Logic, Kendrick Lamar, and the Frustration of Derivative Artistry

Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

At first listen, Logic's major label debut album Under Pressure is brilliant. It's listenable. It's well-produced. He's a very, very gifted lyricist. He even managed to weave his album together with a voice over reminiscent of one of my favorite albums of all time, A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders. But while I listened to it it was very hard for me to separate it from the undertones that I could hear. He sounded a bit too much like Kendrick Lamar. His album had a few too many nods to Good Kid, m.A.A.d city in its composition and production. Then came the first of two songs that made me say, "get the f*ck out of here…"


The song "Metropolis" opens up the same way that Kendrick's "Sing About Me/Dying Of Thirst" (the link is only the first half "Sing About Me") opens up, with the drums from Bill Wither's "Use Me". On it's face, there is nothing even remotely odd about this. Those drums (and similarly the drum intro from Al Green's "I'm Glad You're Mine") have been sampled ad nauseum. Literally. You can probably have more difficulty finding producers who haven't used those drums than those who have. They are are a tale as old as hip-hop time these days in a genre built upon finding drum breaks to sample into the SP or the MPC. Hearing those drums on multiple songs on an album is a definite "nothing to see here" moment on hip-hop albums…in most cases. In this case, considering how we'd just heard a string of songs that could have easily been on Kendrick Lamar's Section 80 mixtape or even his next project, it seemed a bit too transparent. It's obvious that Logic is a fan of Kendrick Lamar. But there's a difference between being an influenced fan and aping an ethos.

The second GTFOH moment comes on the albums title track, "Under Pressure" a 9 minutess and 19 second song ("Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst" clocks in at 12:03) where Logic speaks about the his journey thus far musically - which is impressive - but the song switches gears into it's second half which again samples Bill Withers "Use Me" for its drums and also jazz guitarist Grant Green's "My One and Only Love". Grant Green was ALSO sampled on Kendrick Lamar's "Sing About Me…" song, though the sample was "Maybe Tomorrow". Logic employed similar storytelling verses to people in his life. The last half of "Under Pressure" is basically a mirror image of the first half of Kendrick's "Sing About Me…" which is easily one of the best written hip-hop songs I've ever heard. And I don't say that lightly. Point being, Logic HAD to have listened to that song then decided to make his own version. There's no law against this; artists pay homage to others all the time. But this didn't feel like an homage. It felt like he heard a good idea and remixed it to fit his life…for almost an entire album.

Man I love this album cover.
Man I love this album cover.

And that frustrated me greatly. Here's why: Logic is clearly a gifted artist. He produces much of his own output, something thats becoming more and more common nowadays and that is a trend I'm happy about. He's a very good rapper; his technical skills are better than many others. He's very good at storytelling. He's got a great ear for beats. He's got potential. And a lot of it. So why the hell did he release a diet version of what anybody listening - Logic, No I.D. (the executive producer) - would immediately feel like had too many shades of Kendrick? That's the frustration. When you listen to an artist that clearly has all of the talent in the world but uses it to re-invent the wheel as opposed to driving on squares. Sure you might not get far, but at least you're doing it your own way.

To be fair, Logic still had to create, write, and rap those lyrics. They're all his own ideas and they're good ones. The album is great. His life story and his ability to share it are remarkable and there aren't many other hip-hop artists who have done so in such a fluid manner. But I understand why I've heard so many people, from friends on up to legendary producer Pete Rock tell me they find it hard to rock with him. Of course his album is good, he stepped into the footsteps of another artist. It's a great album with an asterisk on it. Especially since I'm sure a significant number of Logic's fans listen to Kendrick. They're peers. They are both lyricists who the Internet has propped up and given a fair shot. They've both been very successful as well, though I think we will all agree that Kendrick's star far outshines most hip-hop artists today.

I remember the first time I heard a Logic record. His song "Til The End" (the album's outro) came on Shade45. The beat immediately caught my attention because its amazing. It's triumphant. It sounds like something Drake would rap over if he wasn't too busy making songs that aren't nearly as good as his features and calling them albums. But the way he rapped on it made me curious. He BODIED that record. I found his album on Spotify and was blown away. Partially because while I'd heard of him and saw his BET cypher, none of that moved me. But that one song got me interested. And I'm glad I'm aware now. I will sing the praises of Logic and his album because it really is good for all of the reasons we claim we love hip-hop.


It's even original…it just feels like its been influenced to the point of mimicry, which is a no-no. Or at least makes it hard to get the appreciation one might deserve. Lots of artists borrow lines (Jay), themes (see Notorious B.I.G. Ready To Die cover vs Nas Illmatic), and even skits (Little Brother borrowing the De La Soul WRMS radio skits for their albums). No idea is original. But how far out of the box you take the unoriginal idea is where you become an artist. Lots of people have painted trees, but putting your stamp on the tree painting game is how you make a name for yourself. And if you keep painting trees the way Bob Ross did, folks are going to lose interest. Talent with no direction is a shame. But talent being used almost identically to another artists who has influenced your work? That's frustrating for those of us who see you have the ability to go places we haven't been. Maybe its selfish for wanting more.

But the only way they'll sing about you forever is you create art thats different when under pressure. Hopefully Logic gets there.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.




I think I read maybe 3 paragraphs worth of the last post and that was a struggle. This one is just…can't even get by the first sentence.

I'm finding it harder and harder to shift out of serious mode into entertainment mode considering everything going on. I wonder if anyone else is having that problem. N*ggas either have other worldly blinders on or they've learned something about blocking out reality that I haven't yet.

That sounds like a shot but it isn't. I'm genuinely wondering how people plug into these things when there's so much chaos happening around them. All I can think about is the destruction our nation is heading towards. These music/entertaiment posts are so hard to connect to.