Logic wants to reach, yes, everybody. More than just an album title, Everybody, the Maryland MC’s third LP, is a mission statement and a message, one that 27-year-old wants to share without talking down to the listener. That desire for a calm, curious, and approachable tone led him to seek out the assistance of astrophysicist, educator, and TV host Neil deGrasse Tyson. Arguably the most widely recognized living scientist in American culture, Tyson plays a major role in the narrative of Everybody, guiding the concept album’s protagonist, Atom, through a unique experience of the afterlife that involves experiencing the life of every human being ever. Logic is nothing if not ambitious.
Raised in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in a household defined by conflict, abuse, and drugs, Logic (born Sir Robert Bryson Hall II) had the kind of childhood super-intense Lifetime movies are made of. In an interview with Complex conducted in 2014, just as Logic was just beginning to blow up, he explained, “My mother got stabbed...tried to choke me to death as a child. I can’t even begin to explain the tormenting feeling of living in my household—constant screaming, death-curdling screams, arguments between my mom and other men, her getting her fucking ass whooped. At times, there was blood all over the kitchen and fucking floor.”
Logic’s mother is white and his father is black, and this further complicated his coming of age. “My mother was racist,” he said. “My own mother would call me a nigger as a child. I’m not talking about ‘What’s up, my nigga,’ I’m talking in a fully prejudiced way.”
His experience as a biracial American informs his new album deeply, and even fueled controversy around the album’s initial title: AfricanAryaN. Despite his violent upbringing, Logic's music is defined by its positive outlook and hope for a brighter future. In fact, imagining the future is a hallmark of Logic’s albums at this point. (His second studio album, The Incredible True Story, features a sci-fi plot set in the year 2065.) Which is why he knew he needed Tyson for his latest project.
For his first appearance on the Complex Cover, Logic is joined by Tyson to discuss the genesis of their collaboration, the concept album (and the album as a concept), humanity’s past, and black people in the Louvre.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Logic: So, when would you say you first encountered my music or just my name?
Neil deGrasse Tyson: It was an email. An email out of the blue, out of the dark depths of space. So in my inbox, there it was. It just said “Logic” — and I promise, anyone who emails me that I will reply eventually.
L: In some fashion.
NDT: Eventually. So, I finally got back to it and check with my nephew. Who is this and why? And he’s like, “Oh. That’s Logic,” and I said, “Ok,” but I can’t wrap my head around it now. So I put it back here, and it just kind of stayed on the back burner, and then—
L: I went through my agency at the time to get your information, and I was like, “Is there any way?” 'Cause on my last album, The Incredible True Story, it’s like a very grand intro, and it just sounds like space. So I was like, how incredible would it be if you could speak, just your awesome voice, kind of over this, as an amazing intro to this journey, this sci-fi epic?
NDT: The weird thing is I don't even hear my voice.
L: Well, we hear your voice, and we thank you for your voice.
NDT:Who hears their own voice? Nobody. You just talk.
L: That’s true, but I can say a lot of people admire it, and I think a big reason why people admire it is simply for the fact that when you speak, you don’t make people feel dumb, and that’s a big deal. They can really comprehend and understand what you’re saying, and that’s why I wanted to go with your voice.
NDT: Well, thank you for noticing that, because there’s a difference between talking at someone and speaking with them. These are two different exercises. One of them is, “You don’t know and I know, so just shut up and listen,” and the other one is, you’re curious and you’re learning, and I have a way where you can learn this so you’ll know it as well. And when you know it, and know why you know it, then you don't have to reference me ever again because you take ownership of the knowledge, and you can then share it with someone else. They’ll say, “Well how do you know that?” Well, it’s because A goes to B and this has the cause and effect. But if your answer could only be, “‘Cause Tyson told me,” I failed. You want to somehow get that inside you, and then you raise a notch in your knowledge, enlightenment, wisdom, and insight into the operations of the world.
L: Well, goddamn. That was pretty gangster.
NDT: I was flattered to be considered for this, and by the way I have a really soft spot for artists. I think the material that inspires artists is the fabric of the soul of civilization.
NDT: Think about it. Because we all just function, the rest of us, just go to work and come home; artists make life bearable. They give perspectives on things we never knew you could have. They bring joy. They explore inner human emotion, and at its best, the full dynamic range of that emotion. And if an artist is reaching for the universe as a source of creative muse, then I’m there. I’m gonna say, “Yeah. Here’s Saturn. Here’s a black hole. Here’s twisted space-time. Talk to me. What do you need? What do you want?” And I’ll just feed you, because I think only then does science become mainstream—when science becomes a legitimate topic for artists.
