This almost doesn't feel right. A one-listen review for an album?!
I mean, for Gambino, a semi-surprise, low-key mixtape, a one-listen review was the perfect approach. But an album? One that I personally have been waiting a long time to hear? Oh hell no! Oh hell yes!
Being a DMV native and lover of hip-hop (regardless of geographic location), I have been following Logic's career with a close eye. Watching him become one of the most exciting, young emcees in the game has been a blast. Now, with his debut album, Under Pressure, finally (almost) here, I couldn't wait to dig in. I also couldn't wait to write about it! As impatient as you are to read reviews, I am just as impatient to write them. I want to talk about the music so bad, but I refuse to make broad sweeping generalizations about an album's classic/not-classic potential before I've really given the project a chance over the course of months. It's not fair to an artist who has spent so much time to deliver something special and it's not fair to you, the readers. So let's meet in the middle.
I know J. Cole thinks one listen reviews are "fucking up hip-hop," but what if we embrace that? First impressions count for something, right? You only listen to an album for the first time once. So with that in mind, I dug into Logic's Under Pressure like a kid ripping into that first present on Christmas. Did I find a pair of socks or that cool new video game console? Below are initial thoughts in real time.
Let's do the damn thing!
Damn. Logic can sing, too?! He sounds "grown." Not like "killin it" grown, but confident and ready. This is one hell of an intro. When that beat drops the record instantly has a really lively feel. It gets me excited for the album, much more than your typical intro. So far, I'm all in.
2. "Soul Food"
This does not sound like a debut. His command is really something. I hate to draw comparisons—hell, if I'm breaking the review rules I might as well also break the comparison ones—but "Soul Food" has a real Lupe feel to it; he's so sharp, yet so casual. This feels like two different tracks. The first half has a different vibe from the second and while I prefer the first half, it's hard to complain. I'll need to give it a few more listens—when I am allowed—but "Soul Food" feels like a microcosm of the album to come. The first half is more celebratory while the second half has an honest, darker aura. Logic is really opening up to the world. I'm impressed. He fused two juxtaposed sounds/themes well.
3. "I'm Gone"
This is fresh! Logic has always had the ability to make catchier music (see "Feel Good"), but for me, it was always a little too easy/bubblegummy. I want to see him take that next step and create a marketable, yet rich and authentic album. Very rich production; love that little "you" chop. Remind me to find out who the female vocalist is here. Also, Robot Lady knows what's up, great quote. So far so good, Logic.
4. "Gang Related"
I was expecting a harder song with a title like "Gang Related." (Maybe that is my own problem.) Not a big a fan. I was really into the pace and energy of the first three tracks, but this has a much different feel. Also, it's crazy to hear places you know from your hometown in rap songs. This must be what it's like to be from Brooklyn; too bad the record isn't more upbeat. A meaningful yet grimy song—powerful.
5. "Buried Alive"
I know this record was already released, but I'm still really excited about hearing it within the context of the album. This is the most compelling version of Logic; he has an incredible ability to relate to the listener and it comes through most when he muses on the rap game. He doesn't put on this larger than life front, it's just an honest, authentic effort and the result is an impactful, memorable track. Oh, and the production continues to impress. This album is shaping up nicely.
I was initially skeptical—the beat kind of bothers me—but when those drums come in, my Lawd. Oh my...1:18...it's official...Logic has passed the goosebump test. This went from one of my least favorite records on the tracklist to one of my favorites and quickly. Shit! This kid is absolutely killing. Nice double-time flow. I'm simultaneously typing and doing a turn-up dance. I want to stop writing so I can just listen but I have a civic duty. With great power comes great responsibility. Also, this one is produced by S1, who has worked with the likes of Kanye, B, and Jay. I can't say that Logic is destined for that kind of greatness—after one listen, at least—yet he sounds like he belongs atop beats made by, and for, the greatest of the great.
7. "Growing Pains III"
S1 told us there would be some skits; here is the first full skit. I love the way Logic transitions from the skit to the song—both in style and content—so it doesn't distract from the music. Start small and personal and make it into a bigger experience; a great formula. Logic is really focused on creating a story and framework more than just making a bunch of dope songs; that attention to detail is what will make this album a success. There is a lot to chew on here lyrically. What do I have to do to hear those unreleased songs that Robot Lady was talking about? A Chipotle gift card? Tickets to a Wizards game? You name it Logic; I'll meet you in Silver Spring when you're ready!
