This almost doesn't feel right... a 1-Listen review for an album?!
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 flourish into 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 this stuff 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 fans. 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; would I find a pair of socks or that cool new video game console? My initial thoughts as I'm listening; wrong or right, it's what pops into my head (#nofilter).
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 to it. 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 his debut. His command is really something. I hate to do comparisons - hell, if I'm breaking the review rules I might as well break the comparison one too - but "Soul Food" has a real Lupe feel to it; he's so sharp, yet so casual about it. This feels like two different tracks.The first half has a different vibe from the second and while I prefer the first half, its hard to complain. I'll need to give it a few more listens, but I have a feeling this song is a microcosm of the album. The first half feels a little bit more celebratory while the second half has an honest, darker aura. From what I have heard thus far and what I was expecting, it sounds like this album is going to be about Logic really opening up his world. I'm impressed. He really fused the two juxtaposed sounds/themes well here. All I want to do is listen to that first two minutes again, it could end up being Logic's best verse ever and some of the best rap of 2014. I'll need more listens, though.
3. "I'm Gone"
This is fresh! Logic has always had an 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. I think he's really grown and the result is an authentic feel, that still has a catchy, youthful energy. Very rich production; love that little "you" chop-thing. Remind me to find out who the female vocalist is here. Also, that 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 as big a fan of this one. 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 it isn't more upbeat. A meaningful yet grimy song - overall it is powerful.
5. "Buried Alive"
I know this record was already released, but I'm still really excited about it. 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 skeptical initially (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 track listing to one of my favorites...and quickly. Shit! This kid is absolutely killing this album! Nice double-time flow. I'm simultaneously typing and doing a turn-up dance. Once, with Migos, I wanted to stop writing my review because the music was so awful. With Logic, 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, Beyonce, and Jay. I can't say that Logic is destined for that kind of greatness (after one listen), 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 he 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 take it to a larger experience; a great formula. It tells me that 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 that makes me feel like I need to come back to it. 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 beats like this show just how talented he really is. Anytime I feel myself fading, wanting to check Twitter or football, 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 easy? Seriously though, this is not an easy beat to rap on--that jabbing drum beat conflicts with that mellow backdrop--but he blesses it with ease. The growth from Young Sinatra on this project is really impressive. Makes this well worth the wait. Not a skippable effort so far. I didn't want to say it too early, but 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 the first underwhelming track for me, though. 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 to me. I know Logic is the star, but 6ix is another young, emerging talent; he is really killing it on this album.
11. "Under Pressure"
Nooooooooooooo fucking way. He didn't flip this?!? Dope! I love how Logic can produce but doesn't feel the need to produce every song (although maybe he should); it makes his input behind the boards feel more powerful. This beat goes so hard but is so nuanced; he doesn't sacrifice the technical aspects of production for more emotion. Instead, he finds a way to balance both. Of course, Logic kills it on the mic too. Is it too early to call this one of the best albums of the year? Is it? Ok. I'll wait, but I'm already calling it now for the record. 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, not a song! 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 1-2 punch.
The second record I'm more 'meh' about. It's not that he can't execute this style, but when you have such incredible stuff this feels like a step back....and just as I type these words this beat turns into Dracula's alarm clock! Shit! Just in case you doubted that I was actually doing this in real time. He might have just won me over. I still think it's not the best approach for him (I much prefer those honest bars and rich instrumentals), but the man is so good at pure rapping it makes up for it. 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, but could that be because I've heard it before? I'll consider this 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.
I wish I could leave with some projections for where the album will eventually land in hip-hop history, but I can't. Not because the album isn't worthy of some serious discussion, I think it is and we will definitely have those conversations when the time comes, but because it wouldn't do this album justice. I can't tell you where it belongs in the best of the year discussion or how it will do in the first week of sales, but I can tell you with no doubts that I just listened to a whole album cover to cover (a rarity today) and all I want to do is go back and do it again.
This has the feel of a full, complete body of work, one embedded with nuances, themes and a larger, interwoven framework that nobody could digest in one listen. I can also tell you that 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 some of Logic's best work), bump in the car, take a run with "Under Pressure" bumpin'. And in a very real way, isn't that the best thing that could come from a first listen review? If I had heard the album in one sitting and felt like I already had a good idea of what it was all about, that'd be a powerful sign it's not really that good.
So now that the pressure is off, it's time for me to just enjoy this album and listen to it again, and again, and again...