L: Well, thank you for answering my call, and I really do appreciate that. I was just a little nervous 'cause when I had come to you with this whole story about this guy who’s essentially lived everyone’s life ever, I wasn’t sure how you would take it, and I actually love how you were so open to it. ’Cause it’s almost like a fun, sci-fi take on existing, you know what I mean?
NDT: Here’s the thing. If you’re gonna reach for something philosophical [or] scientific, my requirement that I place upon you is a quote from Mark Twain. He said, “First get your facts straight, then distort them at your leisure.” And so, in the project that you brought to me, there was enough there that was fundamentally true that where you then took it was the full expression of informed artistic extension.
L: Wow, man.
NDT: ’Cause it is blatantly embarrassing if an artist is trying to do it but they didn't actually do their homework. So a person who has lived all lives and has experienced all emotion, and has experienced birth and death — that is an interesting psychological state that was surely worth exploring, and I was very happy to be called upon.
L: Well, thank you.
NDT: Let me ask you something, ’cause I’m not in the biz, I’m just a scientist.Do albums still have meaning, as concepts? If you could just go online and pluck this song and that song, where is the concept anymore?
L: You have your J. Coles, and your Kendricks, and your me’s, and your Chances, and your people out there who just really love, not just hip-hop, but music, and the culture, and people in general. And so when you have artists who appreciate and love music so much that they actually take the time to create a concept, that is a very special thing. And to say that we’re the first artists to make concept albums, no, obviously not, but we’re in an age where it’s dying.
NDT: This is what I’m asking you.
L: So for me it’s like it’s interconnecting with me and all my albums. I was inspired by the writings of Andy Weir, and through reading…
NDT: Andy Weir, author of The Martian?
L: I was like, “How can I push myself?” Because The Incredible True Story, which was my last album, is set in the year 2065. The last human footprint is left on Earth before ascending to a space station called Babel where men are seeking an inhabitable planet called Paradise. So, I don't know how it came together, but it did, and a huge part of it is you, and you need to understand that.
NDT: Are you saying my participation was a fundamental part of this album?
L: Yes, without question.
NDT: You couldn't just get somebody else?
L: I could’ve, but it wouldn’t have been the same thing because of who you are to culture, your culture, and who I am to mine. It’s very important that we come together to educate the masses.
L: Yeah. Think about how many people are watching this right now, who have no idea who the hell I am and love you—and vice versa, people who might not know [you] and they’re more into the hip-hop and music, or are very young and don't understand or whatever. It’s so incredible that we can educate people together.
NDT: So dude, you haven't had a hit single. What’s wrong with you?
L: I don't give a shit. I think that’s what it is.
NDT: ’Cause let me remember: The first concept album I ever knew of, it was Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I remember first playing that on my record player, and one song just blended into the next. A few years later, I was tutoring at a prison up in Massachusetts and one of them, his name was Carlos, we would just talk. When we weren't doing academics we would just talk, and his favorite album was What’s Going On, and he couldn't stop talking about it. He was moved by the music in this concept album, and from then on I couldn't shake the idea of a concept album, and how important they need to be. ’Cause a musician, you can’t tell me, “I’ve got this message I want share with the public,” and it’s three-and-a-half minutes long. That’s not it. If your message is only three-and-a-half minutes long, then we got nothing else to talk about. Because life is more complex than three-and-a-half minutes. So I’m delighted to learn of your philosophy towards this.
L: When I started creating this album two years ago, it was before my other album was even out. I was writing, and it just so happened that a lot of the subject matter I’m discussing on this album, which is the fight for equality of every man, woman, and child regardless of race, religion, color, creed, and sexual orientation—because I believe that we are born equal, but we are not treated equally—I’m just here to say, “Just be a good person, and really respect others.” I’m proud to be bi-racial, and there’s a lot of people that say things like, “I don’t see color,” and I completely understand that, but I think different is beautiful, our difference shouldn’t separate us. For me in this era, [with] everything that we’re going through, my whole thing is just about unity, man.
NDT: Personally, I have a highly unorthodox view of life.
L: I’m with you. Trust me. I get it.
