“Who you know worth 50 million, still rappin’ on breakbeats?” spits newly minted superstar Logic on YSIV, his fourth studio album. Last year, the Maryland motormouth scored his first Number One LP with the politically charged Everybody and a Number Three single with “1-800-273-8255,” an earnest anti-suicide anthem that provided a ray of clarity in a season of depression-oriented hip-hop. For his official follow-up, Logic could easily motorbike his way into being the outspoken Macklemore of the Woke Era, but instead he settles into solid, simple (if overly long) album that recalls the “backpack rap” movement of the late Nineties: back-to-basics boom-bap beats, concept-based raps, anti-consumerism, anti-drug (except pot) and anti-sucker MC. One big difference is that Logic, 28, came of age in the era of Drake and J Cole’s unblinking vulnerability. And he has something the underground movement never got: monster success. What happens when a true-school, true-lifer gets super rich?
YSIV is a motivational speech that runs down his rough life – poverty, a drug-addicted dad, homelessness – and the grind that ultimately made him a millionaire. Producer 6ix and friends provide beats that sound lik eMidnight Marauders-era Tribe Called Quest (“The Adventures of Stoney Bob”), early Kanye West (“The Return”), Nineties New York (the title track, which samples minor 1995 East Coast rap hit “Keep It Real” by Miilkbone) and, in the album’s most newsworthy moment, 1997’s Wu-Tang Forever on, well, “Wu Tang Forever,” which features all eight living members. “Wu Tang Forever” serves as a great example of Logic’s strengths and weaknesses. He can position himself as a scrappy underdog with a decently complex bar (“Fuck a mumble rap, that shit won’t never be remembered/Not even a contender, no pretender, best surrender”) and a go-getter with ambition (“Who you know assemble the Clan like Voltron?”). However, he has none of the Clan’s mystery, their way with funk and flow, the effortlessness of their punchlines. Logic rhymes in exciting ways, but the meanings can be a little strained (“Sweeping these rappers up like it’s a chore, who want more?/I’ll leave anybody two times four/Dropping pounds in London like I lost weight/My mindstate is like a freight when I rhyme,” he raps on “Iconic”). Meanwhile, Method Man’s dizzy stream of Rap Genius-ready references on “Wu Tang Forever” is smart and silky: “Me and my ladybug, back when the planet was Digable/I’m cool like that, my cash rule like that/I’m classic, Patti LaBelle, voulez vous like that.”
Still, Logic has no shortage of carefully sharpened skills. Taking it way, way back, “100 Miles and Running” has Logic and Wale rapping over the old Incredible Bongo Band break that DJs spun in the days before rap was recorded. Here, Logic performs the high velocity Twista-style stunt-rap he does in his live show (“stoppinitrockinittalkinitwalkinitflippinitrippinit…”) with some live commentary (“We gon’ do this shit in one breath, alright? … This ain’t no editin”). Off-the-cuff hip-hop moments like this, or the way he recovers from a blown line in “Stoney Bob” are a great, raw, mixtape-feel moments that perfectly balance out the last few years of big, blown-out projects like a Marshmello collab and a sorta-concept album with a Neil De-Grasse Tyson guest spot. Though there’s a few overlong, bloated gestures here (the seven-minute long intro featuring phone calls from his worldwide fanbase, the 12-minute throwback to Kanye’s “Last Call”), the core of YSIV is a superstar making no-nonsense rap with an inspirational message. “I’m wishing all your dreams come true,” he says “’cause mine did.”