We all know this story too well. A buzzing rapper inks a deal with a major label, loses himself amidst hype and budgets, and ends up dropping an album that feels like a half-baked, commercialized version of their original vision. Worse yet, after these rappers push back against their labels, their projects get delayed or, sometimes, never released at all. This process has played out time and time again, ensnaring rappers like B.o.B, Wiz Khalifa, Azealia Banks, and Lupe Fiasco.
It's understandable then why many fans were concerned when Maryland rapper Logic, who came up releasing a successful string of independent projects online, announced in 2013 that not only was he signing to Def Jam, but that he had actually been a part of the label since 2012. Were the pressures of radio play and album sales going to change the rapper who many were proclaiming to be the next big thing? What was his music going to sound like now that he had someone else presumably pulling the strings?
As it turned out, his fans had nothing to fear. Logic’s deal with Def Jam turned out to be a model of how to stay independent after signing to a major label. In order to understand how he achieved this, one must start all the way back in 2010, when his first mixtape, Young, Broke, and Infamous, dropped. Although the project didn’t reach the heights of his subsequent Young Sinatra series, it attracted the attention of Visionary Music Group President Chris Zarou, who worked to recruit Logic to the independent label.
He didn’t officially sign to VMG until after the release of his Young Sinatra mixtape in 2011, but when he did the label quickly became the driving force behind his career. Its staff booked his tours, shot his videos, produced his tracks, and promoted the release of Young Sinatra: Undeniable in 2012 and Young Sinatra: Welcome to Forever in 2013. On the track “Till the End,” from his 2014 Def Jam debut, Under Pressure, he revealed that he didn’t even have a publicist when he releasing his string of mixtapes. “All that PR shit don’t matter,” he told Muziczoo.com in 2014. “I didn’t have a publicist until March of this year…. We didn’t need one because we did it all on our own.” He managed to build a large online following, headline well-received tours, and amass millions of video views, all thanks to the hard work of his Visionary Music Group team. For a while, it appeared Logic would be a homegrown success story who would reach new heights for an independent artist.
Perhaps this is why the revelation of his Def Jam deal on April 15, 2013, took some people by surprise. Just one month from appearing on the XXL Freshman cover, the popular indie rapper was not only going major, but he had apparently been under the wing of the label for years. What many people missed, however, was the important inclusion of VMG in his announcement. “It's incredible for Def Jam [Records] and Visionary Music Group to work together, and the opportunity to collaborate with a living legend like No I.D. is priceless. I'm very humbled to be a part of the most iconic hip-hop label of all time," he said in a press release. Even though he was signing to Def Jam, he wasn’t about to leave his roots behind.
One of the most common side effects of signing a major label deal is a loss of creative control. Label executives and A&Rs often push the artist toward a sound that is commercially viable. Logic avoided this potential minefield by making sure he was signing a deal that would not leave him creatively hamstrung. “I’m not just going to get a deal, I’m going to get the deal. And in my deal I got by signing with No I.D. to Def Jam, I got full creative control, the money was great, the contract was good, and I got to create the album that I wanted,” he told Muziczoo.com. Because of this, he was able to make Under Pressure the way he envisioned, devoid of big-name features or radio-baiting singles.
The true genius of Logic’s deal, however, is that he managed to keep his entire core team in place. “Everything that we’ve done has been Visionary [Music Group]—Def Jam hasn’t done shit! I’m not complaining, Def Jam is incredible, but Visionary did everything for me. From tours, to mixing, mastering, graphics, artwork—I’ve done out of pocket,” he said in a June 2014 interview with Complex. “By the time I did hit Def Jam and say, ‘I need your help, I need the radio, I need this, I need that,’ then they would put their everything into that rather than wasting time and money on shit I could do myself.” Even though he had been with Def Jam during most of his come up, Logic and his team always held the reins of his career. His evolution was natural. The deal with Def Jam was simply a vehicle to further the work that he and VMG had already put in.
Ultimately, staying true to a vision and plan he cemented early in his career is the key to Logic’s continued success. "Fans tend to think that if you fall in love with an artist…and then he gets bigger and he grows and he starts to make a different sound, 'He's changing on us,’” he said in a 2012 interview with Fresh New Tracks. “But with me, I created all types of sounds from the get go, so you can never say I'm changing, you can never say I'm going mainstream or I'm selling out.” Although he’s already experienced success, he has even bigger plans for the future, and they still heavily include Visionary. “I think we are the modern day Roc-A-Fella,” Logic told Power 106 L.A. in 2013. “If that may sound arrogant or whatever I don’t mean it to be, but you have to have vision and you have to believe it. And I see what Jay did with the Roc and what Dame [Dash] did with the Roc, and I see myself as that Jay and I see Chris Zarou, the president of Visionary Music Group, as that Dame…. I want to be better than that.” Only time will tell if he’ll reach those lofty goals, but with a smart business sense, a loyal following, and a new album out soon, Logic is off to a great start.
This article is part of a series sponsored by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM's ‘CREED’ starring Michael B. Jordan. It showcases how different luminaries from sports, music, and design fought (and continue to fight) to achieve success. Check back the week of Nov. 23 for more content on Logic.