection people make when attempting to validate the art of hip–hop is to compare it to poetry, or more specifically, spoken word. But no genre of Black music needs to be validated, as Black musicians and artists influenced and created the roots of most popular American culture. Either way, when I think of poetry, I think of love songs. Considering a ballad is a form of verse set to music, described as a narrative poem or song, the connection between verse form, love, and music seems clear–cut. Being cautious to not reduce R&B to merely poetry with music behind it, and taking into account the complexities of the genre, there is something to be gained by exploring the lyrics of Summer Walker’s Still Over It for their poetic significance, especially considering her rocky relationship with the music producer London on da Track, and therefore perhaps to the music itself.
Even as one of our generation’s leading R&B artists, social media has made Walker's private life a spectacle. London on da Track, her ex–boyfriend and the father of her child, produced her debut album. He is surprisingly credited on a number of songs in Still Over It, where she, directly and indirectly, describes the trials and tribulations of their off–and–on relationship. While Walker took to Instagram to deny his role in producing her sophomore album, his influence and partnership, both romantic and musically, inevitably complicates the narrative of this breakup album.
If you looked under the dictionary for “Rhythm and Blues,” Still Over It’s album cover would jump out at you, Walker's hand reaching out to block the flash, mouth open mid–speech, the black car, all–black interior centering Walker herself. The rhythm in R&B refers to the genre’s characteristic use of jazz–influenced beats, while blues focuses on the lyrical and melodic content, often full of melodrama and melancholy. If the rhythm is London on da Track and the blues is Walker, there's an implied need for balance, for both to come together. It makes sense, then, that when the two are in conflict, one might drown out the other, some worst–case scenario where London’s production drowns out Walker's interiority. Characterized by unique beats and hard–hitting bass, her debut studio album Over It’s success was perhaps a reflection of the then–couple’s blossoming relationship. In Still Over It, Waker's strongest moments are those where her storytelling prowess and ear for melodrama shines through, highlighting the “B” in R&B as a poetic space to hold Black women’s interiority.
In “Circus” and “Switch A N***a Out,” Walker highlights the power flow between partners. Describing a “fatal attraction,” “Circus” is honest about the lengths she will go to for love, the song’s simple, repetitive lyrics mimicking the euphoric, dizzying imagery of both a circus and a toxic relationship. Considering the producer–singer power dynamic, we can imagine Walker singing to London in the studio, powerful and powerless, vocal and melody–dependent on his rhythm. “Switch A N***a Out” is the moment where we most clearly see her interiority—the conflict between the independent woman she prides herself on being and the person she has become in this relationship. After being “Bitter” in the opening, imagining her next relationship as purely desire–driven in “No Love,” and even questioning her own sanity in “Insane,” she finally admits that it just hurts. Outside of his faults, external influences, and other baby mamas, she is validating her grief process and admitting that no matter the circumstances, “It just hurts so much / When it ain’t working out.”
I envision holding space for interiority as creating some sort of chasm for the unsayable. In poetry, that looks like blank space, line breaks, and punctuation. In “Reciprocate,” Walker launches into a list of bare minimum expectations she lets London get out of, the same repeated, “You don’t have to.” In the middle of her rant, she just sings, “You don’t have to oh.” That “oh” holds the unsayable. She isn’t singing to London, or even us; she is utilizing her blues as a means to some interior freedom. It’s like he doesn’t get it, or maybe he can’t, so in the middle of the list, she just takes a break and holds some space for her own spirit.
Still Over It is an affirmation. She tells women you can go ahead and rehash, re–feel, process a breakup however and how often you’d like. That doesn’t mean you need to “get over it.” In allowing us to witness her own complicated relationship with not only London but herself, Walker cements her album’s poetic value. Poetic value, rather than classifying the work as poetry, is intentional here, as Walker's whole body of work dissolves the tension between R&B and poetry—she utilizes a blues poetics by creating space for Black women’s interiority while highlighting the complex balance necessary to have both rhythm and blues.