From Confession to Expression: Logic’s Artistic Journey

LOGIC

Hip hop artist Logic is an artist who has had a long, struggle-prone rise to the top of the mainstream charts. That isn’t to say he wasn’t immediately successful with his music; by most people’s standards, he hit the ground running in that respect. But he’s always been the type of artist who puts out work that really shows a lot of work, and behind the scenes, I suspect there’s even more work going into every song he makes, probably more than he’d ever like to admit to. He’s been on a career-long journey to find himself, to define himself, and to be good with whatever the resulting amalgamation may be. Through his discography, we will take this journey with him, and see where it lands as we wrap up in the present day for Logic’s career.

Logic was born on January 22nd, 1990 in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and given the very un-hip-hop sounding name, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II (yeah, that’s everybody’s reaction to that, I’m sure). The “Sir’ is not the honorable royal title awarded to someone when they’re knighted by the Queen. It’s actually part of his name. His mom had named him “Sir Robert” to give his otherwise inherited name from his father a little more flair. It reminds me of the name a prissy white girl would give her English bulldog, and it definitely raised some eyebrows when Logic first came on the scene. In an interview, Logic attributed his unusual name to his mother being a little “extra,” which I guess somewhat explains this. But her choice in names ranks pretty low on the list of bad life decisions she’s made. Logic had a rough upbringing, with his mom having a drug abuse problem. She also dealt with being continuously abused herself, by a rotating barrage of bad boyfriends, and the whole matter was worsened considerably by his father’s on-again-off-again crack addiction.

Determined to better himself and his situation, Logic began his quest to secure a music career early on. By 2009, with Logic being only 19 at the time, he had already released his first mixtape, Logic: The Mixtape, then still going by the longer version of his (now truncated) name, Psychological.

Between 2013 and 2014 (a remarkably short come up, by most comparisons) Logic was signed to VMG/Def Jam records, and officially began his music career as a signed rapper. To date, he has released multiple mixtapes, which he is very well known for, and five studio albums. All give us a piece of the puzzle that has been his artistic journey into self-expression, self-confession, and where he as a person fits into his various artistic personas in between.

UNDER PRESSURE

Image result for logic under pressure album coverOfficially released in 2014, Under Pressure would be Logic’s first officially distributed studio album through VMG/Def Jam Records. His record deal with Def jam was due to the sheer virility of interest in his last DatPiff drop Young Sinatra: Welcome to Forever, (the third installment of his Young Sinatra mixtape trilogy) which Logic had digitally distributed, then toured for, as an independent a year before inking with VMG. Under Pressure was met with a notably positive response from critics, and claimed the #4 spot on the Billboard Top 200 charts before officially going RIAA Gold in 2016.

The album had several official singles, the lead being the title track, “Under Pressure,” which was a staggering 9:20 playback time. Logic clearly wasn’t under any pressure to wrap up the song, and, both at the time and even more so now, that long of a track was and is unheard of, if not totally unprecedented in Hip Hop. It sounds like Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By” in tone, flow and changes in style. Also a little like Gravediggaz, like in their song “1-800 SUICIDE,” and given the title of this track, it wouldn’t surprise me if Logic had also been a fan of this song, as he later releases a song called “1-800-273-8255” (a.k.a. the “Suicide Hotline” song) to great commercial success.

It is a strangely bold move to put that on his first studio album, and then to make it the title track carrying the same name, as if to further denote it’s purposeful, deliberate placement there. This trend for longer songs to no apparent effect, end, and for seemingly no particular reason, would continue throughout Logic’s career to date.

The song “Growing Pains llI” is a foreshadowing of what would later become integrated into Logic’s recognizably unique vocal sound, as he would go on to incorporate this style into his tone and flows more often. This style can be best described as Kendrick-esque with similar cadence and a production tendency towards doubled phrases.

