Jamie Foxx has a problem. His lips are chapped. He summons a member of his entourage, who rushes over with a brush and swipes a layer of gloss on his lips. Now Foxx is thirsty. He takes a sip of the drink that was just handed to him. “What’s this? This is amazing!” he says. It’s a barrel-aged Negroni.
Foxx is in Washington promoting his upcoming album, which is fittingly titled Hollywood. The setting for this meetup? The basement at the W Hotel, just steps from the White House. The time frame? I had about seven minutes alone with him before he was to be ushered out.
We dive right in. Though Foxx hasn’t released a new record in five years, his musical ties still run deep. Hollywood features a roster of white-hot production talent: DJ Mustard, Boi-1da, and Vinylz, among others. So how does Foxx keep up with acting, singing, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of dehydrated lips?
He points to his production partner, DC native Breyon Prescott. “He does all of it,” Foxx says. “At a certain point, you sort of lose what you think it is that’s hot. You always need someone fresh, someone young, someone that’s moving, someone who doesn’t stretch you too far out of what you do.”
The Nile River knits together 11 African countries, but the region isn't often considered as a whole. Ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis started the Nile Project to change that. “We needed to redraw the geography in the popular imagination in order to get people to start seeing how all of these countries rely on the same resource,” he says.
Girgis, a native of Egypt, felt disconnected from other river-bound countries like Ethiopia. His project, which will perform at the University of Maryland between April 26 and 28, uses music as a starting point for conversations about cultural understanding and a sustainable watershed. As the only source of renewable water in the area, the Nile is a precious commodity—one that could cause tension as climate change and population growth make water less accessible.
For Girgis, music can help prevent conflict. And that's exactly why he's taking his message across the globe. What started as a concept for African people by African artists has expanded to a traveling troupe advocating for the Nile basin and its water issues. Through performances and panels, Girgis and his group of musicians demonstrate how music can start a dialogue about culture. “Music can really play a significant role in increasing cross-cultural empathy,” Girgis says. “Musical curiosity can drive cultural curiosity, and cultural curiosity can drive cultural understanding.”
The project's musicians participate in residencies, where they work together and mix traditional and modern musical styles. East African musicians learn Egyptian instruments, while Egyptians learn Ethiopian rhythms. Egyptian singer Dina El Wedidi, a protege of Brazilian guitarist Gilberto Gil, became a part of the project three years ago and says it has made her more aware of her relationship to the rest of the continent. “In Egypt, we are really into Arab culture more than African culture,” she says. “The Nile Project gives me the opportunity to think about the African part in my Egyptian identity as a singer.”
At first, she struggled to mesh her style with those from other countries, but she says the last tour “opened her mind.” El Wedidi, who will join other Nile Project artists in DC's upcoming performance, sees the project as a step towards cooperation.
The water conflict in the Nile basin hasn’t reached a flashpoint, Girgis explains. So music still has the opportunity to reach across borders and encourage cooperation in the region. “Through that process of learning and dialogue, we can become Nile citizens,” he says.
The Nile Project performs at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Dekelboum Concert Hall April 26 at 7 PM. Panels include "the Female Perspective on the Nile" at University of Maryland’s Van Muching Hall April 27 at noon, "the Role of Musicians in Peace and Environmental Movements" at the Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium April 27 at 6:45 PM, and "Crowdsourcing Solutions for a Sustainable Nile Basin" at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Leah M. Smith Lecture Hall April 28 at 7 PM.
Ute Lemper loves writing songs inspired by poetry. A few years ago, the German-born cabaret and jazz singer created an entire project based on the poems of Charles Bukowski. Next she melded the sounds of tango with the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. In the case of Neruda, her thought process was surprisingly simple. "There was no logical decision," she says. "I just went through [his poems] and imagined a structure. Suddenly melodies came to my head, and I went to the piano to create music. It's like a slow puzzle."
