Hip-hop has a bad case of the blues: that much is clear from a quick turn of the FM dial, or skim of Spotify’s RapCaviar playlist. There, artists like Future and Lil Uzi Vert have dominated by embedding dark, depressed lyrics into their songs, many of which have crossed over at pop and hit the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart.
Using music to cope with inner turmoil is nothing new, but hip-hop’s modern nihilism is particularly conspicuous. Just listen to a song like Uzi’s “XO TOUR Llif3,” one of the year’s biggest tracks, which includes melancholy, self-medicated lyrics like, “She say I’m insane, yeah/ I might blow my brain out/ Xanny, help the pain, yeah/ Please, Xanny, make it go away.” Meanwhile, problematic Florida rapper XXXTentacion is rising from SoundCloud to mainstream notoriety with “Jocelyn Flores,” a song about a friend who committed suicide. The track recently debuted at No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The perfect counter-balance to this trend has been the ascension of Logic and his biggest single to date, “1-800-273-8255.” Named for the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, the Alessia Cara and Khalid-featuring song offers a different take on self-destruction, emulating a cry for help and a comforting voice on the other end of the phone call (“What’s the day without a little night? / I’m just tryna shed a little light,” Logic raps.) The song’s cinematic music video, which stars Don Cheadle, portrays a teenage boy who struggles with his sexuality and contemplates taking his own life before calling a hotline for professional help.
“1-800-273-8255” has catapulted to No. 5 on the Hot 100 since the Gaithersburg, Md., native performed it on the MTV VMAs late last month, inviting 50 attempt survivors and loss survivors to the stage for one of the most emotional moments of the ceremony, which has seemingly pivoted from the facetious stunts of years past to something more actively conscientious. “I just want to take a moment right now and thank you all so much for giving me a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about,” Logic said to conclude the performance. “Mental health, anxiety, suicide, depression and so much more that I talk about on this album.”
Logic’s message was crystal-clear, and it achieved its intended effect: raising awareness of mental illness and a step toward crisis prevention. According to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, calls to the namesake phone number increased by 50 percent following the VMAs performance. (The NSPH experienced a bump of 27 percent the day of the song’s release back in April). Where many artists have focused on the doldrums of depression and contemplated ending it all on wax, Logic’s song presented an alternative, shifting the approach toward concern and encouragement rather than hopelessness.
“This is something that really allows the listener to feel connected because this is their outlet,” the 27-year-old artist told Genius of his intentions. “I’m hurting deep down but can’t show it but Logic can help me show it. By playing this song, he’s letting it be known to the entire world forever how I feel in this moment.”
For Logic, his own big moment comes at an interesting time, while fellow thinking-man lyricists whose messages skew positive — J. Cole, Chance The Rapper — are between projects and relatively dormant. Logic has been steadily climbing from cult-rap phenomenon toward his own household-name status since his 2014 Def Jam debut, Under Pressure; he scored his first No. 1 debut album in May with Everybody. The latter album’s impact and content has positioned him as an earnest antithesis to rappers like 21 Savage, Migos and Future, as he reflects more heavily on personal topics like his bi-racial identity and being abused as a child.
“He has dealt with a lot of struggle in his life,” collaborator Cara said of Logic in an interview with Billboard earlier this year. “He has grown from all of it. His whole thing is peace, love, positivity; he has been projecting that outside of and in his music, and I’m glad he’s doing that.”
While “1-800-273-8255” continues to help listeners keep their heads up, it’s likely the track will yield some other beneficial side effects. The song has continued moving upward on the Hot 100, and even if Logic’s single has peaked, its success is likely to inspire other artists to explore the subject of suicide in similarly productive ways that can help balance hip-hop’s ubiquitous melancholia. As for Logic, he’s already got a mission statement in mind as his career continues.
“What I’m trying to establish,” he told Newsweek, “is being the artist that when you wake up with that hangover after you were at the club and you’re looking for something to play, you’ll play real music like myself, from someone who’s gonna make you think about your life and your problems instead of trying to drown them away with drugs and alcohol.”