There was a brief moment when longtime Columbus rapper Illogic believed would be his last, a reality he cops to on “Hot Lead,” the opening track off his new full-length, The Transition, out Friday, Nov. 11.
“One of the things I talked about with Autopilot … was how I wanted to produce an album of my own one day,” Illogic said by phone. “But the real thing I told myself at that time was that I wanted to produce my last album. So, at the time I was producing Autopilot, I was thinking, you know, this would be a good note to go out on, if I was to go out.”
While questions of what rests beyond hip-hop might have planted the seed for The Transition, the record unfolds less as an in memoriam for Illogic’s three-decade career than a joyous rekindling of the passions that inspired his earliest explorations with the form.
Throughout, the rapper tips a cap to the artists who have shaped him along the way (“The Transition”), contrasts the lessons absorbed from fatherhood with those learned in music (“A Small Piece”) and makes a gradual peace with the reality that being a rapper no longer defines him in the way it once might have as a younger man.
“I handed over the brush and canvas/abandoned plans to be active,” he raps on “Passion Fruit,” a track on which he unpacks these shifting artistic motivations.
“It’s definitely different now, because I don’t necessarily think I have anything left to prove, other than to myself,” said Illogic, born Jawhar Glass, who will celebrate the release of The Transition with . “As far as being a musician, I’m not reaching for a lot anymore. I’m not that young artist who’s looking to blow up, to get signed. I’m comfortable with where I’m at. Of course, I’ll write and rap until the day that I die … but I’m starting to grow further outside of [music]. There are other things that I want to try to accomplish.”
These ideas are generally presented unobscured on The Transition. Illogic forgoes much of the complex wordplay and conceptual trickery of recent albums, adopting a deceptively conversational tone on tracks like “Hot Lead” – a master lyricist uncovering fresh beauty in simplicity. This streamlined approach carries into the more stripped-down beats, which offer more breathing room than Autopilot, a comparatively dense album on which the first-time producer attempted to pack in all of his sonic experiments.
“During the production [of Autopilot], it was more like, ‘Oh, let me turn this knob and see what this does. That sounds cool. Let’s keep that in there,’” Illogic said. “With this record, I was more focused and purposeful with the beats I made.”
The rapper started work on The Transition in the earliest days of the pandemic, with the advent of stay-at-home regulations further fueling the record’s more inward turn. Illogic wrote the album’s title track, for one, during a summer night spent alone in a hotel room (a Father’s Day gift from his wife), the solitude sending him back those writing-obsessed childhood days where he’d log countless hours reading the dictionary as a means of expanding his vocabulary.
“This birthed something in the kid, whose bedroom window framed the way … to escape and he did,” Illogic raps, and then adds, “through the pen.”
“I think for a lot of people the pandemic was a time of reflecting and understanding where you've been, where you are and where you want to go,” said Illogic, who returned to writing in those 2020 months when everything felt unmoored, owing in part to the sense of comfort he’d discovered in the form as a child. “For me, it brought out this whole idea of transitioning, because so many changes have happened in my life over the last three, four years.
"I’ve had different jobs, moved into new homes, my children are getting older, I’m a grandfather now. I have all of these new things in my life that I’m opening chapters on, so this record is kind of a good mile marker for me. ... I'll never stop writing, but this is a before and after transition where the focus is going to shift a little bit. Before I leave this Earth, there are other things I want to do, other things I want to accomplish."