The result is an entire album based on Neruda's work, with adaptations in English, French, and Spanish. "The music is extremely tender and explosive at the same time," she says. And that's exactly what audiences can expect at Lemper's April 25 performance at Sixth & I, where she'll perform songs from her latest album, Forever: the Love Poems of Pablo Neruda, as well as selections from her German repertoire.
It's certainly not Lemper's first time in Washington. Besides Sixth & I, she's also performed at the Kennedy Center and the Lisner Auditorium. "I'm much more welcome in Washington than Houston," she admits. "Washington has a very interesting, active, and sophisticated theater scene."
Though her intense, emotional performances draw legions of fans, she knows she doesn't have the same draw as a pop star. It doesn't help that record sales have plummeted for just about everyone who isn't Taylor Swift. Back in the '90s, Lemper says, it was considered a triumph when classical artists sold a million records. Now it's more like 100,000.
Those numbers mean it's increasingly difficult to get financial backing from major labels. After her twenty-year run with Universal ended in 2004, Lemper has had to dig into her own pockets every time she wants to produce an album. "It's not easy in this niche that I exist," she admits.
Digital albums haven't been giving artists much of a boost either. Streaming services like Songza and Spotify are generating more revenue than ever before, but that doesn't mean musicians are sharing the bounty. "I've never seen a penny from digital albums," Lemper says. "Files and files are downloaded but what comes out is such a peanut."
Of course, there's an upside to independence. Not being tied down to a label means Lemper has the artistic freedom to do whatever she wants. She recently finished a new project based on the work of Paulo Coelho, a conceptual project similar to her last that probably would have been a hard sell to a major label. The music, inspired by Middle Eastern sounds, is packed with Arabic guitars. "It's a labor of love," she says.
Ute Lemper will perform at 8 PM at Sixth & I, presented by Washington Performing Arts, on Saturday, April 25. Tickets cost $38.
University of Maryland a cappella group Faux Paz has only made it to the finals once before. Now they're back. The 17-member crew is headed to New York's Beacon Theatre on Saturday to compete against some of the best young harmonists in the world in the International Championships of Collegiate A Cappella.
But a lot has changed since Faux Paz's appearance in 2002. That was seven years before the Sing-Off, an American Idol-like a cappella show, debuted on NBC, and a decade before Anna Kendrick showed us her knack for making music with plastic cups in Pitch Perfect.
"The collegiate a cappella scene has evolved and changed immensely," says Faux Paz co-president Brandon Schatt. "There's been an explosion in popularity over the last few years." Groups like Pentatonix and movies—like Pitch Perfect and its highly anticipated sequel, which opens May 15—have helped those crooning 20-somethings go from subculture to mainstream.
There used to probably be only a few scattered groups on campus. Now, big schools like the University of Florida can have as many as a dozen different troupes; Maryland has ten. In the past, a cappella groups preferred lighthearted arrangements based on pop hits. Today, they're about rousing the crowd with creative takes on all types of tunes. "It used to be more campy, but now we see groups doing darker music in general and putting more thought into the ideas that are coming out of it, as opposed to railing off of the biggest songs in America," Schatt says.
Some of that comes through in Pitch Perfect, as does the tendency for a cappellaists to take themselves too seriously. "I love the movie," Schatt says. "It pokes fun at the craziness of a cappella. Sometimes you have to step back and remember it's a group of people making funny noises and imitating popular songs."
But there's also a lot of things the movie gets wrong. That amazing riff-off scene where Kendrick sings Blackstreet's "No Diggity"? "That would probably never happen," Schatt says. "I don’t know anybody that could spontaneously jump in on the right key and sing at the same time." How about those killer dance moves? "One of the things that's inaccurate is how easy they make it look. They do choreography and sing. There's no way you could do all that crazy stuff and still sound that good."
And as for those rivalries? Sure, a cappella can get intense sometimes, but overall it's not as dramatic as Hollywood makes it seem. At the finals, Faux Paz will battle against groups like the University of Chicago's Voices In Your Head and the University of Southern California's SoCal VoCals. The latter is the country's winningest a cappella group; they've won the championship every single time they've placed. "They win every time and are known for being awesome, but I don’t consider it a rivalry," Schatt says. For them, it's about getting to the finals, having fun, and showing people what they're about.
The Faux Paz have been practicing about five days a week in preparation for Saturday. And though it's easy to get stressed out about what's at stake, Schatt says they do their best to remember a cappella is all about singing well and just having a good time. "If you’re doing the music and you’re doing it really well, I think there's a cool factor that comes with that," he says. "You can’t help but enjoy it."
District-native rapper Wale will play a free "secret" show on Saturday to show off tracks from his new LP, The Album About Nothing. While space at the show, which is being put on by the DC government's events and economic-development bureaus, might be tight, the event is not actually that clandestine.
Wale announced the show in an early-morning tweet, with details to follow:
Im doin free show in DC this weekend at a secret (for now) location this will be historical— Wale Folarin (@Wale) April 2, 2015
Events DC and Atlantic Records won't confirm the location, but all signs point to Wale appearing between 1 and 5 PM tomorrow in the parking lot of the AutoZone shop at 1207 H Street, Northeast. What gave it away? A press release this afternoon from Events DC, while not giving away an address, reads that the concert "will showcase the District's thriving, diverse businesses including those located on the H Street corridor."
Sneaky, sneaky. Unfortunately for the conspirator, Benjamin Miller, a founder of real-estate investment company Fundrise, was less careful earlier this week when he tipped off his investors to a big event outside AutoZone:
Miller's message only mentions a "local superstar musician," but it's safe to assume he's not talking about a Gray Matter reunion. Released Tuesday, The Album About Nothing is Wale's fourth studio album, and perhaps the culmination of his Seinfeld fandom. (Clips from the sitcom about nothing and voiceovers from Jerry Seinfeld himself appear on nearly every track.) You can RSVP for tomorrow's concert here.
Much about Ibeyi is haunting. The French-Cuban duo--comprised of twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz--combines English lyrics with evocative, religious chants in Yoruba, the language and faith imported to Cuba by West African slaves. In their single, "River," they invoke Oshún, the Yoruba goddess of the river, and plead to cleanse their souls in her waters. "Oshún protects the river," Lisa says. "You go to Oshún to wash your soul." The result is a hypnotic, soulful song with electronic, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban influences.
What at first seems like an unusual mixture of sounds actually makes for a harmonious expression of their identity. And that's exactly what makes Ibeyi, the headliners behind a sold-out show tonight at the U Street Music Hall, so unique.
Born in Paris, the sisters spent their childhood bouncing between Cuba and France. Their father was Miguel "Anga" Diaz, a member of the Buena Vista Social Club who was hailed as a master of Afro-Cuban percussion. After his death at age 45 in 2006, the twins began considering a life in music. Naomi picked up the cajón, a percussive instrument, and Lisa started toying with lyrics. It was an unconscious decision to follow their father's path. "He never told us how to play music," Lisa says. "His legacy is that he wanted to do music that defined him. We did the same thing." Soon enough, Ibeyi, which means "twins" in Yoruba, was born.
Through their music, the 20-year-old sisters express their history and origins. They speak French, Spanish, and English. They don't speak Yoruba; rather, they sing it. The Yoruba faith has always formed a large part of who they are. "We were initiated in our mother's womb," Lisa says. "It's our belief." With their self-titled album, which was released earlier this year, they sought to unite two different worlds: their European and Cuban roots.
In the album, which Lisa began composing at age 14, the twins tell a deeply personal tale, divulging intimate details about family and themselves. "The man is gone / And Mama says there is no life without him," they croon in the wistful song, "Mama Says," about the death of their father.
These powerful emotions come alive in the jarring music video for "River." In the four-minute video, two men submerge the women underwater. They only come up for air to sing. Shot in one continuous take, it took about ten tries before they nailed the timing. "It was really hard to do, but we knew it would be great," Naomi says.
