LOGIC, HIP-HOP'S TRAGIC MULATTO
Written by Devyn Springer
I identify as Black, but for the sake of this article let me start by saying: I’m mixed. When I haven’t gotten sun in a few weeks and my skin turns that strange grayish color, and my afro is shaved off, despite my large lips and undeniably non-European features, I am seen as racially ambiguous in many spaces. I very, very rarely lead any conversation with these identity facts about myself, unlike rapper Logic, who recently dropped his third studio album “Everybody.” On Everybody, however, that Logic is a white-passing mixed Black person seems to be Logic’s only defining characteristic for himself, like he’s self-inflicted himself into existence as a living, breathing, trope.
On Everybody Logic raps (and occasionally talks too much) about race, religion, purpose, and even depression, but the one thing that stands out the most on the album is his race talk. This sounds exciting given his lyrical ability and actual rap skills, something I’ve admired him for for some time now, until you listen to his content and the words tragic mulatto ring in your ear like a broken record.
The term “tragic mulatto” refers to one of the many tropes historically placed on Black people, especially Black women, that describes someone of mixed race who does not “fit in.” Much like the satirized version of the tragic mulatto trope portrayed in the main character of 2014’s Dear White People film, the tragic mulatto is often shown as a confused, or depressed, Black person of mixed race heritage because they cannot seem to fit into the “Black world” or the “white world.” The trope first appeared in racist literature even before the Reconstruction era, with novels like 1843's 'Slavery's Pleasant Homes' portraying light skinned/white-passing Black women as the child of white slave masters and a black female slaves; a portrayal that would eventually grow unavoidably common. The trope runs deep throughout American literature and media, with several characters in popular works placed into its confines (think Nina Simone’s “Saffronia” in her hit song “Four Women”) and it is not surprising that in 2017, Logic reminds us just how marketable this trope remains.
On the song “BlackSpiderman” he manages to pack so many defining factors of a young, wayward, special snowflake mulatto story, rapping “I ain’t ashamed to be white /I ain’t ashamed to be Black/ I ain’t ashamed of my beautiful Mexican wife as a matter of fact.” It is in lines like these that Logic’s race talk becomes eye-roll worthy, with him stating later in the song, “I’m just as white as that Mona Lisa/ I’m just as black as my cousin Keisha/ I’m biracial so bye Felicia” just one line after him claiming ‘black is beautiful’ and he’s ‘black and proud.’ In a white supremacist world, one where those along the color lines of lighter skin nearing white-passing appearance are given privileges and slightly favored, there is nothing revolutionary or exciting about stating you aren’t ‘ashamed to be white.’ Most white people aren’t ashamed to be white, because Blackness, not whiteness, is taught to be a shameful burden.
The summation of Logic’s album seems to be one of confusion, not revolutionary or even interesting race revelations. He teeters between songs seemingly charged with Black power on one hand, and off putting white apologism on others. On tracks like “America” he raps alongside the likes of hip-hop heavyweights Black Thought, Chuck D, No I.D., and Big Lenbo, delivering the lines “fight the power/ Fight for the right to get up and say fuck white power” and other well-charged quotables. Songs like “America” show Logic’s potential to harness the energy of our current political climate and subvert it, and alludes to a capability of merging lyrical skill with political message in ways that seek to dismantle.
However, the pointed pro-Blackness found in certain songs turns into a strange, near racially-confused tracks like “Everybody” where he decides to talk specifically about his own identity and history. The song shares a title with the album, and dives into Logic’s experiences having a Black father and a white mother. As someone whose parents fall into the same racial categories as Logic’s, the only word fitting for me to use to describe Logic discussing his racial identity is “tiring.” On “Everybody” he goes from vaguely referring to himself as a house nigga, to saying he has the blood of the “slave and the master” running through his veins, to managing to dismiss white privilege and confusing it with light skin privilege all in one line. The song ends with him stating he wishes he could “erase race” because everybody’s talking about it, which is interesting, because Logic manages to talk a lot of about race throughout this entire album without actually saying much. The problem is not that Logic has decided to talk about race, the problem is how he has decided to do so and what he has decided to dedicate time to on this album.
Another unavoidable lowpoint on the album is the song “AfricAryaN,” where Logic misguidedly titled the track as a mixture of “African” and “Aryan,” which seems almost insulting to the word African given the contemporary context “Aryan” carries in relation to white nationalism. The song is 12 minutes long and is just… a mess. He raps over the soft instrument-laden track talking about having a white mother and a Black father (again), the feeling of needing to overcompensate for his white passing appearance, and not feeling accepted in the Black or white world. Over the course of Logic’s career, he’s mentioned a few times in various songs his own mother being racist, but it seems he’s determined to make that narrative shine through on this project. What needs to be made clear is that this story is not special or, as his lyrics seem to insist, revolutionary. My own mother, too, has racist tendencies as well as half of my family, however I know that is an experience not incredibly unique or exceptional to multiracial individual.
Listen, Logic, from one mixed person to another: I get it. Life can be difficult for us at times, and we don't always exist as binarily as people wish to see us. However, no amount of mixed people in the world will cure racism; poor science telling folks that mixed people "are the future" and the we will save the country is simply wrong. And in a world where Black people, mixed people, are routinely fetishized and commodified for profit by white capitalists, we don’t need you or anyone else out here accidentally furthering that exploitative fetishization by creating art which reinvigorates the tragic mulatto trope we should be focused on destroying. Logic needs to understand that being a white passing Black person does not invalidate or belittle your Blackness, it simply means you need to understand your own relation to light skin privilege, use it to uplift and amplify narratives which seek Black liberation, and move on. On an album where you allowed J. Cole, another mixed Black person, to feature on a song and rap “fuck the black and white shit/ Be who you are, identify as a star,” we have a problem. This liberal color-blindness, which is rooted in an internalized anti-Blackness, becomes dangerous at the exact moment you begin to profess it to your millions of fans.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Logic stated he was “scared” to talk about race on this new album, and even said he initially didn’t even want to. It seems he should have followed this initial intuition, or at least used his good friend Google to learn more about the tragic mulatto trope before turning himself into it. In a world where Black people are being killed by police daily, and Black trans women are being murdered at alarming rates, it is a problem to make an album about race which is based on identity trope-ification. And as this album become the number one album in the country according to Billboard, I can’t help but think of all the white record label executives’ hands this project passed through for it to make its way to my ears, and the dollar signs they heard as the tragic mulatto rapped his heartbreak to them.