Status Ain't Hood

Meet Logic, Your New J. Cole

Last November, The Incredible True Story, the second official album from the Maryland rapper Logic, sold more than 100,000 copies in its first week and landed at #3 on the Billboard charts. If you hadn’t been paying any attention — and I absolutely hadn’t been paying attention — this was the sort of thing that takes you by surprise. A relative rap newcomer with no famous guests and no big co-signs comes through and sells a huge pile of albums, doing it without any big hits or any critical buzz. That’s a good thing! That should be happening! Logic built up a massive audience, and he did it the right way. He spent years cranking out mixtapes, toured relentlessly, and identified a chunk of the rap-buying populace that, for whatever reasons, wasn’t being served. He’s the sort of American-dream success story that we love to see in rap. He’s a high-school dropout who grew up in housing projects in the DC suburbs — an area that, as often as not, is more dangerous than the big city nearby. Both of his parents had serious addiction issues. And right now, he is well on the way to becoming one of rap’s brightest stars. All that is great. I’m happy for him. I’d be a whole lot happier for him if his music wasn’t so fucking boring.

Last Friday, Logic released his Bobby Tarantino mixtape, and, figuring that I should have some idea of who this kid is, I’ve spent the past few days with it. And I don’t get it. I just don’t. Wish I did. It’s not bad, exactly. Logic is a fluid and malleable rapper. He’s got a gift for twisty, high-speed Southern-rap flows, but he enunciates on every last syllable, making sure you know exactly what he’s saying. He co-produces his own beats with frequent collaborator 6ix, and those tracks, while not terribly distinct, are fizzy and immediate. Logic and 6ix aren’t scared of using Auto-Tune or sinister, gleaming synths; it’s not the music of the ’90s-rap fundamentalist I’d imagined. Lyrically, Logic is justifiably proud of all his success: “Since the first album, I’m one of the highest earners on the label / Within six months, I put the second one on they table / I’ve played sold-out shows in parts of the world I can’t pronounce / Released then tickets, watch them disappear when we announce.” And he makes a few commendable-if-clumsy attempts to address his status as a light-skinned mixed-race rapper, a guy often mistaken for white even if he grew up with no white-privilege advantages: “I just wanna make the world a better place / Fuck race and the shade in my face.”

But my lord, what a slog this Bobby Tarantino tape is. It’s barely half an hour long, and it feels like it’s three times that. This is a deliberately low-stakes release, an If You’re Reading This-style retail mixtape that’s being billed as something other than an album even if it costs money like an album. Logic’s full-on albums are considerably more ambitious. The Incredible True Story, for example, was a concept LP about refugees from an uninhabitable Earth searching space for a new home — though, in practice, that meant that there were skits in there to loosely organize all the ferociously pedestrian rap songs. There’s some light conceptualism at work on Bobby Tarantino, too; on “Wrist,” Logic attempts to place himself in the mind of an aging drug kingpin in the middle of a raid, while guest Pusha T imagines the life of an average street soldier. (Of course, every Pusha verse imagines the life of an average street solider, and this doesn’t stop Pusha from absolutely annihilating Logic.)

Mostly, though, this is half an hour of “this flow, this super flow, out of control”-type rappity-raps. And even though Logic tirelessly reps for mass-beloved weirdos like Quentin Tarantino and the Wu-Tang Clan, he never shows any trace of the outsized personalities that make those artists who they are. Here’s a typical Logic punchline: “I’m angrier than Kanye when he talking about clothes / That’s a fashion line.” He’s just a guy rapping. There is nothing more to him. His music is so bland and workmanlike and generic that I simply cannot imagine anyone getting excited about him. But people do. They absolutely do. Right now, Logic is on a massive co-headlining tour with fellow Perfectly Acceptable Rapper G-Eazy. Their two opening acts are YG and Yo Gotti, two actual great rappers with hits and intensity and personality, guys who carry themselves as rap stars, at least in the way I’ve long understood the term. I don’t know how G-Eazy and Logic ended up headlining over Yo Gotti and (especially) YG. It feels like an inversion of the natural order.

But that’s where a huge chunk of the rap-listening audience is right now. Consider the case of J. Cole, a perfectly competent rapper whose music sounds, at least to my ears, like Cheerios without milk, like a Dylan McDermott performance. J. Cole is fucking huge right now. His 2014 Forest Hills Drive album is platinum. He’s headlining festivals this summer. In this strange moment, he’s one of the biggest rap stars in the world. And his biggest hit is the one where he remembers being really nervous and excited to lose his virginity. That seems to be what a huge segment of the world wants from its rap stars right now: breezy, conversational, sturdy, average, vaguely emo songs about approachable-everyman concerns. That’s where things are headed. Over and over on Bobby Tarantino, Logic tells us to get ready for his new album, for all the doors it’ll blow open. He’s probably right. It’ll probably be an absolute fucking blockbuster. And I just don’t get it. I wish I did.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Schoolboy Q – “Tookie Knows II” (Feat. Traffic & TF)
More feverish cinderblock-to-the-face paranoia from the guy bringing erratic fury to the rap mainstream. I’ve never heard of Traffic or TF before, but both of them bring it here. Friday’s Blank Face LP release cannot come soon enough.

2. Thelonious Martin – “Bomaye” (Feat. Joey Purp)
The commanding urgency in Joey Purp’s voice is one of the greatest forces in music right now. I love how his voice always sounds like it’s about to crack but never quite does.

3. Jimmy Wopo – “Elm Street”
Funky, merciless ’90s G-rap piano riffs are among mankind’s greatest achievements, and this kid sounds hungry. (Shout out to David Drake’s Bout To Blow column for tipping me off to this song and the next one.)

4. O.T. Genasis – “Push It”
A year and a half after “Coco,” O.T. Genasis probably should’ve disappeared by now. Instead, he’s out here cranking out drug-dealing drug anthems that, given repetition, might turn out to be just as catchy as “Coco.” Good for him!

5. Childish Major – “Happy Birthday” (Feat. Isaiah Rashad & SZA)

This is just pretty rap music. Another Isaiah Rashad album would go down really, really well this summer.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO