People Say Logic's Not Original – But What Does That Even Mean?
Detractors dismiss Logic as unoriginal; fans say he’s one of the most unique voices in rap. What is it about Logic that polarizes people? I try to find out by exploring his new album Supermarket and thinking about what originality even means.
Maryland rapper Logic broke onto the scene a decade ago, with a series of mixtapes culminating in his lyrical debut Under Pressure, an old school album that told stories of Logic’s youth and rise to fame. However, two or three years after breaking onto the scene as a promising new voice, Logic began receiving criticism for not having a unique enough voice. Over the years, it’s become almost a meme to accuse Logic of copying bigger and better artists instead of developing his own style. Critics like Anthony Fantano discussed the similarity of Logic’s flow to the delivery of big name rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J Cole. In Logic’s new single, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", he even acknowledges the criticism with lines like, “They always compare me to others/And trying to pit me against my brothers.”
Last month, Logic swerved in a different direction. He simultaneously released a 300-page psychological thriller called Supermarket, and an accompanying soundtrack, (confusingly, also called Supermarket) composed of thirteen indie rock songs.
Logic continues to face criticism for imitating other artists – but now, instead of being compared to Kendrick and J Cole, he’s getting compared to The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead. I understand where the criticisms come from. Logic’s polishing, droning singing voice instantaneously recalls Thom Yorke (it’s difficult to talk about the Supermarket soundtrack without mentioning Radiohead). The accompanying instrumentals take the broad strokes of Dave Matthews, Leon Bridges, and Radiohead’s styles, and combine them into something pleasantly messy yet bland.
And yet, in concept, Logic is one of the most unique rappers alive today, and he’s totally justified to brag that there’s no one else in the game who does what he does. In just under a decade, Logic has released, among other projects, a concept album set in space, a second concept album about a dying man reincarnated as every person in the world, and, now, a psychological thriller with an accompanying indie rock soundtrack. I very much doubt any other rapper has set out to write a darkly comic novel while simultaneously pivoting to 2000s alternative. The whole criticism of Logic as an unoriginal imitator is kind of a paradox – isn’t someone who channels artists as disparate as Lupe Fiasco, J Cole and the Dave Matthews Band bound to be doing something different?
But I wonder if what people really mean by originality is something more like personality. No matter how many times Logic attacks an ambitious concept or swerves wildly into a different lane, he often struggles to present a compelling and detailed portrait of what’s going on in his own head. He’s versatile, but he doesn’t use that versatility to express himself.
The artists Logic wants to be – Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Thom Yorke – need to change genres in order to communicate new ideas. To Pimp A Butterfly blends jazz and hip hop, not just because Kendrick’s curious to explore how jazz music works in a rap context, but because Kendrick needs dark, improvisational music to contain his racing meditations on religion, self-loathing and morality. The style of music grows naturally from the big concepts Kendrick wants to explore.
In contrast, Logic’s genre switch-up feels driven by his love for a certain era of indie music, not by the need to communicate big ideas. The desire to change it up – to do something different, to play with indie rock, to write a novel – comes first, the emotional content follows. When I listen to a song like "Can I Kick It" or "Vacation From Myself", I don’t think about how Logic uses acoustic instrumentation or droning vocal delivery to express his personality or grapple with big ideas. Instead, I think about how well the instrumentation and vocal delivery successfully imitate a certain era of indie rock. Instead of expressing himself, it feels like Logic is striving to recreate a vision that exists outside of himself. Supermarket’s not a coherent statement; it’s a well-curated vibe.
Logic’s albums aren’t built to communicate an entirely new story, scene or vision, they’re built to tap into vague, sweeping ideas people already share. Everybody invoked the kind of feel-good sentiments about hope and equality that seem similar to what Obama’s campaign tapped into in 2008 (Sample lyrics: “Everybody people, everybody bleed, everybody need something”). Even when Logic rapped about personal struggles, he tied each of his own experiences to a broadly positive message designed for everyone to relate to. Similarly, Supermarket taps into a shared cultural conception of what indie rock’s “supposed” to sound and feel like. Logic (very successfully) builds an atmosphere that will remind almost anyone of the 2000s alternative scene – Radiohead, Dirty Projectors, even the Dave Matthews Band – without providing the individuality, urgency and specificity of any of the artists he references.
Midway through writing this review, I felt poised to make a big statement about how Logic will not make a classic album until he can better channel his personality through his music. At the same moment, I also realized that’s not true. My reservations about Supermarket come from the same root as the pure, pulp enjoyment I get from one of my favorite Logic albums, The Incredible True Story.
The Incredible True Story told the story of astronauts fleeing Earth in search of a new home world. Over catchy, old-school beats, Logic fluidly re-creates the energy of an epic space adventure. The album feels like it could have been written by almost anyone with a passing knowledge of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, and… that’s kind of the point. A grand space rap opera doesn’t necessarily need to be personal, or particularly deep; having fun, rapping fast, and channelling the corny-but-epic aesthetic of Star Trek is more than enough. Logic’s strategy reminds me of the recent success of Stranger Things, a TV show that found success by repackaging our idea of what '80s genre fiction should look and feel like.
Maybe Logic will never make an album that’s as effective and personal as his debut, Under Pressure. And maybe that’s OK. Maybe we need someone in the rap game who taps into our love of genre fiction and space, instead of trying to become the next big hip hop personality. Someone who puts focus on what he loves rather than who he is. Maybe if Logic had devoted more time to Supermarket, he could have achieved this. I just hope I like his future efforts more than Supermarket.