No Pressure was my first experience of Logic. I had heard a lot about him as a socially conscious artist, willing to shine a light on topics hip hop often shies away from, but had never actually listened to him in operation. This record did reveal that character to me but framed it as one facet of an identity that shifts over the course of the songs on display; an identity that is complex and contradictory.
The world-weary, socially conscious hat is the one he wears most often on these tracks. ‘Hit My Line’ takes aim at “evil politicians” and other ne’er-do-wells in society, painting a grim picture of a world in “critical condition”. He protests that he “ain’t saying this my “Jesus Walks”’, but the comparison to the Kanye West tune is pretty on the nose. Like that song, this one draws on religious imagery in presenting a damned world in need of saving. It’s testament to the song’s quality that the comparison doesn’t look completely laughable.
On ‘Dark Place’ he turns his gaze inwards, tussling with more existential questions. He explores whether money and status make you happy, rejecting these material pursuits in place of “searching for purpose”. The ethereal female voices, layered over each other, that sit behind his words lend the song a haunted feel. He seems comfortable making the private public and offering his inner conflict to the listener.
Personal experience is the locus for his reflection through much of the album. Social and personal issues are explored through his engagement with them, with the focus often being how he has left destructive patterns of behaviour and thought behind. The record is imbued with the sense of looking back, but it isn’t nostalgic. He seems glad to have escaped, not happy to spend time in old memories. On ‘Man I Is’ he raps about learning to tie his own laces, the words providing a powerful image of necessary self-sufficiency. On ‘Open Mic/Acquarias III’ he adopts the character of someone at an open mic, reflecting on the life of violence, addiction and neglect that he has escaped. The song almost has the feel of therapy about it – like he’s working through his issues in song form, verbalising them so he can process and move on from them.
Some of the songs carry a sense of celebration that he has managed to shed his past and its baggage. The jazz trumped on ‘Man I Is’ morphs into a valedictory trumpet fanfare, like the arrival of a king is being announced. It is a powerful celebration of triumphing over adversity, of not succumbing to the easy temptations in those situations.
Elsewhere, however, the album’s celebratory mood rears its head in a different way. And this is where the other aspects of his identity really assert themselves. ‘5 Hooks’, a triumphant run through his rise, fall and rise as a rapper takes aim at the suits and industry machinations that took advantage of him and mismanaged him during his career, before celebrating where he is at now. But the early line of “I hit the stage and like a thousand bitches fainted” tees up a succession of self-aggrandising lyrics that aren’t as memorable or engaging as the other songs.
The same is true on the track ‘Celebration’. He seems more self-aware here, saying “What’s rap without a little braggadocio?”, but that self-awareness can’t save the lyrics, whose boasting ends up dulling its impact. Throughout the record he struggles between these different facets of his identity. Even where he is lending a more thoughtful, reflective eye to his reflections, the boisterous shit-talker is never far from the surface. This tussle between the different parts of himself is itself fascinating, the songs almost a document of the struggle between his id, ego and superego.
Musically, it’s a punchy, controlled effort – his first back with NO ID (something he celebrates on‘GP4’). The drums are spare and crisp, snapping and bouncing along. Elements of jazz, funk and gospel broaden the palate, building into maximalist excess on Celebration, and sparser areas elsewhere. His delivery, controlled to the point of virtuosity, is almost flawless; his voice virtually an instrument itself. Overall, there’s a lot to like. It’s not a perfect record, but it’s a captivating one.
Words by Will Collins