Top 15 Albums at 15 | #1: Under Pressure
Dec 28, 2016 • Matthew Wang
~ 10 minute read • 1894 words
And, here’s the (almost) end of the series; after, I’ll do a runner-up list. It was fun while it lasted.
Album #1: Under Pressure by Logic
This, admittedly, is a strange one. I spent a very long time telling you why Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was the best rap album on this list. So then, why is this rap album #1 on my list? Well, a lot of it has to do with sentimental value (man, I hate saying that), and the issues that I’m willing to overlook in just how awesome this album is. So, let me tell you a story.
A Serious Review
Under Pressure is the first studio album from Maryland rapper Logic, released in 2014. Previous to Under Pressure, Logic has released 4 official mixtapes: Young, Broke, & Infamous, Young Sinatra, Young Sinatra: Undeniable, and Welcome to Forever. Throughout the release of his four projects, Logic had garnered a lot of hype through his fast flow and banger-esque lyrics and beats he’s chosen for his songs.
So, it makes sense that there was a lot of hype for Under Pressure, especially with the pseudo-commercial success of his mixtapes. But for me, I didn’t know about any of this hype. I was still in that super-cringy, EDM-loving craze of music, but I had just thought about other non-EDM genres (I talk about this when discovering Recovery and The Adventures of Bobby Ray). I also had, arbitrarily, a ridiculously long plane ride + trip to Japan, and I had the opportunity to bring some music. I gave Spotify’s recommendations a try, and offline-downloaded 5 albums. As you can guess, Under Pressure was one of the five (the others were deadmau5’s > album title goes here <, Watsky’s All You Can Do, Kanye West’s Yeezus, and Knife Party’s Abandon Ship, if you’re curious). It was my favorite album out of the five, and throughout the entire trip I jammed out to virtually every song.
Now, why this album? Well, I think that Logic does what Logic does best in this project. He’s able to spit mad flow, he tells great stories, and production is great. It’s everything you want in a good album. A personal favourite of how he’s demonstrated all of these skills is Nikki. For a bit of background, Logic was addicted to cigarettes for a long time; in Nikki, he paints a picture of just how addicted he was, using the metaphor of a girl named Nikki. I think he does a great job in this song; let’s look at some lyrics (from Genius):
Don’t get me wrong, can’t forget the times shared
Seem like everywhere I go, I always know you’re there
Tried to run but my legs won’t
I look away but my head don’t
I love it when you’re fresh
I love it when I take your top off and we share the same breath
I hate it that I need you, Nikki
But I love it when I feed you, Nikki
I hate that I bleed for you
Uh, I long and I need for you
But I love it when I taste you
Nothing can replace you
This song truly sounds like a love song, as if Logic is enamored in some girl called Nikki who he can’t spend time without. This entire song ends up being that extended metaphor: we see that Logic has a relationship with nicotine, that it’s not just “something he likes to do”. This kind of song does an absolutely amazing job of appealing to emotion. Normally, we think that smoking is bad, and we think that people that are addicted to smoking have a problem, must be stupid, that kind of thing (not my opinion, but I digress). In Nikki, Logic gives us the flip side: that nicotine addiction is serious, that he can’t stand not having his fix. It’s a perspective that people often never experience, but it’s very humanizing to understand why and how addiction happens. I think this is one of the best examples of Logic’s work, but there are other songs that do this kind of storytelling extremely well: namely, the titular Under Pressure, Gang Related, and Buried Alive.
Logic’s production is also top-notch: he often collaborates with producer No I.D., who’s a legend in the rap production game. In Under Pressure, I find that songs have great structure in terms of productions: plateaus and climaxes are masterfully done, and I love the transitions in between choruses and verses. Furthermore, production is clean, and beautiful. There are no garbled beats, no over-the-top samples or loops, no over or under balance in terms of harmony and melody. The entire album sounds, and feels, like a clean work of art. It’s almost atmospheric, but still conveys the message of what Logic’s rapping about. I think this is what production should aim to be: an amazing, high-quality complement to lyrics. Not ridiculously overbearing (I’m looking at you Denzel Curry), not distracting (I’m looking at you Pusha T), and not the entire point of the song (I’m looking at you Lil Uzi Vert).
