Note: For the past few weeks Lucas and I have been talking about Logic's new album, The Incredible True Story, in particular, the perception that Logic jacks or steals beats, flows, and concepts from other artists, and now that the album's dropped it's become a regular point of conversation between us. So we decided to try to translate that conversation into writing as best we could by taking turns writing. This is that conversation.
Nathan: A few weeks ago, when the trailer for Logic’s new album dropped, I was about to crack vertebrae head nodding to that beat and then you Bill Murrayed my shit by pointing out that “The Incredible True Story” uses a strikingly similar beat to Oddisee’s “Tangible Dream.”
Gut reaction? It left a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not just sampling from the same song, other people have sampled that song, that’s sampling the same part of the same obscure song in the same way, and it really got me thinking about the often blurry lines (pun intended) between copying and jacking, transformation and inspiration, and it definitely influenced how I listened to the whole album.
Since it all started with “The Incredible True Story” (the song) that seems like a good place to start this conversation too. You’ve had a chance to listen to the full version of Logic’s song a few times. How do you feel about its similarities to “Tangible Dream” now?
Lucas: At first when I heard it I was pretty mad. I LOVE Oddisee, he’s one of my favorite emcees and producers of all-time, and when I heard the similarities I got very defensive. For someone with no real connections to either artist, I took it way too personally.
Now that the dust has settled, now that I’ve heard the project in full, I’m not really that mad. Sure, it’s the same sample, but the song itself is different, right? Like the rest of the song isn’t the Oddisee beat. Logic took the Oddisee sample and then Drake-ified it, turning it into a trappy number. Oddisee’s beat relied so heavily on the choir sound and Logic’s version only really uses it at the end. Part of me wants to be up and arms about using the same sample in the exact same way, but part of me thinks, "How can I be mad he sampled a guy who sampled?"
I also believe that I just might be a little too close to this issue, I've been a Logic fan for years now. I need your outside opinion. Is my fandom in the way? Do you think it was a jack or simply the same sample?
Nathan: A beat’s almost never just a straight up copy of another beat (although it definitely happens), and a beat’s almost never completely original, it’s all about where you fall in between those two points. In this case, the bad taste in my mouth is because first the sample source is more obscure, and second because it’s sampled in exactly the same way. Cool, grab a sample from this obscure indie band too, but instead of grabbing that same vocal run, grab that little bass line riff that Oddisee hadn’t touched, grab that cymbal crash Oddisee hadn’t touched. Or better yet, find an obscure song from an obscure indie band no one has sampled yet.
The inherent challenge of sample producing is how you take the source music and transform it, change it in a way no one’s ever heard before, and this beat initially fails that challenge. Or to put in terms we can both could relate to, if you and another writer both write about Drake, you’re both just being obvious. Who isn't writing about Drake? But if you write about this obscure rapper with, say, under 1K Twitter followers, and then you see someone else write about that same obscure rapper, and their opening paragraph is essentially identical to yours, you’re not feeling some type of way? It may not literally be a crime, but in hip-hop (and hip-hop writing), being unoriginal is at the very least a misdemeanor, maybe even a felony depending on the circumstances.
As you pointed out though, the production on "The Incredible True Story" then morphs into something much more complex, so not that big of a deal, I’m hard pressed to call it a “jack.” It’s more like “not great” because I have to deduct points for unoriginality. I still find myself playing it at loud volumes, ultimately I just like both songs now. Hearing that though did make me more on alert as I listened to the album, it made me investigate a bit, and I saw people point out other examples. Case in point, take a listen to the beat for “Stainless” and Travis Scott’s “Backyard.”
Thoughts on that? [For the record, that YouTube stream of "Stainless" is slower than the album version because YouTube.] Again, they’re not identical, and the song they both sample from (Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover”) is far from obscure, but coming off the similarities between “Tangible Dreams” and “TITS” it’s starting to feel like a pattern. Or is paranoia setting in?
Lucas: First and foremost, can I just say that, as a 27-year-old man, I love that the abbreviation for logic’s album is “TITS”?
Now back to serious business.
It’s funny you should bring up “Distant Lover,” which just so happens to be the sample in a little song called "Spaceship" off a little album called College Dropout that you’ve heard me mention once or twice. I think we could use that as the barometer. “Spaceship” and “Backyard” come from the same sample but are flipped two completely different ways. Nobody would say, “Travis Scott jacked Kanye.” That’s what every artist should go for when re-sampling, right? Using the same source but turning it into something completely different. But Logic’s version? To me, it sounds almost identical to Travis Scott’s and even if it isn’t a carbon copy when you compare how different “Spaceship” and “Backyard” are despite their origin, “Stainless” falls woefully short of that standard. It’s a shame too because I really like what he did with the beat.
