In the red corner: Maryland rapper Logic’s recent release Under Pressure. The record is Logic’s major label debut, on Def Jam no less. Logic has spent much of his career thus far in relative obscurity, at least as far as mainstream hip-hop is concerned; Under Pressure is Logic’s first big chance to bring his music to the masses and show the music world where he thinks he belongs in today’s musical hierarchy.
The first time I heard about Under Pressure, it was mentioned in the same sentence as Kendrick Lamar’s landmark album good kid, m.A.A.d. city. If you’re unfamiliar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city was released in 2012 as Kendrick’s second album; it dealt with poverty, alcoholism, prostitution, and gang violence just to name a few, and it still managed to sell more than a million copies. The album followed Kendrick through a day in the life of his sixteen year-old self in Compton, California, as he falls in love, robs a house, quarrels with gang members, gets drunk at a party, and finally witnesses the death of his friend’s brother, all of which drive Kendrick to find god and break the vicious cycle that is his native Compton. The story is small and enormous at the same time; it’s the story of Kendrick’s life, but also the life of downtrodden people everywhere, the story of any person struggling to break out of the system they were born into. It’s a daunting story to be compared to, and one that I’ve heard Logic’s Under Pressure compared to multiple times now. (For my own part, I don’t usually think of comparing two different albums by different artists as a way to better understand either works. Without a doubt, comparing two pieces of art can be unfair to both the artists and listener, but I’ll do it anyway here.)
After listening to Under Pressure the first time, I could hear the similarities right away. Logic’s style on the album is very personal; on “Buried Alive”, he raps as if he’s talking to a therapist about his problems, and later talks about his complex relationship with a girl named Nikki on “Nikki”. There’s a skit on “Growing Pains III” where guys talk about gang-banging and are eventually interrupted by gunshots, á la the skit at the end of “Swimming Pools (Drank)” on good kid, m.A.A.d. City. Each album has an expansive song where the artist raps from the point of view of his album’s characters, then as himself; Logic’s nine-minute “Under Pressure” answers voicemails from his family (Kendrick’s album also featured voicemails) while Kendrick’s twelve-minute “Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst” searches the psyche of his now-brotherless friend, a dying prostitute, and then himself. Even the production on Under Pressure is sometimes reminiscent of Kendrick’s album; the drums on the intro to “Metropolis” are one extra hi-hat hit away from being the exact beat from the “Sing About Me” half of “Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst.” Beneath the overt similarities, however, are a few differences that create a huge break between the two; the technical similarities almost seem trivial in comparison.
For starters, the production on Under Pressure is not nearly as groundbreaking as GKMC’s was, specifically in the way Logic used his production as compared to Kendrick. The two-scene song structure that Kendrick used frequently on GKMC is also present on Logic’s record, but gets used to much less effect. When Logic changes up the beat he definitely gets darker and angrier, but little more is revealed about the man himself; when Kendrick changes up the beat, it’s like diving deeper into his soul, and his lyrics acknowledge and reflect the change-up. (If you’re comparing along with me, try Logic’s “Soul Food” versus Kendrick’s “The Art of Peer Pressure.”) The transitions were such a signature part of GKMC that Logic’s similar but less effective use of them almost seems out of place, as if Kendrick’s evil twin put them there.
If GKMC is about Kendrick and the human experience, Under Pressure is just about Logic. When Kendrick talks about robbing houses, he also talks about why he’s doing what he does and why his environment pushed him to do it. When Logic talks about selling crack to his dad, that’s it. There’s no description of his no-doubt difficult living environment, no explanation as for why he is even selling crack in the first place. When Kendrick talks about falling in love with Sherane, it’s both personal and impersonal, an intimate story and a vastly relatable one, a story that works for the poverty stricken and the disgustingly wealthy. When Logic espouses his love for Nikki and it’s similarities to a cigarette addiction, sure it’s a detailed, complex description of his and Nikki’s relationship, but the idea ends there. It’s analogy for its own sake; I’m trying to follow Logic to some deeper meaning but it’s not there. The promising façade leads little further than the lobby. Under Pressure is good kid, m.A.A.d. City if Kendrick’s album was just about Kendrick; GKMC is Under Pressure in three dimensions instead of two.
I hope I haven’t turned you completely off to Logic and his new album. I did actually like the album; it was an interesting interpretation of somewhat shallow autobiographical storytelling, and the record did break out of its implicit homage to Kendrick Lamar from time to time. It’s a decent rap album from a talented guy (did I mention the dude can rap?), but it’s just not good kid, m.A.A.d. City. In the end, I think Under Pressure’s failure to equal Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece is just a testament to the genius of Kendrick Lamar and less to the shortcomings of Logic. Maybe Logic should have waited to try his hand at high-concept; then again, maybe Kendrick’s high-concept is a little higher than everyone elses’. Logic was certainly asking for this comparison, as just one listen to both albums will tell you. But even after scoring this one as a loss for Logic, I’m still excited to see what he’ll do next after the ambition of Under Pressure.
Under Pressure was released October 21 by Def Jam/Visionary. It is available at iTunes and Amazon.
Hunter Johns is a junior writing about music for The Lightning Rod. His reviews are normally published on Tuesdays.