It’s no secret that Logic can rap his ass off.
However, while he’s become of hip-hop’s premiere lyrical technicians, one thing that has eluded the Maryland rapper (born Sir Robert Bryson Hall II) since his prodigious rise from grassroots champion to nationally recognized mainstream rap star is the certain level of respect afforded to many of his contemporaries. In a genre where sincerity and honesty are considered attributes of paramount importance, Logic’s earnestness has instead worked against him. Where rappers like Drake, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Jay-Z are praised for laying their inner demons bare, Logic has seemingly never been afforded the same plaudits by any but his most ardent supporters.
Recently, however, Logic’s luck has begun to change. With his fourth studio album, Young Sinatra IV, releasing later this week (September 28), the outlook on his musical reception stands to evolve. A recent run of highly-praised singles and moving televised performances, along with Logic’s appearance in an insightful documentary have helped revamp his image into a verifiable hip-hop star. Now, on the verge of his most crucial release yet, the perception of Logic’s sincerity may finally mirror the perspective of longtime supporters who have always sympathized with his message of positivity and intriguing rags-to-riches coming of age story.
Logic’s earnestness has certainly contributed to his sizable following, informing the series of mixtapes that eventually secured him a contract with Def Jam, while the resulting major label releases — 2014’s Under Pressure and 2015’s The Incredible True Story — were well-received commercially. But his work garnered mixed critical responses, with some dismissing his rapping as surface level, or dubbing it an awkward mimicry of more successful rappers such as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar.
And though each of his prior albums went gold, Logic was far from being a household name — that is, until the release of his third album under Def Jam, Everybody, which defied expectations by debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in its first week. Like its predecessors, the album initially received a lukewarm response from critics — including myself — upon its release, but unlike Logic’s prior works, it proved to have longer legs than anyone other than Logic’s most fervent fanatics could have expected. And even they would have to admit they couldn’t foresee the catalyst in the high-concept album’s rise to prominence months after its initial release.
Though Everybody‘s reach seemed to exceeded its grasp in executing Logic’s ambitious, philosophy-influenced vision, the record’s high watermark, an anti-suicide diatribe, “1-800-273-8255” — named for the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — became the flashpoint for his artistic renaissance when he and guest stars Alessia Cara and Khalid gave a rousing performance of the song at the 2017 MTV VMAs, flanked on all sides by survivors of suicide attempts and family members of suicide victims. Though the song’s guests undoubtedly helped bridge the gap between then 28-year-old Logic and the young fans his message targeted, after the performance, the song itself breached the mainstream in a way it had formerly been unable to do.
The operators of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported that after the performance, calls surged by over 50%, with visits to the website increasing from 300,000 to 400,000 over the following months. When the trio took to the Grammys stage early this year, only a few months after the VMAs, traffic again increased in the wake of Logic’s heartfelt exhortation to the young members of the audience.
It seemed that the teens and young adults moved by Logic’s message were unfazed by the cynicism of jaded music critics who rejected the (arguably) stilted form over the sincere feeling of Logic’s message. For them, he said what they needed, right when it seemed many of them needed it. For instance, in speaking to longtime Logic fan Casey A. about his love for the Maryland rap star, he told me the Grammys performance was impactful due to its platform on one of the most watched and youth-focused awards shows on television. “The Grammys performance was unbelievable and helped so many people across the country on the biggest stage,” he explained.
Around the same time as the Grammys performance, Netflix released its Rapture docuseries, which not only featured Logic but kicked off the entire first season with an episode structured around the rising, increasingly influential star. It follows him as he records, performs, and openly discusses his own battles with anxiety and depression. The episode’s primary conversation is a candid, much-needed discussion of mental health as it relates to the hip-hop generation, who have been raised with a host of negative messages pertaining to self-image, masculinity, and projecting a stereotypical image of stoic, untouchable, hardness.
Logic’s candor cuts through many of those perceived requirements for a successful rap artist. “Ever since I was young this was all I ever wanted,” he admits in one scene. “My household was filled with violence. Rap is my way to vent and let other people know I’ve been there.” Casey sees the importance of Logic’s sincerity because he thinks the emotion and perspective are genuine. “You can tell that is what he genuinely believes,” Casey said. “Not what is forced upon him to promote. From what I can see and have seen in the past, he is a very down to earth guy who enjoys making music and being around other people.”
