Forward-looking lists are an interesting phenomenon. In music, particularly in an era in which the sheer volumes of material being produced means that adequately covering all bases has become an impossible dream, the list is ubiquitous. Typically, these lists look backwards, telling us which ten Beatles songs are their best ever, which 100 albums defined the 90s and the 13 best ‘Call Me Maybe’ covers on YouTube (as if we were interested). The forecasting list has become more popular recently perhaps as a result of the ease with which artists can now become artists. The ‘bedroom and a Macbook’ cliche has by now become trite but it is a cliche precisely because it is true. It has never been easier to become an overnight sensation and the barriers to entry, at least as far as becoming Internet famous are concerned, are far lower than in any time in recent history. Forward-looking lists are an attempt to sort the wheat from the chaff preemptively, with a keen awareness that when we arrive in 201X, we won’t have the time to invest in properly discovering the best songs, albums and artists out there. That’s probably a fair contention. Most of us don’t have the time to do that currently and with the rate of material released growing exponentially, it’s unlikely that the us of next year will have a second to spare.
In rap, the XXL Freshmen list has become on of the key arbiters on the future of hip-hop as writers from that esteemed hip-hop publication weigh in on who they think is going to be big in the year ahead. The results, inevitably, are hit or miss. Predictions like Lupe Fiasco (08), B.o.B. (09) and J. Cole (10) have been on the money but still more names – Papoose (08), Fred Tha Godson (11) and Hopsin (12) – have missed the mark. The latter three are identifiable names but usually only from lesser billings or feature spots. What the XXL Freshmen list does do is create a self-perpetuating cycle, at least for a period of time, whereby artists named on it, simply be being named, become persons of interest. In that way, the buzz surrounding the list’s release around March each year acts to reveal the list’s flaws after a time. Those propelled by the hype into legitimate careers (add Macklemore (12) and Wiz Khalifa (10) to that list above) prove their worth but others fall off the hype cliff, casualties of a dearth of talent, bad editorial choices, mistiming or a combination of them all. Accordingly, an XXL declaration of ‘Freshman’ status can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on what you make of it.
Maryland’s Logic, announced as part of the 2013 lineup alongside acts like Rudimental collaborator Angel Haze, Chicago bad boy Chief Keef and Kendrick Lamar’s buddy Schoolboy Q, is one name I hope can withstand the ravages of time. Logic is signed to Visionary Music Group and it was late 2011 that I interviewed one of his labelmates in Tayyib Ali, an up-and-coming Philadelphia rapper. Tayyib’s career hasn’t quite seen the trajectory he might have hoped for but the announcement a couple of weeks ago that Logic had signed to Def Jam Records, with No I.D. to executive produce his debut album, was heartening nonetheless in a strangely vicarious fashion. Having watched both Tayyib and Logic’s careers from afar (and, occasionally, a lot closer) I recognise the struggle that goes into making the cut on that list. Determination and perseverance alone don’t sell records (or downloads) but the determination in Logic’s newbie, ‘Nasty’ augurs well for the 23-year-old.
In many ways, ‘Nasty’ confronts many of the challenges of being a lesser-known rap artist. Without an established name, getting others to invest in your brand is testing. Logic’s ‘Young Sinatra’ moniker – a tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes who the rapper was influenced by having been shown old black and white movies by his mother as a child – is an alter-ego that sounds right and fits well. Without monetary success, it’s hard to brag about balling. Logic makes up for a deficit of cash (although now likely bolstered by the newly announced Def Jam deal) with a surfeit of back story. Rather than swagging on his Maybachs et al, he depicts his climb to his current level of success as just as much of an accomplishment. Without peer recognition, it’s hard to state your case for why you’re one of the best in the business. Logic, in a way particularly reminiscent of a 2010-era J. Cole, oozes confidence in just the right proportions, coming off not arrogant but self-assured. This Don Cannon-produced extended freestyle is proof that you don’t have to fake it til you make it if you can make it out of something entirely different to begin with. For doing things his own way, for consistently releasing consistently good material and for doing it all with an impressively positive disposition, Logic’s place on the list gets my vote of approval.
Logic – Nasty