NDT: You ready for it?
L: I’m ready.
NDT: You sure? Are you seated?
L: I’m literally ready to learn.
NDT: So, if you go back far enough in the history of our species, you can find a common ancestor between any two people. We have 7 billion people in the world. Every person has two parents, and every one of them had two parents, every one of them had two parents. If you keep going back, that’s like trillions of people in the world. But in the past there weren’t trillions of people in the world. So how do you get trillions of parents but you only had a fraction of the population that we have today? The family tree of humanity is converging. If someone asks you, "What are you?," typically implying what is your ethnicity, what we do is we say, “Okay, I’m Irish.” “Well, where were you born?” “Born in New York.” “Where were your parents born?” “Oh, they were born in New York.” “Where were their parents born?” “They were born in New York.” “Well where were their parents born?” “They were from Ireland.” Well, you’re third-generation American. You’re American. They went back through time, found a place that they decided they wanted to put forward, and declared that’s what they are. It turns out that point is completely arbitrary. If you’re gonna do that, go back even further, and if you do, everyone is from Africa. But why didn’t you take it to Africa? Why did you stop in Europe? They wanna find out, typically, they want to find out if there’s royalty or some famous person. I have an active disinterest in my genealogy. Why, you might ask? [Laughs.]
L: Why, Neil? Why do you say that?
NDT: Because I am genetically connected to everyone on earth If I want to find out what I can be in life, I’m looking to everybody who ever lived. The genius of Isaac Newton, the courage of Joan of Arc, the social morality of Martin Luther King—I’m happy to absorb all the creativity of humanity and then cherry-pick that for what excites me, and let that be what I become in life. And not be constrained by the accomplishments of someone who’s in my exact lineage. You have complete control of your life. Fuck the genetics. You are in control of your life.
L: That’s how I feel about being a child who was raised in a household with narcotics and alcoholism and all that. People always ask me, they say, “What would you do if you weren’t rapping?” And I say I’d probably be dead or in jail. Because it was in my path to sell drugs, and to run the streets and—
NDT: Easy pathways right in front of you.
L: Yeah, exactly, and those were the things where I actually have a song on this album called “Most Definitely,” which is an homage to Mos Def. It’s Damien Lamar Hudson, who I featured on a song I have called “Black SpiderMan,” and he left everything in New York City, got evicted from his house because he didn’t have enough money, lives now in Inglewood, and dropped everything to come work on my album. Everywhere he applies to is asking for years of experience and it’s like, well, how can you have years of experience if you’re just coming out of school, you know what I mean? And it was so easy to just steal, or rob, or sell drugs. And I saw that and I knew it wasn’t right. You know, I’ve run around with guns and knives, and I did the most dumbest, stupid shit, and thank God I never took anybody’s life, or I never did anything that I look in the mirror and truly regret. Thank God. Thank you so much. I swear, man, without the drive and without the possibility, just the possibility of being able to truly be happy and chase that dream, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.
NDT: Consider that oft-told story: You have an immigrant who first comes over, a first-generation immigrant. They come in and they’re young, and they sell bread on the corner or newspapers, and they struggle and then they get married and they have a kid, but they’re struggling the whole time. They have to skimp now and then, and they rise up and they start their own business, and the business is successful. And then he gets wealthy and buys a big house in the suburbs, and says to himself, “I will make sure my kids never suffer the way I suffered. I will not allow that to happen.” So they have kids in the suburbs, and the kids don’t struggle the way the immigrant did. Then the kid ends up a complete deadbeat. Then they say, “Why aren’t you ambitious? I gave you everything I didn’t have.”
L: I think that’s why, right?
NDT: That’s exactly why. The person who was successful forgot that they were successful because of the failures that they overcame.
L: See, people will ask me, “What would you do if you could go back and talk to your younger self?” And I always say, if I could go back and talk to my younger self, I’d tell him, “Too bad you couldn’t make it!” So I [would] work ten times fuckin’ harder! If you go back and you’re like, “Oh, you’re gonna be an astrophysicist and everybody’s gonna love you.” It’s like, no, you gotta fight.
NDT: I think we are all the sum of that which has happened in our lives. And if you’re successful, it would be wrong to think that you’d be more successful had something been easier. That’s not a given.
L: Yeah, but where’s the drive, right? If it’s easier, then why are you compelled? Do you think perfection in craft is even possible? I think chasing perfection is the fun part about it.
