Monday, August 04, 2008


In my work for Rapreviews, I have to rate albums on a ten point scale, judging both their lyrics and music. When I review a more high-profile album, my score ends up part of the Metacritic aggregate, which means that my positive reviews of Lyrics Born and Erykah Badu have helped their latests albums have higher scores. The ten point scale is daunting, and even worse when converted to Metacritic's 100 point scale. Then it becomes a grade, and I'm giving albums a B, a B- or a C. Sometimes I wish I could just use Sound Opinions "Buy It, Burn It, Trash It" scale, which often better sums up how I feel about an album. I either like it, think it's worth checking out, or don't want to waste my time with it. I guess the ten point scale allows for more nuance and fairness.

I taught English in the Peace Corps for a year, with the idea that I would end up being a History teacher when I got done with my two years. It turns out I couldn't stand being a teacher, and grading was part of the issue. It was always such a hassle, and such drama. No one would accept a bad grade, even when they deserved it. As a result, grades end up inflated, and then the truly great students end up getting robbed. If mediocrity becomes the new good, then good is mediocre.

I struggle with my ratings on Rapreviews. I could be accused of inflating my scores, but if that's true, it isn't on purpose. A lot of what I review are independent releases made by artists that are working hard at their music. I factor this into my reviews, and I tend to be more lenient to an independent artist who is actually trying as opposed to an established artist who is doing the same old bullshit. I also take into account the fact that the indie artists don't have access to the production and promotion that major label artists do. When you know a rapper is doing this on top of a full-time job, and will be lucky to sell a thousand copies, you aren't as tempted to rip them a new asshole for not being the second coming of Nas.

I try to lay out what I dislike about an artist, although in as constructive a way possible. I always imagine having to say my review to the artist's face, which keeps me honest. Many of the albums I've given favorable reviews I've never listened to again. Most of them get traded back to Ameoba, or end up in a pile on my shelf gathering dust. Most of these reviews I still agree with, but some of them I regret - there are at least a few I've written that could have been given one or two less points. The problem is that I generally want to like the albums, and I want the artists to succeed, so I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt even when I should be calling bullshit sometimes. I get caught up in the moment, the album grows on me after the twelfth listen, and in a moment of insanity, I give a Six record a Seven.

The problem is that people probably skip to the end of my reviews and see the 7.5 or 8.0, and think, ok, this is a great record, or a so-so record, or whatever. The truth is that there are different 7.5's and 8.0's. I've given two sevens this week. One of the albums had five great tracks and a whole lot of garbage. The other album had great beats, a great message, but mediocre delivery. They both end up with the same score, although I felt differently about both. And then there is the question of taste. I tend to be more into backpackey stuff that is pushing the envelope and doing interesting things musically and lyrically. I'm over melodramatic synths or ice-cold tales of crime, and yet there are a lot of hip hop heads who love this kind of music. Whenever I watch BET I think, this is hip hop? Really? And yet people go nuts for that shit, and then it ends up in my mailbox to review, and I have to find a constructive way to write about it, and judge it on its own merits.

In the end, I hope that my reviews get people interested in the artists, even if they don't agree with my review. I hope that I turn more people on to music than I deter, and I hope that the artists whose albums I don't like realize that I have to be honest, and I'm probably being as nice as I can.

No comments:

Blog Archive