The twins are already hatching plans for a second album. It will be a slight departure from the first, but they promise it will be reminiscent of what they consider their "Ibeyi" sound. "We are composing every week," Lisa says. "We want to go further and further and discover more about ourselves and our music."
Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilycodik.
Norman Scribner would not give up on music. Even at age 79, the famed composer and conductor continued to visit the Choral Arts Society of Washington office in Northwest. He was active, robust, and nearly halfway through composing a new piece based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. But in his version, there was a twist: Scribner created a fresh character--a wife.
"That's the most telling thing about Norman. He so honored the idea of a woman that he took something of great magnitude and decided to give it a little more depth and texture as to his own beliefs," says Debra Kraft, executive director of the Choral Arts Society.
Scribner, who died Sunday at 79, founded the Choral Arts Society of Washington in 1965 and soon earned a reputation for his lively spirit and fervent devotion to music. Along with his wife, Shirley, he transformed the society from a homespun family business into an internationally recognized music source. "He was so clear that his family came first, absolutely came first," Kraft says. "But he was also very clear that music was his mistress."
In 2012, when he retired from his long-held post and was succeeded by artistic director Scott Tucker, Scribner continued to demonstrate great energy and dedication to his life-long passion. Brahms' Requiem was the final piece he conducted, and according to Kraft, the last line was a fitting farewell for the man considered one of the most respected musical figures in Washington: "Saith the spirit, that they rest from their labors, and that their works follow after them."
"Norman felt that music was bigger than he," she says.
I have seen Country Music Jesus, and his name is Jack Gregori. He wears a black hat, perfectly positioned, and can make a grown man cry with his rendition of Neil Young's "Helpless." His whiskey is strong and his beard is sincere, and on Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm he appears on a little show called The Voice, doing his country-crooner thing on behalf of something called #TeamAdam.
Gregori is the frontman for Human Country Jukebox, a band named for its ability to perform most any country song requested—more than 200, according to the HCJ website. He's also, as he described himself to NBC, "kind of an adventurer." In practice, this means that he and the Jukebox show up at Madam's Organ every Wednesday at 9:30 and take requests written down on napkins. Because this town has good taste in country, the No. 1 request is, naturally, "Amarillo By Morning."
Gregori, who works as a real-estate attorney by day, told the Washington Post he hopes his appearance on The Voice will push his music career forward. I do not know what Team Adam is, other than musician Adam Levine is involved, and Simon Cowell is not. But 13 million people can't be wrong. Jack "Country Music Jesus" Gregori, native Washingtonian, will do well, will win this thing, will take whatever crown or trophy they give him home to the District (of Country).
And, till Nashville steals him away, he'll play at Madam's Organ. Amarillo's favorite beer, Shiner Bock, is on tap. Cover is $4. Raise a glass to the man in the black hat. Just don't request "Sweet Home Alabama."
Pop quiz: In 2014, which rookie rapper scored the highest first-week sales for Def Jam, hip-hop’s most hallowed record label?
A) YG, the biggest West Coast gangsta rapper in a decade.
B) Iggy Azalea, the Australian Bratz-doll look-alike whose debut album went on to pick up a Grammy nomination.
C) Logic, a blue-eyed biracial artist who hails from Gaithersburg, a.k.a. the boondocks of hip-hop.
Because you’re reading a profile about him, you inevitably made a wise selection and chose C. The answer wouldn’t be obvious otherwise, because it’s the most improbable of the three.
Logic, a 25-year-old rapper with the boy-next-door looks of his middle-class Washington suburb, gave the industry its biggest surprise last year. He became rap’s breakout star after his first album, Under Pressure, streaked straight to number four on the Billboard charts and sold 73,000 copies in its first week, more than all but one other rookie in 2014.