It’s interesting you talked about being “on alert." I completely agree. I would also add that once you are on alert, the artist begins to lose the benefit of the doubt; that gray area between inspiration and straight jackin’ becomes smaller and smaller with each example. Maybe we need a “3 strike” policy? For example, “Contact” kind of sounds like "Amazing,” “Paradise” has a very Outkasty vibe to it; is there a sample there? On his last album, “Metropolis” has similar drums to “Sing About Me” (they both sample Bill Wither's "Use Me"). I really do like Logic, and he's absolutely allowed to sample the same drums as someone else, but it gets harder and harder to let it roll when the examples start stacking up. Thoughts on those?
Also, I have to imagine Logic knows. Not only is he a hip-hop fan (thus painfully aware of the stigma that comes with jacking beats) but he has to have people telling him about these similarities, right?
Nathan: Much like Logic absolutely knows that the acronym for his album title is TITS, he absolutely knows that these beats sound similar. He’s a huge hip-hop fan, the people around him are hip-hop fans, if he didn’t literally hear Travis’ beat, for example, someone else along the line - a producer, a manager, a mixer, someone at the label - would have pointed it out. And in a lot of cases, we know it’s intentional. He’s straight up talked about getting the same drum sound from No I.D. for “Contact” that Kanye used on “Amazing.” Logic himself has spoken at length about how he feels about the lines between copying and influence, especially when it comes to “borrowing” flows and concepts, which is admittedly far hazier territory than using the same drums or sample as someone else. The source of the triple-flow goes back literally over a decade and has been used by too many people to count now. So who’s copying who? That becomes an almost impossible question to answer. That's just the way hip-hop works. The sample used for “TITS” though, he used the same sample in the same way as Oddisee. That's much more concrete.
I think the ultimate question we have to answer is...so what? Does it matter? I know a lot of people have pulled the “Why are people only hard on Logic about this, why aren’t they hard on Drake or J. Cole or etc.?” card. I can’t control “people” but I can control what we write, and we’ve written extensively about times Cole and Drake and so many others have “jacked” or “copied.” Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago we were all debating Drake’s use of a ghostwriter, which is far worse on the originality scale than anything we’ve talked about here? We were some of the first to just outright say that Drake “stole” DRAM’s vibe for “Cha Cha.” I just wrote about how uninspired Cole’s sample of Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation” was. Conversations and debates and scrutiny around originality are hardly exclusive to Logic, it’s something that’s been going on in art for centuries and specifically in hip-hop for decades.
It is true thought that his line of thought, this “Does he copy?” story line, has become the media’s storyline for Logic. Every artist gets their story line, and once it’s established it’s almost impossible to shake off. Drake is soft, J. Cole isn’t as good as Kendrick, whatever those storylines end up being they’re often unfairly cemented onto an artist, even if they don’t deserve them, or even if they later change and no longer deserve them.
So again, so what? Does any of this really matter?
Lucas: I think it matters depending on who you are. For me personally, it kind of matters. I still like Logic and wish him all the best, but as much as I wish it didn’t, this does kind of change how I view and listen to his work.
Does it matter to a doctor in some far off distant land trying to eradicate diseases? Will it be a talking point in the next presidential debate? Does my mom care? No. Is there a hip-hop purist out there who will be turned off by the “jacking” accusations (whether or not they are true)? Probably. Still, there will also a 16-year-old kid for whom this will be their first rap album, their gateway into the culture. Are they wrong for loving Logic? No. Much like everything music is subjective. If this kind of thing bothers you then it matters, if it doesn’t then it doesn't. I realize that’s a frustratingly vague answer, but I think it’s indicative of the frustrating vague rules around music if there can even be rules around music. Whether it’s Kendrick, Drake, Logic or Froggy Fresh, we can (and should) talk about the lines between inspiration and imitation, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide if and how much it matters.
Nathan: Your points are both clear and concise, you must have a hell of a mentor.
I agree. Ultimately, most people only care about the music, only a small few (including us) care about how that music is made, and I’m not judging those who don’t care. We all have our passions and complacencies. My wife’s a really good cook and it drives her crazy that I don’t care how the food I eat gets made. I don’t give a shit where this steak came from or how it was made, I just want to eat a delicious steak.
So while these conversations about the lines between jacking and inspiration are important, we need to always remember that these kinds of conversations aren’t the most important. The most important conversations revolve around how Logic is telling the story of his life, and how so many people see their story in his, how people are genuinely inspired to make their lives better by listening to his music. Ultimately, I think hip-hop is better with him in it, and I don’t want to lose sight of that truth in all this talk about using the same sample. But by the same token, I also want hip-hop to be as great as possible, and so I also want to push artists to be as great as they can be. (That means I have to be open to being pushed myself.)
I think we still haven’t heard Logic at his greatest, and the one thing all great artists have in common, in any musical genre, in any art form, is the ability to take what’s come before them and transform it into something that’s totally, completely theirs. What would Logic sound like if he was making music that was totally, completely his? I suspect it’d sound something like greatness. I’d love to hear that greatness.
"What would Logic sound like if he was making music that was totally, completely his? I suspect it’d sound something like greatness. I’d love to hear that greatness"
You're spittin' truths like you're under oath with a lisp. Amen.