The Limited Positivity of Logic’s YSIV

Claude Atcho

Coming off the heels of his biggest hit to date,“1-800-273-8255,” Logic has what every rapper desires: mainstream success, Grammy nominations, and genre-specific respectability. His pop-rap sensibilities and positive persona have resulted in successful sales, while his crafty lyricism has garnered respect from hip-hop die-hards.

With YSIV, his latest album, Logic negotiates mainstream fame alongside his underground proclivities, giving his fans what they’ve come to demand: limber lyricism and fluid flows over 1990s-inspired boom-bap beats. What’s most noteworthy about YSIV, however, is Logic’s penchant for positivity. As appealing as it is, might there be limits to Logic's upbeat worldview? How does it compare to Christian hope, which is something similar, but distinct?

“Thank You” opens the album with Logic voicing his gratitude to his fans. The song is quintessential Logic, not so much for his blended pop-rap performance, but for its ending: the last two minutes of the track consist of voicemails from fans—hailing from Wisconsin to Palestine—who share how Logic’s music and positivity have impacted their lives. With an airy, angelic vocal sample that floats perfectly over classic drums, the song sounds like inspiration bottled up and put on wax. As Logic thanks his fans for “letting me speak my mind” and they in turn thank him for inspiring them, it’s nearly impossible to listen without feeling inspired yourself. In this sense, “Thank You” is a meta-moment that proves Logic is one of the few mainstream rappers today who harnesses and deploys the emotive power of music toward a positive end.

Logic’s brand of positivity is aspirational inspiration. It’s not an exaggeration when I say millions of people listen to Logic for bars, themes, and anthems like “Everybody Dies”:

I'm already knowin' that I'm gon' die one day, you gon' die one day, we all gon’ die one day
God already got the date set, so live your life, live yo’ life
Yeah you live it, that's a bet, ’cause if you ain't fulfilled in the end
You gon' be filled with regret, bet

For Logic, this urgent, carpe diem positivity is more than a slogan. It’s a way of life, a message to make known to the masses. On “Last Call” (his version of Kanye West’s track of the same title), Logic alternates rapping and narrating his raise to fame. The gist of the track is a core tenet of Logic’s positivity: “This for anyone with ambition, calling anybody that'll listen. / I’m wishing all your dreams come true, ’cause mine did.” That Logic has reached his dreams against insurmountable odds is the reason he spits his message; if he can do it, so can you. So live your life, chase your dreams, “just please do what you love in life.”

That Logic’s music is inspiring is clear and commendable. “One Day,” for instance, is a hope-filled anthem that soars, while its bouncy keys and Late Registration-inspired horns evoke feelings of triumph. But Logic’s brand of peace, love, and positivity has its limits. In a world full of injustice and abuses of power, Logic’s take on positivity—do what you love, chase your dreams—is well-received, but ultimately insufficient.

"Thank You" sounds like inspiration bottled up and put on wax.

Hope ultimately is only as strong as the reality in which it is based. Logic’s lyrics anchor hope and positivity in human ability and authenticity. This is markedly different from Christian hope, which locates and anchors hopefulness not in human ability, but in “the God of hope.” By rooting hope in God, not us, Christianity tells the sobering truth about human nature and the wonderful truth about God’s character: that we are unable to save ourselves and unable to achieve our way out of life’s problems through self-made means. Yet God graciously offers us redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ. Hope then is tethered to grace and faith: it is faith in God, who extends grace to sinful humanity through Jesus, that makes us hopeful in the face of human sin, failed dreams, and life’s disappointments.

Christian hope produces a form of positivity—call it Christian joy—that is rooted in gratitude for God’s grace. Hope anchored in self is deeply limited; it cannot stand against the vicious realities of life nor is it accessible beyond those who have achieved certain things. But hope anchored in God in Christ is available for all who humble themselves, admit their inability, and accept God’s grace by faith.

Logic’s hope attributes too much power and too much faith in individual determinism, while underestimating the harsh realities of life. In a world where dreams are deferred, disappointment is a daily reality, and sin scars souls and systems, Logic’s aspirational inspiration reminds us of the limits of even the most sincere attempts to create human uplift through human positivity.

As a result, Logic is truly at his best not when dishing out inspiration about human achievement, but when he gives insight to human weakness. “Legacy,” then, is the standout track of YSIV. Here Logic assumes the place of a man who works so hard to leave a legacy of wealth for his family that he ironically neglects them out of his desire to be a great provider:

Went from 40 hours a week to 80
Ain't nobody gon’ pay me but myself
Sacrifice my time and my health, for wealth
I missed a birthday, miss an anniversary
There's lots of people in this world that's worse than me
I wasn't there for my son's first words
But he ain't grow up in the hood like me, we in the burbs

Here vulnerable lyrics are strengthened by production that manages to feel both elegant and haunting. Another angelic vocal sample is unexpectedly pitched down, transforming its beatific sound to one that is simultaneously ethereal and disfigured, a sonic representation of humanity’s beauty and brokenness. Ironically, “Legacy” seems to complicate the overly simplified positivity that Logic often espouses by asking: what happens when we chase the wrong dream or the dream never materializes despite our hard work? In so doing, “Legacy” reveals the fundamental flaw in Logic’s otherwise admirable positivity: its denial of fallen human nature.

Even our best efforts to make the most of our very short lives fall short. Self-generated, self-guided inspiration can only take us so far before running into reality. Ultimately, we need a hope that is external to us, a hope that says something to failed dreamers, a wisdom that orients us to what truly matters. This sort of hope can endure life in all its beauty and brutality. In this way, Logic’s YSIV wrestles with questions to which the good news of Jesus gives lasting answers.

Topics: Music