Many have come to the conclusion that this has been a down year for rap releases. A$AP Yams even went as far as to call 2014, "probably the worst year of rap music ever."
Still, with pretty solid releases from vets like Rick Ross, Jeezy, T.I. and Wiz Khalifa to rookies like YG, Kid Ink and Schoolboy Q to underground favorites like Ab-Soul and Freddie Gibbs, 2014 has certainly had its share of notable albums.
Now, an artist that many people probably didn't expect has just thrown his mic in the ring for album of the year.
"I just wanna make these music lovers remember again."
These are the first words we hear from Logic on his debut album, Under Pressure, out this week. It's a fitting opening too. Throughout the rest of the 12-track disc, not only not only does it become apparent that the Maryland native has been deeply influenced by Golden Age artists (Nas, A Tribe Called Quest) and their new millennium ilk (Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole), but we see that the concept of remembering is a crucial one for the 24-year-old.
Raised in a broken home, with a drug-addicted father, abusive mother and drug-dealing siblings, the newbie defied his circumstances and survived to tell his story. On his Def Jam/Visionary Music Group major label debut, which comes after four yearly mixtapes beginning in 2010, Logic uses his intently-crafted rhymes to reflect on that reality.
On "Gang Related," he raps from multiple perspectives to examine the drugs and violence that surrounded him growing up: First, as his younger self, and then on the second verse as his older brother, entrenched in the street life. It's not an altogether new approach to writing raps -- and there are other moments on the album clearly derivative of his influences -- but he's able to employ it in a way that makes it feel genuine to his own story.
"Growing Pains III" is a similar contemplation of the MC's past, where he recalls daydreaming about being part of a picture-perfect T.V. family, even though his reality was far different. "Food stamps, social services tryna take me away/ My mama locked up, I pray to god that I see her today/ Maybe not, maybe so," he raps.
The title track, meanwhile, is a deeply personal examination of his family, his relationships with them, and how his budding career impacts those relationships.
But it's not all dark family issues that color the album.
Logic takes a creative approach to his cigarette addition on "Nikki," personifying nicotine: "Man, you’re everything I crave/ You’re the only thing I let in that would put me in the grave," he raps right before the big reveal of exactly who "Nikki" is -- something he's teased fans about leading up to the album.
Things end on a triumphant note with the bouncy, uber-confident "Till The End." "Okay, last verse I gotta make it count/ Won't speak on my bank account/ So many commas I'd have to pause and I can't afford to just waste the bars/ Every day boy I thank the Lord, I got a lot of problems but could have more."
No matter the subject he's attacking -- from his upbringing to why he's next up -- Logic does it with a lyrical ferocity and precision that made Lupe Fiasco call him one of the best lyricists out.
One of the issues that young artists run into these days -- and particularly ones who have forged a groundswell of die-hard fans through the release of lyrically-inclined online mixtapes -- is the inability to meet expectations when it comes time for the ever-hyped major label debut. It's a moment they (and fans) have been dreaming of for years, but matching the excitement of the mixtapes often proves to be an elusive endeavor.
Thankfully, this is not the case with Logic and Under Pressure. Instead, he delivered a raw-yet-developed display of honest storytelling and sharp lyricism.
All that pressure may have created a diamond, after all.