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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Logic, Growing Pains, Rap Analysis

***As appeared on last week's website e-newsletter***

Sometimes all of you guys on this newsletter just blow me the hell away, you know that?

I’m over here, sitting around, writing about rap, thinking I know what I know. And then one of you send me a song, and it makes me re-think everything, and what I used to know I don’t anymore.

Let me walk you through the entire experience of my first listen to “Growing Pains II.”

So I go to YouTube, and turn it on to get to know it, and immediately begin killing time on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Blogger, YouTube, YouFace, MyBook, wherever. I’m listening, and it’s cool, and I’m letting it sink in, but still thinking, “This isn’t anything I haven’t heard before. I mean it’s really, really good, but still pretty standard.”

And then 3:40 rolls around, and I get knocked on my ass.

I get knocked on my ass because it occurs to me that I’m not even the one person here who’s telling you that Logic’s song is a great one. Arthur gave me such a good song to analyze that he basically did my job for me, haha!

Seriously, by around 3:50 — ten seconds into this part of the song — I know I’m hearing something great. Because it isn’t just that Logic put an extended beat drop here, while still rapping — he put an extended beat drop in here at this point, while rapping…and rapping…and rapping…and still rapping…

Immediately, my mind at this point is racing to connect what Logic’s doing to other examples I might know of. Of course beat drops are classic in Hip Hop — I can right away think of a killer one from Black Thought off the top of my head, where he gives his rap the maximum punch available by inserting his best lines when the spotlight’s all on him: “Thump this in your cassette deck / Hip Hop has not left yet”, time-stamped on YouTube here:

And of course, Lil Wayne has his own greatest one, on “Got Money,” perfectly marrying the beat to the rap and the rap to the beat:

And then there are songs that might be considered just extended beat drops, where the beat never comes in. I’m thinking of Supa Nate’s verse from jail on the OutKast Aquemini album:

or even Big Noyd’s freestyle on Mobb Deep’s Infamous album, called “[Just Step Prelude]:”

It’s also got me thinking about some Cool Kids beats. There, the beats often drop out, but the exiting beat is simply replaced by a new beat, as different as it might be, like on “Action Figures:”

Lil Wayne’s breakdown on “Let The Beat Build” comes close to doing what Logic did, but the producer only drops Wayne down to the drum instrumental…there’s not as much there, but there is STILL something.

Even Kendrick doesn’t beat Logic to the punch. Kendrick’s outro verse on “The City,” from Game’s R.E.D. Album, is a long, LONG beat drop rap verse, almost 40 seconds long with no beat…but Kendrick never brings the beat back, like Logic does on his own track. You can hear Kendrick’s verse here:

This all makes Logic’s own rap verse an extremely interesting mix of musical approaches to structure we’ve seen from rappers in the past. We now have to ask ourselves: is what Logic is doing here no more than a complicated version of a verse? Is it simply a long beat drop? Is it a mini-freestyle, inserted into a larger pop song structure? Let’s try and find out.

On the one hand, someone might want to call Logic’s rap between 3:40 and 4:20 just another verse in the song. However, this particular section of the song is so unique when set against the rest of the song, that I don’t think you can call it a verse. Not only does Logic completely change his flow, he also drops the beat all the way out right behind him. Additionally, Logic raps a cappella here for a very long time, when compared to the other examples we just looked at before: for almost 40 seconds, or 14 bars in musical time.

Actually, this verse’s length isn’t exactly 14 bars — it’s 14 and a half, which is a very unusual length for a verse to be. Logic is able to make this a cappella section end at a relatively awkward stopping point, because he has no beat behind him. This means that he is using a rhythmic approach called rubato, where the music-maker is ever so slightly changing the feel of where the beat is falling behind them:

So, because it’s so different in terms of length, beat structure, and rhythmic approach, I don’t think we can call Logic’s rap at 3:40 just another verse.

I also wouldn’t call it “just” an extended beat drop, because beat drops, as the term is usually used, rely on the beat almost immediately coming back. Out of all the examples I quoted, the beat drop is never longer than 2 bars, including the Lil Wayne and Black Thought examples. Here, the beat exits for over 14 bars!

Instead, I would in the end call this a cappella section at 3:40 a nestled song-within-a-song. Yes, Logic does have the grand, unified “Growing Pain II” idea on this track, that starts and ends the song. But right at 3:40, it’s almost as if Logic has inserted what could be considered a completely new track. Because he has taken the beat out of the mix, and then gone on to rap for so long, this rap version of a musical black sheep feels like a freestyle. We almost forget that there was a chorus before this section, because it feels so very different. There is no chorus connected to this rap here, so just imagine how easy it would be for a talented producer to take his lyrics from here, put them over their own beat, and come up with a dope remix — THAT’S why it is its own song.

Logic led us down this path, by starting off the song very traditionally for the first three and a half minutes. Afterwards, though, he takes us down an unseen left turn road. We saw this before, from Kendrick specifically…but Logic once more surprises us when he brings the beat, unlike Kendrick did. That’s how Logic can actually give us 2 songs, when we think we’re hearing only one.