Over the phone from Southern California, Logic, the 27-year-old MC who's released two Gold albums for Def Jam without a radio hit to speak of, reads a list of topics discussed on his third, Everybody: "mental health, domestic violence, mass shootings, drug abuse, racism, indigenous peoples, anxiety, depression, suicide, happiness, money, education, upper and middle and lower class, fear, hate, acceptance, fame, religion, childhood, individuality, peace, love and positivity."
Naturally, the album is a hefty, dense, immersive listening experience, a 70-minute concept opus told through different characters, featuring famous assists (Killer Mike, Alessia Cara, Black Thought, Chuck D, an unbilled appearance by J. Cole) and tied together with a surreal skits starring famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson playing the role of God.
Logic, born Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, is an unusual major label rap star by any standard. Raised in poverty in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Logic is a proudly nerdy biracial kid whose signature stage flourish is solving a Rubik's Cube while rapping. His first two albums, 2014's Under Pressure and 2015's The Incredible True Story, each went Gold. Everybody, released on Friday, is likely to become his first Number One.
Rolling Stone talked to Logic about his heady album and his unlikely rise.
Did you go into Everybody with a concept or did it happen organically?
It just happened as I went. I didn't go into the album and say, This is what I was going to do with, for example, my own race. I didn't wanna make this album. I was scared to make this album, period. I looked at where we are in the world and realized that millions of people listen to my voice, and I do have a voice. When I released the first song which discusses my race ["Everybody"], a lot of people were like "Oh, he's pushing the whole biracial thing, he's pushing the whole biracial thing." Nobody would tell Q-Tip or Mos Def or Black Thought that they're pushing the whole black thing. This is who I am. And the crazy thing is in my entire professional career, on my albums, I have never touched that, and I've been scared to. So honestly, I had written the script for the album, and I knew I wanted it to be from other people's perspectives. But how could I write about other people's fears if I didn't have the courage to first address my own?
So you scripted the dialogue for the interludes before you made the songs?
Yeah. I did have "Everybody" first, and I also did have "Hallelujah." But at the time those ... weren't even the full songs. It wasn't until I realized I was gonna move forward with the script, and then especially once I was able to get Neil deGrasse Tyson to voice God, I knew how impactful it would be. That's when I began to write the script. And as I wrote the script, that's when I truly found inspiration for what I wanted the subject matter of all the songs to be.
Religion is one of the main themes on the album. Some of it's overtly Biblical, some of it is irreverent like the Neil deGrasse Tyson guest spot. Did the gospel elements on the album come from any kind of personal church background or was it more of a musical choice?
I think for me, that was just sonics. Gospel music's beautiful music, y'know, choirs and soul and all that. And that's a part of my childhood, a hundred percent, but it didn't come from that place. "Confess" is rapped from the perspective of a man who's broken into a church at night. So that's why it has that Chicago house four-on-the-floor gospel vibe with it, to drive the concept sonically as well. I guess the best way I'd refer to it is as a sci-fi take on religion. It's not about religion, it's not about race. It's about people, it's about humanity and society.
I remember, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement – not that it's dwindled any, it's still a very serious thing – but there were people on Twitter who were like, "Why aren't you hashtagging Black Lives Matter, what are you not black or something, you're not black enough?" They're makin' me feel like shit, and I'm the kind of person who's like, "No, I'm just not gonna start tweeting about things I'm not necessarily educated on." And I don't mean Black Lives Matter, what I'm talking about are the deaths and shootings, there are so many shootings, I can't even keep up anymore. And when people were attacking me, I was like, y'know what? Fuck that! I'm not gonna tweet this shit, I'm gonna go make an album about it.
I just thought it was really funny, because for me, it's not about what I believe in. Am I religious? No. Do I believe in God or in energy? Yeah, sure, whatever, that's my personal belief, but I'm not here to push that on anybody else. That's why I got an atheist to play God, you know what I mean? If [deGrasse Tyson] doesn't believe in God, why would he play the role of God? Because it's not about religion, it's about helping others, and it's about just getting them to just open their mind, and that's it.
"As I continue to stay who I was – a Rubik's-Cube-solving, video-game-playing, married, puppy-lovin' motherfucker who can rap well – I've found peace." – Logic
You are still pretty young, but there's a bit at the end of the album where a character refers to your fourth album as "his final one." Is that a joke or did you really announce that you're only making one more album?