Unfortunately, a lot of the rap community doesn’t feel the same way. Logic is often considered a “white rapper”, often categorized with G-Eazy. He’s branded as not being a real rapper, but the Drake-ish pop rapper that has recently become a fad. I feel like this is irrelevant as long as his songs are good. The other criticism he often receives is his lack of innovation: he often uses similar flow and lyrical styles to other big stars, notably Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole. I’m not here to refute those claims, because I think that they have some truth in them, but I don’t think it detracts from the quality of his music, but rather its place in a musical world. I don’t think that Under Pressure is an album that people are going to remember for a long time, and it definitely isn’t GOAT, but it is a good album.
Subjective and Sentimental
But obviously, I can’t just take an objective stance on this album in this review, since it’d be close to the bottom of the 15 off of that metric. There’s the subjective, sentimental aspect to me (oh no, Matt’s going on another life rant) that ties this album to the #1 position for me.
The most objective subjective thing I can say is that this album is very versatile, in contrast to something like To Pimp A Butterfly (that was some bad word vomit). I love TPAB, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the kind of album that I can play video games to, or chill out to, or do chores with. I need to sit down, put myself in an analytical mindset, and devote my full attention to listening to make TPAB an amazing album. And it is. But with Under Pressure, the different layers of how the album is constructed make it listenable almost anywhere. I can listen to this album on shuffle while I’m doing work (and I often do), I constantly play this album on stream, and the catchy hooks make it both an easy party album and a good sing-along with friends. The album content is also very versatile: you have bangers like Bounce and Now, you have calm relaxing songs like Metropolis and Soul Food, happy songs like Till The End and darker songs in Gang Related. There’s a place for this album anywhere, and I find that awesome. That makes me come back to this album again and again, no matter the situation.
There are also minor stylistic features that I do like about Under Pressure: I love good flow, I love the production aesthetic, and unlike most listeners, I did like the ATCQ-themed narrator Thalia. I feel like there was a lot of personality in this project, and the personality that I interpret form Logic is one that I want to be friends with. He seems like a cool guy, maybe not perfect, but willing to improve (and can rap super well). All of this makes me want to like this album, and over look a few of the flaws present.
Then, there’s also the actual personality of Logic. He’s a super stand-up guy, whether it’s on Reddit AMAs (1, 2), visiting fans, talking about video games, or just in interviews. Plus, remember when I said he was addicted to smoking in Nikki? Logic has quit smoking since Under Pressure, and is now almost 2 years clean, as an effort to protect his health and those he loves. He really does seem like someone I want to be friends with, and it’s a very similar persona that gets projected in Under Pressure.
A small side note, but Logic is also one of the only rappers I know who actively talks and plays video games, and is generally “nerdy”. Most of the rap community, at least looking in from the outside (me in Grade 7), seem like a bunch of gangster thugs who do drugs and women. Obviously, that’s not true, but little me had very little artists (or people in general) who were successful, nerdy, and played video games. For me, it’s a little bit inspiring to see someone go against the grain like that. Pretty awesome.
Also, Logic was one of the very first albums that I loved. Previously, I’d just make a playlist of random songs I liked from different albums, and mash that into one big listening experience (I still kinda do this). I’d never even think of listening to an album from front to back, except to find good songs to add to that one big mega playlist. With Under Pressure, I enjoyed listening to the album in the normal order, through every single songs. I enjoyed the journey Logic took me on, exploring his past, present, and possible future. I enjoyed the coherency of the album, but also the ability for me to listen to any one of the songs and have that same aesthetic play through in my head. This habit is what leads me to start appreciating albums as a work of art, rather than just a vehicle for an artist to drop a bunch of singles for a better price. Now, I listen to albums much, much more often: that’s how I’m able to properly appreciate most of TPAB, or jam out to Sound & Color, or to go on a feels trip on Doo-Wops & Hooligans. And for that, I am truly happy that I decided to download this album on Spotify.
I’m really happy that I did end up doing this blog series, as it’s given me more insight into why I like certain kinds of music. And for me, Under Pressure is the perfect example of what I like. It’s soul food.
Favourite Songs: Literally the entire album, or: Intro, Soul Food, I’m Gone, Gang Related, Buried Alive, Bounce, Growing Pains III, Never Enough, Metropolis, Nikki, Under Pressure, Till The End, Driving Ms Daisy, Now, Alright
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
Until next time!
This was: Top 15 Albums at 15 | #1: Under Pressure
Dec 28, 2016 • Matthew Wang
~ 10 minute read • 1894 words