NDT: I agree, I agree. I think mathematically there are certain proofs that are just perfect where you can just leave it alone and work on something else.
L: In art?
NDT: No, no, no, in math. So, are you going to go up to the Mona Lisa and say, “You know, I think it needs some extra…”? You’re not gonna do that.
L: Well, I mean, if they had Twitter back then they would do it.
L: Anyway, sorry. Continue.
NDT: I took a look at the Mona Lisa recently. Forget the face, the hair that’s on her left shoulder—
L: I know.
NDT: This is just—this is hair!
L: That’s what inspired me. I went to the Louvre last year, I was on tour and I was in Paris for a show. I went to the Louvre, and I saw the Mona Lisa, and everyone’s looking at the Mona Lisa through their cellphone screen—
NDT: The Pope is going by, and they’re looking at the Pope through the thing. What are you doing? In fact, some memories are best absorbed through your eyes in real time, even if you have no record of it later. Because then you can access that memory and how you felt in that moment. If you’re looking at your cellphone screen, taking a video of something that is otherwise unforgettable, watching it later will not recover the emotion you would have had, had you witnessed it directly.
L: That’s a real thing. When I went and saw the Mona Lisa, I turned around and said, “Everybody’s here for this.” Everybody’s here, at the Louvre, for this one painting. Hey, da Vinci — good job, bro. Awesome. But there is so much other incredible, beautiful art. And I said, you know what, I’m gonna look for something different. I turned around, and that’s when I saw the Wedding at Cana, which is what inspired my album cover. I see that thing, and I’ll never forget, there’s over a 100 figures—
NDT: Are you telling me we all would’ve been in the Mona Lisa had this been reversed? [Laughs.] Had everyone been looking at the wedding painting, and said, “I wanna look at something different.” You turn around and it’s the Mona Lisa.
L: It’d just be me like this. [Logic poses.]
NDT: We’d all be chilling with Mona Lisa.
L: Yeah, true. That’s real. That’s the thing of just being able to be inspired and live in the moment.
NDT: Can I tell you a quick Louvre story?
L: Oh, please.
NDT: My first time there, I’ve only been there like twice now, but my first time there’s the Mona Lisa, right? Then I go in another corridor and there is a painting of a black woman. There aren’t all that many black folk painted in the Louvre. Do you know the title of the painting?
NDT: Black Lady. [Laughs.]
L: Are you serious?
NDT: Yes! I’m completely serious.
L: No way.
NDT: And I thought, “Damn. Couldn’t put the woman’s name on it?” So, she was a subject of the painting because she had dark skin. Not because she was a person whose persona would then be manifest on the canvas.
L: Well, do you think the person that painted it thought, “Wow, how beautiful is this woman”?
NDT: I think [in that] day, in all fairness to the moving scale of morality and progressiveness, I can believe if someone told me that that painter was progressive for even making a black woman a subject.
L: It’s crazy. I mean, you take it back to the 15, 1600s, that’s still where we are today. It’s like, Oh, that’s the black guy, that’s the this or that’s the that.
NDT: I’d still rather be alive today than the 15 or 1600s. [Laughs.]
L: I’d rather be alive today too, I’m just saying. It’s still all about labels today, and that’s the crazy thing.
NDT: My label is all of humanity. A quick little historical note about the word “mankind.” So, “man” as the prefix there, is actually traceable to the fact that we have hands, and [man] is for manual. That’s where you [get] a manuscript, a handwritten object. So mankind literally referred to the species that has dexterity with hands.
NDT: And only when anthropologists got sloppy with the term and started composing sentences like, “When man emerged from Africa and wandered through Europe and Asia, he would take a woman.” In that moment, man means human male to you, rather than all of humanity.
L: Oh, completely.
NDT: So "humankind" is a better bet in modern times. The Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal,” that man could realistically be interpreted as all humans even though women were not explicitly identified as voters or anything else. The way “man” was used by then by anthropologists was all humans. Because that was the day of anthropology, the 16th, 17th century. Just wanted to say that.
L: Why thank you, brother.
NDT: I long for civilization to develop a level of science literacy so that we can become better shepherds of our future on this planet.
L: Damn. I don’t know how to follow that. It’s [like] the Stones just played, now I gotta go on. Man, I just hope everybody can get along man. Can’t we just get along? That’s it.