Despite the stone-faced stereotype of stoic masculinity that has plagued hip-hop since its inception, there is almost no rapper who doesn’t have at least some fun finding rhymes and rhythms and clever puns to dazzle an audience. It’s pretty much the first incentive anyone has when they pick up that mic or pen to “bust some rhymes” — even the legion of Jay-Z-inspired ex-hustlers who insist they’re only in it for the cash (news flash: If you’re in it for the money only, consider pursuing some other craft that pays significantly better).
So, what happens when a rapper stops having fun rapping? Well, historically, we’ve gotten rushed, sloppy albums jam-packed with vindictive missives and rote, by-the-numbers obligation fillers from veterans who felt that they had too much to prove to “the haters” or corporate sales targets to meet; in the end, both result in the same thing: Albums that are slogs to get through, that feel more like homework than entertainment. However, maybe the worst is when a rapper feels overly committed to the message and not its delivery; instead of an enjoyable collection of art, such projects are usually overstuffed, ham-fisted lectures delivered by the worst sort of math or history teacher — the kind who think they’re cool, but really aren’t.
Fortunately for Logic, his latest effort, YSIV, could have — should have, by all rights — fallen into any of the above traps but doesn’t. For all its flaws, that’s its saving grace. Logic, bless him, never gives the sense that he isn’t having fun on this album, despite the fact that his previous effort, Everybody, really did get too bogged down in its own stilted concept to give him the room to stretch his lyrical muscles. I couldn’t blame him if he came out all fire and vengeance for this new release, intent on clapping back at critics and haters who collectively shrugged at what he thought would be his magnum opus. Instead, he strips away all the pretense and goes back to basics on YSIV. By getting back to rapping for the joy of rapping, he delivers his finest retail album yet, finally giving eager album listeners a dose of Mixtape Logic — the one “everybody” liked to begin with.
Of course, half the fun of rap is doing it for an audience and Logic, perhaps more than any other rapper, owes his station to his loyal fans, old and new. He pays them back to open the album as “Thank You” opens with the conclusion of the interlude sketches from his prior album and ends with dozens of voicemail shout-outs from fans all over the world. It’s telling and self-aware; he’s closing the door on his past and its overwrought concepts, but he’s not hiding from it or seeking to cover it up. He knows he’s grown, and he’s sharing that growth with his loyal supporters, which is with they f*ck with him in the first place, when you get down to brass tacks. They’re growing up with him.