The album in general, as well as it’s same-titled single in specific, seems mainly focused around Logic’s emotionally tenuous grasp on his own artistic identity, his difficulty accepting the extraneous eccentricities of his creative process, and the struggles of his own come up over the years before his eventual commercial success. It’s that time in an artist’s career where they seem entirely preoccupied with self-loathing and angsty disdain of their own creative process as if it is completely broken and very obviously so.

This seems to send many Freshman artists down the first-year spiral of bitterness and spite towards themselves, their work, the way they do their work, and any success (and indeed any failure) from that work might garner in return. It’s a time markedly fueled by resentment, often evident in the songs that make it onto that Freshman album. Logic, rather than being an exception to this rule, seems to be the poster child for it. In tone and vocal delivery, Logic sounds almost like a whole different rapper from the mc that was laying down vocals for the Sinatra mixtape trilogies. However, the change in tone and cadence is definitely a positive one, having partially to do with better equipment I’m sure. The rest can be attributed most likely to the pressures a label puts on an artist to produce an album where at least the majority of the songs on it are made to suit the current trends in the genre. Logic likely needed to conform somewhat to the modern standard for flows, tone, and instrumental specifications.

Before this album, Logic would devote a vast majority of his mixtape tracks to beats of an entirely different era. Namely, there were ones with that overtly-90’s B-boy style rapping (complete with all the semi-cringey tonal inflections and tongue-flipping flows that this term denotes) and combined with the beat, the effect was what used to be known as a “confessional” type track.

The phrase “the truth will set you free” is never truer than concerning acts of self-expression, and making music tends to be precisely that, whether the artist likes it or not.

The question is, why did Logic continue to jump on these types of beats and to flow in such an unnecessarily outmoded style even after he was officially signed to a major record label? It almost seems like Logic used these confessional style beats and flows, perhaps in some subconscious attempt to elicit an actual confession from himself. The phrase “the truth will set you free” is never truer than concerning acts of self-expression, and making music tends to be precisely that, whether the artist likes it or not.

But Logic does a pretty good job of playing the role of a confident rapper in his first major release, not just in terms of its critical and commercial success, but in terms of seeming genuine in all the lines where he fronts about street life. Though, to be clear, it’s only a front because it’s not coming from an honest place of confidence, not because what he’s saying isn’t factual.

Logic devotes most of his other tracks to precisely what the label surely wanted from him, with trendy beats following current form to the proverbial “t.” Lyrics with catchy flows and lines which are full of the standard sort of self-repping small talk, mostly just flexes about dominating the game and how he is the greatest and how much he is killing it on every beat. But for all the places and moments where this could seem transparent, leaving the audience to just feel awkward for him, it surprisingly doesn’t. There’s no place I could really definitively call his bluff here, in terms of his exaggerated posturing (the requisite stance, it would seem, of all new rappers) he appears to be pulling it off.

I can tell it’s not really true for him, but I don’t know if he knows that. Perhaps he’s so convincing as a rapper twice his size because he doesn’t know how unlikely he is as a competitor in this space. It reminds me of one of those tiny dogs that are so vicious they convince giant dogs to back down, and it’s assumed the little dog doesn’t actually know how small he is because no one can imagine how anything could front that well if they knew how unlikely a challenger they are. Logic is kind of coming off that way to me in this album. His bark has successfully caused the other dogs to back down, but where did that confidence to be that way come from? Something about that facet of the whole thing seems pointedly false. But perhaps not disingenuous.

Between confident, bravado fueled victory lap tracks, Logic keeps returning to confessional lyricism and confessional beats, and the endurance of this tendency towards confessional tracks persists throughout all of Logic’s studio albums, including the most recent to-date, (though notably less in that album than any before it). On all of them, Logic seems to miss the mark of actual emotional confession. He more dances around the attempt at that, and at some point, he seems to do a sort of impression of what he knows confessional lyricism to sound like, having heard it countless times in some of his go-to songs for musical inspiration.

It’s not an issue for me, that he does this, as much as it is a point of curiosity. But as the journey down his discography continues on into the more recent albums, the picture starts to get a little more clear on this issue.

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