The numbers wouldn’t be all that spectacular for an established recording artist. But for a relative newcomer, they’re impressive. In the music-on-demand-for-free era of Spotify, iTunes Radio, and Pandora, it’s tough for an unknown to build a following die-hard enough to shell out for the number of albums that’ll cause a splash. Remarkably, Logic did it without much of a gimmick or the kind of exaggerated persona that has become a prerequisite for musical superstardom today. Instead, his motto—and the key to his appeal, it seems—is “real all the time.” And for him, what’s real isn’t so pretty.
Under Pressure is autobiography. It tells the scarring narratives of Logic’s impoverished youth, the kind of life most locals don’t associate with Montgomery County: living on food stamps with absentee parents, watching drug deals go down, the first time he heard gunshots.
But another part of Logic’s heritage is also central to his album—and makes him stand out in hip-hop. Born to a black father and a white mother, he was frequently derided as “white boy” growing up because of his pale skin tone. Now he’s trying to make it in an industry that tends to second-guess white rappers. He’s used his music to grapple with his heritage and his looks. “Papa was a black man, mama was a racist,” he raps in a song called “Mixed Feelings,” about his desire to “break free of this biracial jail cell.”
Growing up she called me nigga, kids called me cracker / While the whites got whiter, and the blacks got blacker / I was hurting, doing everything I can / Perceived as a white boy with the soul of a black man.
The music’s emotional charge and soul-baring vulnerability resonate. “He’s earned the level of respect that comes when we know where you came from and what you love,” No I.D., Kanye West’s mentor, who produced Under Pressure, told me last year.
At the same time, Logic’s tales of woe are interwoven with unexpected verses pulsing with love, positivity, and straight-up striving. “He’s a modern, interesting artist who fits into a new era and style of MCs,” says Peter Rosenberg, the Chevy Chase-raised deejay who has become one of New York’s biggest radio stars on Hot 97 FM. “He totally blurs lines racially, has a very strong voice and very good lyrics. He can rap his ass off, has a really interesting life experience, and proves that you can reach the kids by being a good guy and cool.”
It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Logic is in a studio in Burbank, California, rapping at lightning speed while solving a Rubik’s Cube, his favorite pastime. Tell me how you feel / I feel like the grass is green . . . .
He’s had a couple of momentous months. In November, he made his first national TV appearance, on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Today’s rehearsal is for tomorrow’s performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Two days after that, he’ll turn 25. And on the 26th, he’ll head out on a 50-concert, two-month international tour, hitting most major US cities and college towns, along with London, Paris, and Amsterdam. On March 4 and 5, he plays two hometown shows at the 2,000-seat Fillmore in Silver Spring. Many of the dates are sold out. “It’s crazy as hell, but I want Coldplay stadium status, I want One Direction numbers,” he says.
Having heard himself sound maybe a little too real about his ambition, he backtracks slightly: “But this is all amazing and I don’t take it for granted.”
If you wandered in and were forced to identify the rapper from sight alone, Logic might not be the first one you’d pick in the room packed with musicians. Even though he’s three days shy of finally being able to rent a car, his skinny frame and partly pimpled visage call to mind, well, adolescence.
When he was starting out, one of the first mixtapes he released was dubbed “Young Sinatra.” Since then, he has partly styled himself after the crooner, whom he listened to and watched as a kid. His female fans, like Frank’s, are known as BobbySoxers. There’s the wavy hair and the ol’ blue eyes—Logic’s are a mineraly shade. He calls his entourage of friends and managers his RattPack. (The extra “t” is a nod to the “real all the time” motto.)
It’s an interesting stylistic choice, considering his conflicted feelings about his race. And one of the many things that make Logic a little different from a lot of the hip-hop stars in LA. He isn’t flashy. He is super-serious, and focused, almost exclusively interested in making music (and solving Rubik’s Cubes)—even something of a hermit who likes to stay home and work.
