Logic’s Bobby Tarantino II Forgets What’s Great About Logic

Photo: Def Jam/Visionary

If Logic didn’t rap, he’d have to be a youth pastor, or a popular local car salesman, or a high-school principal who moonlights as debate-team coach — something that would make good use of the upbeat, affable energy he radiates. He seems to have been served a little more of it than a single body ought to contain. He looks, if not happy, then at least deeply invested in psychological wellness as a path to prosperity. He extols the virtues of rest, self-care, and therapy. He smiles a lot. He speaks excitedly about “peace, love, and positivity.” His hands and fingers move with purpose when he’s fired up, gestures that don’t resemble “rap hands” so much as comic-book villains charging up deadly energy beams.

Logic’s music is the beam; his debut studio album, Under Pressure, carried out the business of pondering his chilling backstory and tracing his path out of adversity with the zeal of a Sunday morning church testimony. His sophomore LP, The Incredible True Story, worked nobly at funneling the verbal dexterity of his Young Sinatra mixtape series through the plush sounds the rapper and his producer pal 6ix favored at the time, while adding a dash of outer-space intrigue, because Logic is a serious sci-fi geek. (The “creation station” inside the rapper’s San Fernando Valley home is plastered from floor to ceiling with stacks of Rick and Morty action figures, Cowboy Bebop concept art, and generations of Star Wars ephemera. Somehow he’s already written a science-fiction novel, and he seems to be shopping a screenplay.) Commitment to form, technique, and concept made the Maryland native a formidable voice in the class of mainstream hip-hop artists that shot up the charts behind thoughtful, troubled nice guys like J. Cole, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar.

Last year’s Everybody went for broke and dug deeper than a Logic album ever had. He spoke at length on struggles he’d previously only pondered in scattered lines and verses. He chronicled the substance abuse and racism that tore his parents’ rocky interracial union apart, and how they relate to his own issues with identity and anxiety. He called out political systems that push disadvantaged communities closer to drugs.

He came on too strong. The album was first announced under the name AfricAryan, which raised the hackles of some rap fans who worried Logic would muck up valuable points about race. It didn’t help that the single “Black Spiderman” served choppy lines like, “I’m as white as the Mona Lisa and as black as my cousin Keisha.” The album’s hit self-help anthem “1-800-273-8255” is the kind of song that works both as harmless supermarket PA pap and as a tasteful epilogue to a Grammy in memoriam montage, a sad song whose line-drive melody touches even when the lyrics don’t. By the time the dust settled, Logic had developed a reputation as a self-righteous therapy rapper he could neither shake nor understand.

It’s weird to watch a rapper grapple with his own image in public. Logic interviews post-“1-800-273-8255” took on a different tone from the charismatic chats and Rubik’s cube speed trials he used to bring to radio and television. An appearance on The Tavis Smiley Show last May saw the rapper openly questioning why people hate him; the minute Zane Lowe mentioned Everybody in this week’s Beats 1 interview, Logic brought up its detractors. Mixed reviews got inside the rapper’s head, and he’s adjusted the next phase of his career to their criticisms. This month, a new Logic project was announced via an argument between Rick and Morty about the virtues of “mixtape Logic” and “album Logic.” (The rapper’s petition to showrunners won him a guest spot in the season-three episode where Rick blacks out and sets death traps for all of Morty’s favorite heroes.) This month’s Bobby Tarantino II follows the 2016 mixtape Bobby Tarantino as an exercise in Logic rapping without the weight of his anxieties, his politics, and his action-adventure enthusiast’s eye for a deeply engrossing story.

It’s a dumb exercise. Logic’s eagerness to let people know he’s more than just the dour “I just wanna be alive” guy overrides his taste and talent throughout Bobby Tarantino II, which is, at its root, a collection of serviceable, enthusiastic artist’s renderings of preexisting radio hits. “Overnight” nicks the wonky low end synths of Virginia rapper-singer D.R.A.M.’s 2016 single “Cute.” “Yuck” mimics the ominous sample and trap drums of Drake’s “0-100/The Catch-Up.” “BoomTrap Protocol” plays around with the Auto-Tuned, upper-register singing and distinct “YAH!” ad-lib popularized by Travis Scott. “Wizard of Oz” mixes triplet flows and heavy pitch correcting, like Travis and the Migos’s “Kelly Price.” “44 More” follows OG Bobby Tarantino’s “44 Bars” with a cacophonous beat change and double-time flow ripped off Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA,” and “Midnight” stages the same jarring switch from muted synths and thick bass to loud drums and clattering keys as Drake’s “Know Yourself.” Bobby Tarantino II is a too-emphatic “I can do that too!,” an unfortunate exchange of what actually makes good Logic records tick for rap-radio boilerplate.

Bobby Tarantino II’s array of Canal Street knockoffs is baffling because there’s a whole cottage industry of rappers adding their own flavors to each other’s hit songs. If he wanted, Logic could’ve done what Lil Wayne does to keep his momentum afloat between albums, and rounded up a dozen popular instrumentals for a mixtape we would’ve understood to be a lyrical workout. Drake’s 2009 mixtape So Far Gone did that, flaunting the young artist’s skills over a collection of instantly recognizable Kanye West, Missy Elliott, DJ Screw, and Jay-Z songs. Saluting and showing your work is tribute. Borrowing without paying respect to the architects is biting. Bobby Tarantino II straddles the line: The Reasonable Doubt flow in “State of Emergency” and the Kriss Kross and Illmatic references in “Warm It Up” are acceptable homage. The Huncho Jack cosplay of “Contra” and the Luda-lite fast raps of “Indica Badu” are not.

The shakiness of some of the lines on the mixtape accentuate its deficit of original song concepts. “BoomTrap Protocol” stalls during takeoff in verse one, when Logic says, “I’m so ahead of my time that my whole motherfuckin’ discography’s already finished.” (In fairness, this is a reference to Logic’s promise to cut it after one more studio album, but if a rapper who is friends with Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Rick and Morty guys can’t come up with a solid time-travel joke, what’s his purpose?) Later, he promises he has “more sex in the city than Sarah Jessica Parker.” (First of all, it’s Sex AND the City.) The “Midnight” lyric “Logic pickin’ up slack like denim” is this album’s answer to J. Cole’s famous “Cole heating up like that leftover lasagna” airball. Dry lines lend credence to the (wrong) idea that Logic is a stiff and an awkward rapper, the very notions Bobby Tarantino II seems designed specifically to challenge.

When Logic applies himself, sparks fly. “Yuck” devolves into a righteous, rude verse for an unspecified hater. (Fans believe it’s the Massachusetts rapper Joyner Lucas, whose recent smarm offensive has included accusations that Logic squeezed him out of a guest feature and jacked the phone-number song-title idea after hearing that Lucas was naming his mixtape 508-507-2209.) “You jealous, you look at my life and you feel envy,” he rhymes through a moneyed smirk, “constantly comparing yourself to me and feel empty.” “Everyday” stops trying so hard and accidentally proves what the rapper is here for. Over a chirping, downcast synth melody from the helmet-headed EDM producer Marshmello, Logic sings a straightforward two-verse rant about overcoming doubt and frustration through hard work … and lands on the mixtape’s easiest hook. It’s not showy, but it’s real and relatable. It’s Logic qua Logic. He thinks it’s a fluke that his biggest hit is the drippy one about fighting uneasy feelings, but from the outside, it looks like helping people get in touch and come to peace with their feelings is Logic’s specific calling.

Logic’s Bobby Tarantino II Forgets What’s Great About Logic