8. "Never Enough"
Mannnnn, stop playing with those horns. Again stellar production, but still, the album feels very Logic driven. For him to take control and command over these beats shows just how talented he really is. Anytime I feel myself fading, wanting to check Twitter or football scores, he does something to keep me focused; this time it was the hook. Anytime anyone references OutKast, I'm sold.
How does Logic spit so fast on such a laid-back beat and make it work? I guess because he makes it sound so effortless? Seriously, though, this is not an easy beat to rap on—that jabbing drum beat conflicts with that mellow backdrop. The growth from Young Sinatra on this album is really impressive. Makes this well worth the wait. Not a skippable effort so far. After nine tracks I can say with full confidence this is a complete body of work.
Excited for this one. Every great album needs a ballad (see "Loyal") and I know he's mentioned Nikki (nicotine) a few times. This is underwhelming. Granted, it's slower, but it doesn't have that same spark as the other tracks. It's not bad, it's just not as outstanding as the rest of the album. The production stands out. I know Logic is the star, but 6ix is another young, emerging talent; he is really crushing behind the boards.
11. "Under Pressure"
Nooooooooooooo fucking way. He didn't flip this?!? I love how Logic can produce but doesn't feel the need to produce every song; it makes his input behind the boards feel more powerful. This beat goes so hard but is also so nuanced; he doesn't sacrifice the technical aspects of production for more emotion. Instead, he finds a way to balance both. Is it too early to call this one of the best albums of the year? Is it? Ok. I'll wait. The way the record ebbs and flows without losing momentum is amazing and it's because Logic is so surgical with his words and paces the song perfectly. It makes me think this one will stand out when it's all said and done. Woah, what?! This is a nine-minute track!?
Ok, let's keep going...
Again, flawless transition. The beat totally changes but the way he does it makes the records natural and easy to follow; he doesn't miss a beat so we don't either. I'm about five minutes in and really excited to hear how this track plays out; what was the last nine-minute song from a rapper? A bold endeavor but I'd like to encourage boldness. This whole song feels like a mini-album! I had forgotten where we started until that throwback to the beginning. This is like a TV episode. Very, very impressed. I mean, he produced this shit too! It can't be easy to make a meaningful, cohesive nine-minute rap song, but he is responsible for the whole thing. This isn't my favorite song, but it's far and away the most impressive.
12. "Til The End"
Ahhhh this beat! Not sure where this album will be when the dust settles, but I have enough faith in my ears to say that, in terms of production and arrangement, it's standing alone. I don't care about too early anymore, I'm just saying it. Got an audible laugh with that "Been Hungry Budapest" line. Man, when Logic raps, you feel it. This dude has a great ability to cut through all the bullshit and hit you right in the soul parts. How can you not root for him? I feel rejuvenated.
13. "Driving Ms. Daisy"
I had heard this one before, so my initial reaction is kind of tainted, but I still dig it. In fact, I think I like it more as part of the album instead of a stand-alone track. Also, I really love how well Gambino and Logic blend; they are a nice one-two punch.
Meh. It's not that Logic can't execute this style, but this feels like a step back....and just as I typed those words the beat turned into Dracula's alarm clock! Just in case you doubted that I was actually writing this in real time. He might have just won me over. I still believe this isn't the best approach for him—I much prefer those honest bars and rich instrumentals—but the man is so good at purely rapping it doesn't matter. Even when I'm not as enthused, he still has me hanging on every bar.
This song's been out for a hot minute so I have already heard it, repeatedly, but I also haven't heard it in a while. Big Sean is the go-to labelmate guest feature, but his participation doesn't really add much. Honestly, it doesn't evoke the same emotion as these other stellar songs. Could that be because I've heard it before? I'll consider this track separate from the whole album since it's a deluxe cut. In fact, these last three all have an asterisk. "Til The End" is the better place to end the album, but the more Logic the better right?
Under Pressure (first listen) closing thoughts:
Phew! Let me take a deep breath (and stretch).
I can't tell you where Under Pressure belongs in the best of the year discussion or how it will perform in its first week, but I can tell you without a doubt that I just listened to a whole album, cover to cover, and all I want to do is go back and do it again.
Under Pressure is a full, complete body of work, one embedded with nuance, themes and a larger, interwoven framework that nobody could digest in one listen. I am very excited to go back and sit with it, chew on it, replay that first two minutes of "Soul Food" a thousand times—it might be Logic's best work to date—bump it in the car, etc.
And in a very real way, isn't that the best thing that could come from a one-listen review?
So now that the pressure is off, it's time for me to just enjoy this album and listen to it again, and again.