Review Summary: In defense of the genre.
As a quick disclaimer to start this review, Under Pressure
is actually a pretty good album, provided the name Kendrick Lamar means nothing to you – or rather, provided hip-hop means nothing to you. On his mixtapes, Logic pigeonholed himself as a sort of one-trick pony, who, despite being an affable personality and a talented songmaker armed with serviceable wordplay and nimble flows, was forever entrenched in the laborious routine of writing the same song over and over again. With the same structure to each track and the same one dimension of lyricism consisting of (and this is a complete list) his skin tone, his parents’ troubles with addiction, and how his work ethic would help him overcome his troubled past and inspire the world, the hope was that Logic could find a new way to tell his story for his major label debut. But though he found a way to make that story less tedious, Under Pressure
is just so remarkably disrespectful to the canon of hip-hop that he really just made everything worse. And as the album unfurls itself and Logic exposes himself as a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, and a Stan, we learn that despite what his team’s moniker may imply (Rattpack stands for the somewhat ironic ‘real all the time’), the greatest trick Logic ever pulled was convincing the world that he was real.
Establishing himself swiftly and firmly as a follower, more fan than rapper, Logic from the album’s outset systematically name drops his favorite artists and brands their influence onto his sleeve, hoping to ‘benignly’ retread their successes as his own. In today’s climate of rap, where a dearth of originality plagues hordes of artists, Logic’s recipe isn’t inherently flawed, but the trouble comes when he so blatantly violates the most fundamental tenet of the hip hop paradigm: no biting. In both idea and execution, Under Pressure
serves as Logic’s iteration of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid Maad City
, an introduction to Logic by means of anecdote and empathy, but Under Pressure
seems so enamored with Kendrick’s 2012 classic that it replicates the album as best and as often as it can. “I’m Gone” and “Never Enough,” with their acrobatic flows, harmonied vocal layers and ad-libs, and melodious pre-hooks/hooks, are perfect Kendrick imitations from top to bottom. “Metropolis” summons the drums from Kendrick’s “Sing About Me,” and the constant references to Nikki (not the girl from Young Sinatra: Welcome to Forever
’s “Feel Good,” as some may have guessed) are curiously reminiscent of Sherane. And how about that “Growing Pains III” skit?
Maybe we can write this all off as the product of overwhelming influence (as the rest of this review has tacitly done in regards to the effusive J. Cole and Drake influence) and maybe we can even forgive the Midnight Marauders Tour Guide who peppers the album with random tidbits about the album’s creation, but the transgression becomes abundantly clear on the second half of the album’s title track. Not only do those “Sing About Me” drums reprise, but Logic literally steals “Sing About Me”’s premise as well, writing a pair of verses from different perspectives to represent individuals who are speaking to Logic, and corresponding via a final verse from Logic’s perspective responding to them (for those that don’t know/remember, replace every instance of Logic in the above sentence with Kendrick and you’ll have “Sing About Me”). It’s not a verbatim copy of Kendrick’s work, but it’s every bit the stylistic counterfeit, and while it, along with the other mentions above, could be seen as imitations done in reverence had they been released on a free mixtape, their use on an album is no doubt a calculated effort to profit off of the ideas and work of another who did it first, in an attempt to capitalize on the ignorance of those listeners who may not know better – that’s biting, and we’ve never stood for it in hip-hop. Outside of these disgusting faults, Logic’s album isn’t a bad effort at all, with few truly dull moments and good production and rapping from front to back, but in its unabashed plagiarism, Under Pressure
desecrates our beautiful hip hop, and I’ll be damned if I abide that.