Today Logic is modestly dressed in his de facto uniform: baseball cap, black jacket and jeans, red retro Air Jordans. No jewelry. No visible tattoos. Throughout the day, he lavishes compliments on his band. When he notices someone else’s litter on the studio ground, he silently picks it up. For Hollywood, he’s so nice in person that it’s almost weird.
The song for Kimmel is “Buried Alive,” a big single from Under Pressure.
Battle the image inside of my mind / I know Imma keep going / Tell me I can’t but I’m already knowing / I know I’m gonna rise / Even though I’ve been buried alive / Buried alive, will I survive?
It’s what almost happened, back home in Gaithersburg, before he was Logic and everybody just knew him as Bobby.
That’s short for Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, born January 22, 1990, to two parents who barely knew each other. A musician who sang and played conga with DC go-go bands, the elder Hall and Logic’s mother each had children by other partners. They never married and for most of Logic’s early years, he says, his father wasn’t around much.
The rapper’s preadolescent memories—multiple incidents in which he says he was accidentally abandoned in public places, all the drugs he says he saw relatives getting high on, birthdays and Christmases without gifts, refrigerators filled with only stale rice cakes and powdered milk—are almost uniformly traumatic yet recounted without the least bit of drama.
From fifth through eighth grade, Logic says, he wasn’t in school much. Instead, he passed the time skateboarding, watching anime, and writing and drawing his own stories. He eventually attended Gaithersburg and Seneca Valley high schools but never graduated from either.
“I used to dream about going to sleep and never waking up,” he says. “And in some way, I still always fear that I’m asleep and will wake up as a four-year-old again. And all this was bullshit.”
Though Logic says he hasn’t spoken to his mother in years, she’s the one he has to thank for his interest in music: “She taught me about Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, and early hip-hop. Even though the bad far outweighs the good, I do want it to be known that there were many sweet moments in my life.”
His relationship with his father is more complex. They speak occasionally, but Logic says the conversation is often strained. On the title track of Under Pressure, he raps in character as the elder Hall, saying he’s two years sober and politely asking his son to stop rapping about his past drug abuse, then asking for money in the next breath. It concludes with an actual voicemail from Dad telling his son how much he loves him. (In interviews with MTV and Hard Knock TV, Hall has talked candidly about his drug use and his family’s history of addiction, saying that his son “saw a lot of things that he shouldn’t have.” In Hall’s words, “Shit does happen in Gaithersburg.”)
How is it that Logic wasn’t buried alive? Credit a trio of mentors who watched over him in his teens.
The first was former Gaithersburg resident Solomon Taylor, who met Logic while videotaping games for the Rockville youth football league. When Logic told Taylor he wanted to rap, Taylor bought the boy a computer, a mike, and programs to make beats, and gave him hundreds of instrumental recordings to rap to. He fed him, pushed him, and tried to keep him out of trouble. Logic “wasn’t a knucklehead—he was unpolished but an obvious star even then,” says Taylor, who lives in Chevy Chase now and runs a nonprofit called Save Youth Football that helps fund sports programs throughout Washington.
Mary Jo LaFrance and her husband, Bernie, the parents of one of Logic’s close friends, let him move in. “We took him on vacation with us, discussed his future, and most importantly taught him how to set goals,” says Mary Jo, who works part-time at the Gaithersburg Historic District Commission. “Sometimes he had felt like his own safety was in question, and that’s a terrible place to be in. He was always incredibly funny, intelligent, and a natural storyteller.”
Eventually, Taylor lined up Logic’s first show: opening for the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah at the former End Zone bar in Gaithersburg. Taylor still remembers how police initially balked at letting the then 19-year-old rapper perform. (They came around.) And how, when Logic came out onstage, it felt like watching 8 Mile, the thinly veiled biopic starring Eminem. “It was the same exact scenario. A white kid in a baseball cap and hoodie murdering it, and everyone was shocked,” Taylor recalls. “There was one guy heckling him that night, but Logic never wavered.”
