By Ahmed F. Bubshait
It’s been 30 years since Def Jam Recordings’ inception at NYU’s Weinstein Hall and the label’s marvelous efficacy is more prominent than ever. Logic’s “Under Pressure” marks the fourth debut studio album release by a Def Jam artist this year, placing the Maryland native alongside the likes of YG, August Alsina, and Jhené Aiko.
The Maryland rapper garnered a large following on the Internet, over the past few years, with the release of his annual mix tapes, and Def Jam ultimately signed him in April of last year. Now, under No I.D.’s mentorship, the self-proclaimed Young Sinatra’s story officially begins.
The album’s cover art, a portrait painting of Logic and two friends in a dated basement surrounded by a Quentin Tarantino poster and a stereo, provides an insight into one of the album’s main themes: Logic’s relationship with Nikki. This character is introduced in the sixth track, “Bounce,” (“In the whip every day with Nikki she be riding with me”), and is further mentioned in two other tracks during moments of desperation. Logic hints about the character’s identity in the first line of track ten, fittingly titled “Nikki,” when he spits, “I can feel you in my lungs, feel you in my veins.” He then reveals her true identity, at the end of the first verse, admitting, “Lately I’ve been feeling like a slave for the nicotine.”
The calm and tranquility of Logic’s face in the artwork is a stark contrast to the album title scribbled on the top right corner — it is as if there is a fourth invisible character in the room: Nikki.
The absence of featured artists on the album — excluding Childish Gambino and Big Sean who are present in two bonus tracks — emphasizes Logic’s development as an emcee. Logic’s penchant for double-time rhyming is eminent throughout the project, especially on “Soul Food,” a track that exemplifies his lyrical prowess: “I swear this music in my genes like denim.”
On some tracks such as “Metropolis,” the stellar production forces Logic’s lyricism to take the backseat. The self-produced title track serves as the album’s highest point — the nine-minute denouement features Logic rapping from the perspective of different characters a la Kendrick Lamar on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst, as this track is sampled on “Metropolis.”
Like every hip-hop concept albums released after October 2012, “Under Pressure” is vulnerable to be compared to Lamar’s acclaimed “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Unfortunately, this highlights the occasionally detrimental presence of Thalia, a narrative voice that serves as homage to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” album.
“Under Pressure” is Logic’s most solid work to date. The album is a cohesive, streamlined refinement of Logic’s niche sound. The DMV artist does not attempt to push boundaries in his official debut, and he appears to be committed to discussing the same topics he covers in his mix tapes. For now, this is enough to place Logic among the most compelling up-and-coming figures in hip-hop.
Ahmed F. Bubshait is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com