It's definitely not a joke, but it's also something I don't wanna talk about yet. That's something that I'll just let stay out there for a while, and I'll address that when I'm ready.
You made interesting choices with the guest spots on this album. You had Killer Mike doing kind of an inspirational monologue on "Confess" instead of a rap verse. Did that idea come from you or him?
I had that idea for Killer Mike, because I knew, people would expect a verse, but in my mind I was like, 'Nah, fuck that, I'm gonna give them something better than a verse.' I had this whole idea, I explained the song, I explained the point of view, this specific man of color, who feels run down and at his wit's end, I just told him. He literally walked in the fuckin' booth, in my house, said all that shit, and walked out. That was it, one take, one and done, I couldn't believe it. He was like, "You wan't anything else?" "No." And the funny part about that is, you actually can hear him in the very beginning of the song, because my engineer mistakenly started recording at the beginning of the track, and I had to cut him off and say "No, no, no, it's at the end." It was my idea and he executed it flawlessly.
Very few rappers from Washington D.C. and Baltimore have reached national success, and it's interesting how you've done it from the suburb of Gaithersburg, Maryland. How would you say this happened?
I got it to my audience one person at a time. Literally, I've been doing now this for seven years, and it's really crazy to think that, and I'm so happy to be where I am. And for so long, I've been told, "Oh, you're from Gaithersburg, so you're wack,' or 'You look white, so you're wack," and all these hurtful, terrible, insensitive, disgusting things that people say on the Internet. And you know what I fuckin' did, man? I persevered through that shit. Because I wanted a radio hit when I was a young, dumbass kid, and I wanted the praise. But then I started seeing all the people with the hits and with the praise come and go. It used to be that someone would have a hit record and be around for two years, and then it's one year, and then it's six months, and then it's three months. And as I continue to stay who I was – a Rubik's-Cube-solving, video-game-playing, married, puppy-lovin' motherfucker who can rap well – I've found peace. And it really just hit me that, 'Hey, dude, you're you, it's okay to be you, and you cannot stand out and fit in at the same time, so pick one.' And I chose to stand out and be happy.
Not many rappers get three albums on a label like Def Jam without a radio hit, but you've done pretty well without one. Is that still something you want?
Who wouldn't want a radio hit, right? Who wouldn't want a smash any day of the week? But I am where I am right now with no hit. And I got it without having to subject myself to trying to create something that somebody else would like. Instead I say, "Hey, what do I like, what am I into? What do I want?" And that's what I did. But yeah, I would absolutely one trillion percent love a radio hit or this or that. Who doesn't want to win a Grammy, to be loved and adored for what they do? But I'm so stoked and I'm so happy to be alive.
What's it like to live in Southern California now as opposed to Maryland?
Maryland is … I'm gonna think about how I say this, because I don't want it to be taken in a negative way, but it can be a black hole. And it's just not Maryland. Any city that an artist is from, whoever you are, it's good to get out, you gotta get out and experience things.
Six years ago, my manager said "Do you wanna be the man in your city? You go to the movie theater, you go the bowling alley, you go to the mall and everybody knows you and stops you? But then you cross your city limit and nobody knows who you are? Or do you wanna be known around the world?" And I said "I wanna be known around the world." And he said "then you gotta make music for the world, not just where you are. But you have to include where you are, and you have to be proud of where you are." And that's what I did.
I wasn't accepted in the DMV, period. They were like, "Oh, this white boy, you suck, you're wack." There were a few, though, don't get me wrong, there were awesome people who did support me and did love me. I always have to love and respect and shout out home, but need to go out into the real world. And I went out into the real world, dude, and they hated me just as much. But I did it anyway. And now, arguably and respectfully, I'm arguably the biggest rapper from back home. Once again, arguably: You have people like Wale and Phil Ade, all these incredible artists that inspired me to get to where I am today. I stayed through all that hatred from home and outside, and I stayed who I was. And it's funny because now, the only real negativity I get is, "That dude's fuckin' corny," Yeah, but I'm comfortable being me. It used to really hurt me, because I'm like, You don't know me, I came from nothing, you should love me, I'm the underdog, I made it out. What I realized is it's not about me. And once I realized that the issue wasn't with me, it was with themselves, internally, it truly set me free. And now I'm a very happy man.