Illogic goes it alone on album informed by the power of community

Andy Downing

Despite the smooth sailing suggested by its title, new Illogic albumAutopilot, out today (Tuesday, Oct. 20), is actually the result of more than five years of intensive work that started with the longtime Columbus rapper teaching himself how to construct his own beats for the first time.

“Even when I was just rhyming, watching [Blueprint] make beats, or earlier in my career, Prizm, I always wanted to produce. Just being around producers, I was always intrigued by that side of hip-hop,” said Illogic, born Jawhar Glass 40 years ago. “But, for one, the equipment was very expensive. And then the equipment just seemed more difficult [to master], or at least my head always told me it was. But around the time I put outCelestial Clockwork [in 2004], I started to tell myself that I would produce an album of my own, and I always held firmly to that until about five or six years ago when I finally made the leap.”

Early on, Illogic would spend hours watching online tutorials and experimenting with the equipment. He learned how to sample, toyed with reverb and mastered the various settings so that he could bend, warp and manipulate sounds as effortlessly as he did syllables in his skillfully rapped verses. 

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This adventurousness bled over into the way Illogic constructed his verses, too. “With this record, some people may notice I threw the idea of normal song structure out the window,” he said. “Normal song structure is 16 bars, eight-bar hook, 16 bars, eight-bar hook throughout, but a lot of these songs have 12-bar verses, or maybe there’s a 16-bar verse and that’s it. There’s just different song structure throughout in that way where nothing is the norm.”

Subject-wise, a number of the tracks feel very of-this-moment despite most having been written more than two years ago, which the rapper attributed in part to his ability to pick up on ideas that have long been in the atmosphere, crystalizing into more solidified form in recent months. “Out of This World,” for one, feels born of internet misinformation (“Lies travel faster than truth,” he spits), while “Pick Pocketing” explores the idea that society can often vilify individuals without providing context of the external forces that have shaped their path. “We frame behavior as Vader without understanding Anakin,” Illogic raps, referencing the boy who would one day grow into the black helmet.

“There's been so much going on the last two or three years, and especially recently with this election — all the partisan politics, the effect of social media on our children, the splintering of communities,” Illogic said. “There are just so many aspects of life that I pull from all of the time when writing, but I think a lot of the themes of this record are about that feeling that we’re lacking something as a culture that needs to be addressed, that needs to be fixed.”

Such is the case on “Snooze,” which depicts a society in which individuals sleepwalk through their days, immune to the problems piling up in the periphery. “It’s about how everything is exploding around us, and we just continue to sleepwalk through it,” the rapper said. “And it’s not just dealing with racial issues, but also our communities and how we treat each other. We’re starting to become robots and the people in charge are just smiling and directing us where they want us to go, and we’re cool with it, and that sucks.”

Throughout, Illogic suggests that a solution to these snowballing issues will require community effort, whether he’s rapping about how none of us can tackle things alone on album-closing track “The Depth,” or pointing out how problems can often seem insurmountable absent helping hands on the galactic “Aphextwin.” “Obstacles appear more immense when you’re alone,” he raps.

Even “Out of This World” is shaped by this grander idea, Illogic rhyming about a relationship between two people and gradually blowing it out into a broader commentary on all of our human interactions.

“It’s not just about a relationship between a man and a woman. It’s about our relationships with each other, our relationships with our friends, our relationships with the communities we’re in,” he said. “Sometimes we just have to turn things off and embrace each other, be around each other, love each other. And that’s the only way we’re going to survive this craziness.”

Watch the video for "The Depth" below: