It’s easy to imagine Kipp Stone in one of those videos rappers post of the recording process: vibey lighting in the vocal booth, headphones slightly askew, eyes focused just past the mic on the object in his outstretched arm. But instead of a phone opened to the Notes app where he’s jotted down his rhymes, he’s holding a mirror, maintaining unwavering eye contact with himself as he spills out an intricate flow. The East Cleveland emcee’s music is unabashedly confessional, interrogating his every thought to determine its legitimacy. That constant churn is the driving force behind 66689 BLVD Prequel, his sleek and quietly intense new album.

On “Passivist Prayer,” a multi-part opus at the album’s midpoint, he raps, “Where my therapists at?/That ain’t no shoutout, that’s an inquiry.” It’s a sly bar, as much a testament to his writing skills as a muted yelp of despair. The album has many such moments, as Stone unpacks notions of masculinity, his various insecurities, and occasional dips into suicidal ideation. As vulnerable and heavy as his subject matter can be, he never sounds fully weighed down; he also takes time to revel in tiny joys, creating a complicated and often beautiful document of how confusing it is to be alive.

Stone’s impressive agility as a rapper helps his sometimes harsh self-examination go down smoothly. His sound is deeply rooted in Cleveland, combining the light-on-its-feet flow of King Chip and elastic melodicism of Krayzie Bone into a nimble style. It’s remarkable how natural his delivery feels, and how easily he’s able to change patterns on a dime. On “The Sun Is Medicine,” aching lines (“Find the time to fill my lungs with life/Revive the gilded one, my time was bouta fill my cup with cyanide to feel for once”) bounce playfully across the synth bass riff, cleverly disguising the pain within. When Stone raps, “Shit you hate about yourself be what they love you for the most/Watching everybody shine and forgot about your glow,” on “BLVD Intro,” he stretches the ends of bars like taffy, finding a loose pocket inside Tunga’s circular jazz beat.

The palette Stone favors has a lush, inviting aura that tempers some of his more acidic explorations. Though he enlists a committee of producers—including himself on a couple of tracks—the beats all have a similarly airy, luxuriant vibe, consisting of silvery wisps of synth, rippling Fender Rhodes, and crisp, upfront percussion that keeps everything from drifting into the atmosphere. Some of that openness seems inspired by Stone’s first trip to California, a seemingly perspective-shifting vacation he documents twice on 66689 BLVD Prequel. The pensive, self-produced “Petrichor” wraps ghostly vocal notes around gossamer piano and sleepily shuffling snares. He finds himself back at home in East Cleveland, reflecting on the culture shock he felt across the country, feeling like an altogether different man. Over the buoyant drum patterns and cafe jazz of “Vanderhall Venice,” Stone describes the freedom he felt when driving through the Hollywood Hills, “high vibrational with the sun beaming.”

Stone wrote and recorded 66689 BLVD Prequel alone, often spending up to 15 hours locked in the studio in search of the perfect take. The solitary nature of the album—there are no guests other than a background vocalist on a couple of cuts—makes its breadth and technical prowess all the more extraordinary. Stone says he freestyled most of the lyrics, and it’s baffling to think that someone could simply pluck these flows and sophisticated rhyme schemes from the air. It also explains some of his cringier lines (“Keep a dick to your mind, fuck what y’all think” on “18 The Hard Way,” or “pouting like that meme in the corner” on “Lakeshore”), and knowing they came off the top makes them a little more forgivable. 66689 BLVD Prequel isn’t as outwardly angry as 2020’s HOMME, though it’s just as emotionally wrought. It doesn’t seem as though Stone needs to release his demons as much as he needs post-exorcism aftercare. His darkness isn’t all-consuming, but it lurks behind his shoulder, tapping every so often to make its presence known.