More shows followed, and Logic built a small buzz in DC’s hip-hop scene. To pay the bills, he worked at the Gaithersburg Safeway and Jiffy Lube and as a florist. He later bussed tables at Joe’s Crab Shack. Tumult, meanwhile, continued to reverberate through his personal life. In 2010, his close friend Josh LaFrance, the son of his surrogate parents, was sentenced to ten years in a state prison for stabbing a man in the stomach. “It’s bizarre to think that any of this happened,” Logic says. “He was raised in the nice part of town by two wonderful parents who loved him. In many ways, his fate should’ve been mine.” Instead, when he performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show in November, he says LaFrance watched from prison.
Bobby became Logic with the help of another hungry twentysomething. While surfing YouTube late one night in early 2011, Chris Zarou, a Long Island native, stumbled across a video of Logic freestyle-rapping a cappella. He’d been filming low-budget clips and posting them online with hopes of being discovered, but most were stalling out at a few thousand views. Only 21, Zarou was an aspiring music manager and decided he wanted Logic to be the flagship artist of his newly formed Visionary Music Group.
At the time, Logic was thinking only about how he could become the biggest rapper in Washington. There was heavy competition, including from Fat Trel and Shy Glizzy—two street rappers with strong followings. Washington was considered notoriously difficult for hip-hop artists to break out of. Its only major mainstream rapper was Wale.
But with Zarou’s marketing help, Logic’s music soon caught fire on music blogs with college-age readerships. Between 2011 and 2013, the pair released numerous songs and YouTube videos, then three mixtapes. There wasn’t a lot of science to it—just grassroots internet love from fans who spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Logic started playing clubs across the country, booking larger venues each time.
Eventually, hip-hop’s most venerable label—Def Jam—wanted him, and Logic signed (for an undisclosed amount) with the record company. No I.D., the label’s executive vice president of A&R (artists and repertoire), agreed to executive-produce Under Pressure.
Logic moved to LA and started hibernating in his studio. The result was an album that pays tribute to his own favorite hip-hop acts. He pinches the alien voices of Outkast, the computerized narration of A Tribe Called Quest, the grandiose neon ambition of Kanye West, the intricate good-kid-in-a-mad-city narratives of Kendrick Lamar. (In “Gang Related,” a simulated news broadcast announcing “a massive manhunt” after a deadly shooting near the 400 block of West Deer Park in Gaithersburg is spliced in between a tale told through the eyes of Logic and one of his brothers.)
When Under Pressure debuted last October, the reception was overwhelmingly positive. The Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco hailed Logic as a better lyricist than Lamar, the Grammy-winning gangsta-rap deconstructionist. When the legendary New York rapper Nas met Logic, he quoted the Gaithersburg native’s own lyrics back to him. The hip-hop magazine XXL compared him to Kanye West and pronounced that Logic was here to stay. One of the few dissenting voices was Rolling Stone, which hailed his “technically excellent style” but said he lacked “emotional depth.”
In the five months since the album came out, Logic has mostly been gearing up for the biggest tour of his career. He says he’s uninterested in Hollywood clichés or temptations, and he lives pretty low-key. He rents a house in LA’s Tarzana neighborhood, which is mostly home to lawyers and professionals, not garish entertainers. By rap-star standards, his living situation is actually modest. He shares the three-bedroom house with his fiancée, Jessica Andrea, who sings backup for him; his day-to-day manager, Leon Ressalam, from Adelphi; and his longtime producer, 6ix (né Arjun Ivatury), a native of Bowie.
Rather than rent a tricked-out LA recording studio, Logic likes to stay home and work in a spare bedroom. By all accounts, parties and clubs don’t tempt him. His childhood vice—cigarettes—has been tamed, thanks to e-cigs. Logic’s only material indulgences seem to be a video projector, a vintage Akai MPC sampler, and dozens of Rubik’s Cubes. There’s no car (or even a driver’s license). Eventually, he’ll buy a BMW, he says. But not until he gets off tour.