This is the counterbalance to the criticism the rapper has faced in the past about the sometimes clunky nature of his rhetoric. Logic’s critics tend to focus on his often mechanical, overly-methodical approach to inclusion, as well as his focus on rote solutions to complex problems. He wields the phrase “regardless of race, religion, color, creed, and sexual orientation” like a mantra, but in the end, solidarity only goes so far, and rarely does he offer workable solutions to the issues of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and hatred, with his answer seemingly boiling down to preaching “equality.”
We’re all created equally, yes, but our social systems and power structures are designed to grant advantage to some of us at the detriment of others. That won’t change with a chorus of “Kumbaya,” but it’s music. It doesn’t have to save the world; Logic shares personal anecdotes in Rapture of fans approaching him at shows to tell him his music saved them. When they’re at their lowest, just hearing his oft-repeated refrain of “peace, love, and positivity” is enough to scoop them out of that sinking depression, even if is a clunky phrase.
Another mark against him is that he doesn’t acknowledge how his own privilege as a white-passing artist may play into his views and his success. Brandon N., an older Logic fan, explains that it sometimes irks him as a listener, saying, “I grow tired of him constantly reminding us he’s biracial.” It seems as though he does this to insulate himself from accusations of privilege, insisting that his features held him back on songs like “Take It Back”: “Everybody wanna tell me what I am, what I am not / ‘You ain’t black, you a mothaf*ckin’ white boy / Shut ya mouth, do it right boy, a’ight boy? / Man, why you such a hype boy?'”
This flies in the face of what we know: Some of rap’s biggest and most influential artists have been white, from Beastie Boys and Vanilla Ice to Eminem and Post Malone, with Eminem directly attributing his success to his whiteness: “If I was Black, I would have sold half,” he barks on “White America.” While Logic’s personal experience is valid, his critics would rather have him recognize his privilege and use it to speak beyond passive appeals to wishy-washy equality and actual examination of the ways power structures enforce inequality. He’s clearly smart enough to grasp those tangled ideas and talented enough to translate them for his base — but maybe that misses the point of what he wants to do with his art.
The thing is, for Logic, his mantra of “believe in yourself and love everybody,” is what buoyed him in his own troubled waters; the thing he always most wanted was acceptance, so it makes sense that this is his big takeaway, and also why his message resonates with young people more than ever — sometimes, all they want is to feel accepted and understood. Brandon N. notes that Logic’s positive energy is also a great foil for some other newcomers to hip-hop whose messages may speak to more self-destructive proclivities. “For impressionable teenagers and young adults, having Logic around to potentially impart or transfer positive energy into them is honestly a great thing,” he said. “For every [Tekashi] 6ix9ine that kids are listening to, it’s great that they have a Logic to provide something different on the total opposite end of the spectrum.” The same applies to the broader culture surrounding hip-hop as well, as bad news and discord seem to encroach further and further into every corner of our increasingly connected lives, from the news to our entertainment.
For a young person in the modern age of 24/7 digital immersion, it can feel like the world is ending every day — even more so than it did for teens of prior generations. While all of us can probably acutely recall the keenness with which we felt every emotion and disaster, for the post-millennial generation, this effect is undoubtedly exacerbated by a near-constant bombardment of horrifying news and crippling self-doubt beamed directly to their handheld devices as adults frantically work to figure out how to keep them addicted to social media and monetize that addiction. If adults can feel that jaded, imagine how the youth feel, knowing more about how disastrous the world can seem than we ever did at their age.
That’s why Logic’s sincerity, which can read as goofy, corny, or try-hard to his detractors, can also feel like a life raft in a storm of anxiety for his young fans. So what if he sometimes falls short of lyrical or conceptual perfection? The words translate just fine. They tell his listeners, “Yes, things suck, but they don’t have to. They won’t always. Things get better. You can do anything. You can go anywhere. You can make it. You are worthy. You are enough.” Sometimes, just hearing that is what’s enough.
Music isn’t just about technical mastery, it’s about feeling, it’s about emotion, and it’s about sharing a truth with the world. Logic’s truth is the one many young listeners feel like they need right now, it’s the one they relate to, and it’s the one they like. Who am I — or any critic, for that matter — to tell them they’re wrong? Logic deserves a better rap than we’ve given him, if for no other reason than he tries, which seems to be the thing his young fans need most right now. As he prepares for YSIV, due in just a few short days, at least some of his critics are likely to start coming around on his importance. As usual, the youth just have a head start.
Young Sinatra IV is out September 28.