Hours before the Jimmy Kimmel taping, the line of Logic super-fans extends for blocks on Hollywood Boulevard. Mostly under 25, the RattPackers are a diverse crowd. There’s Tyler Caldwell, an 18-year-old who drove five-plus hours from San Jose. “I don’t necessarily identify with his past, but it’s inspiring to hear how he overcame it,” says the high-school senior wearing a Logic T-shirt.
There’s Jennifer and Francisco Valle, 22 and 24—a Latino brother and sister who drove in from their home in South LA. Francisco is wearing an autographed Logic basketball jersey. “You can bob your head to it, but it’s more about the message that he sends out,” Jennifer says, explaining why she likes the rapper. “He’s not afraid to tell people to stay in school or be positive. I watch a lot of his interviews on YouTube, and you can see that he’s real.”
Inside the Kimmel dressing rooms, Logic seems more stressed about solving a Rubik’s Cube in less than a minute than in putting on a show for 2.3 million viewers. “This is the only thing I’ve ever done that taps into the same memorization part of my brain as rapping,” he says to one of the observers.
The crowd is already roaring when Kimmel’s hype man finally announces him and Logic cruises onto the stage, all adrenaline and quick-twitch muscles as his backup singers, violinists, cellist, and deejay fire up “Buried Alive.” He stares, slightly dazzled at the size of the crowd. “This is crazy,” he says, beaming and flashing the peace sign to them. “It’s about to be my birthday. This is crazy.”
The show is all exuberance, Logic bounding across the stage, teenagers waving posters of his face, and RATT PACK POR VIDA! signs. When the song ends, Logic announces he’s going to give a four-song mini-concert in the Kimmel lot, and the applause spills out onto Hollywood Boulevard.
As tour kickoffs go, it’d be hard to top the excitement of the week Logic has just had. Two nights before the Kimmel show, his fiancée threw him a surprise party at home for his 25th birthday.
“Seeing all the people who care about me was wonderful, but scary, too,” he says. “It lets me know, not necessarily how much I have to lose, but that I’m creating a family. For the first time in my life, I know how important that is to me.”
This article appears in our March 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Even casual listeners enjoy complaining that today’s pop is repetitive. Turn on the radio and it can be easy to confuse one artist for another, this week’s hit for one from two months ago. Helping combat that aural fatigue is Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox, a rotating cast of musicians led by New York performer Bradlee who are reinventing the pop wheel one song at a time.
The band, which plays the Birchmere January 19, has become famous for its YouTube channel featuring Top 40 songs recast in various historical styles—a ragtime “Call Me Maybe,” “No Diggity” as sultry jazz. (A doo-wop cover of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” has garnered more than 11 million page views.) “It’s about finding contrasts,” Bradlee says of deciding which tune to take on and what the sound will be. “By changing the genre, we change the meaning or the context of the song.”
The concept brings to mind “Weird Al” Yankovic, though Postmodern Jukebox’s songs aren’t parodies but playful homages. Bradlee filmed many of the videos, which feature performers dressed to match the era and musical style they emulate, in his Queens apartment using a fixed camera on a tripod—until noise complaints got him kicked out, inspiring him to name the band’s current gigs the Eviction Tour.
The relatively low-cost setup allows for a quick turnaround so the group can stay current with what’s on the radio. Bradlee cites another benefit: “The honesty of such a method draws people in—we’re doing everything live, not dubbed videos.” So far, they’ve turned their songs into four albums, including the aptly named Historical Misappropriation, released in September.
As for the critique that all modern music sounds alike, Bradlee says it’s not new: “You can recognize a ’50s song or a ’40s song because there are elements evocative of the specific era. In a sense, you can look at any musical period and see how it reflects the culture.” That’s certainly true of Postmodern Jukebox’s live act, which incorporates dancers and a theatrical element—or as Bradlee puts it, “The Lawrence Welk Show with more twerking.”
Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox play the Birchmere's Flex Stage January 19. Tickets ($25) are available online.
This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Washingtonian.