Respected fellow scribe William Ketchum III caught some flack for having the audacity to not hail J. Cole’s Cole World: The Sideline Story as the next Illmatic, the reincarnation of pure awesome, the purest inception of the artform since ever, the album angels listen to experience what divinity is truely like, OMFG COLE IS THE RAP MESSIAH!
He actually gave the album a decent write-up but didn’t think it was a classic (which seems spot-on to me, but you know about the shared characteristic between opinions and a certain part of the human anatomy). Here’s his response:
Which got me thinking. He certainly has a point. There was a time when 3,5 mics in The Source was a rating any emcee could be proud of. It was given to KRS-One’s ‘I Got Next,’ an album that spawned the ubiquitous Blondie-interpolating backpack evergreen ‘Step Into A World (The Rapture),’ one of the biggest hits in KRS his career. 4 Mics was a highly recommended album, months could go by without an artist receiving that rating. A 4,5 used to come across as a bitchy rating to me in those days, basically saying an album is flawless but afraid to call it a classic. An opinion which I’ve later come to view as silly. A reviewer might consider an album classic, but a classic status is as much defined by it’s impact on the culture as a whole as by it’s individual merit and that impact can’t be measured until years after. You have to either be Nostradamus or just very sure of your case to give a 5 mic rating straight off the bat like that. Nowadays the word ‘classic’ is thrown around for every above average album and some rappers even start e-beefing with reviewers who only give them a 4(!) out of 5 review (Specifically, I think it was Saigon vs HipHopDX recently but Google is failing me here, and who can forget Kanye’s annoyance with anyone giving ‘College Dropout‘ less than 5/5).
With the advent of the blogosphere everybody can open up their own site and start hashing out reviews. This democratization of the music press isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since loosing the gatekeepers of traditional media also means a loosening of the hold that labels or perhaps even may have had over them. The other side of the coin however is that we also loose the gatekeepers of quality control. Few blogs, especially when they start out, employ editors or even basic journalistic standards. I had to learn quite a few of those along the way myself and we’ve all slipped up occasionally, but there’s definitely a distinction between a fan site and a music blog/magazine. At least, there should be.
That distiction lies in the ability to distance yourself from preconceived notions and think critically on the material you’re reviewing as well as your writing on it. With no one proofreading your words you have to do that yourself and loose the rosy fan glasses while you’re at it. Of course blogs compete with each other, and herein lies another aspect of crappy reviewing; everybody wants to be first. Print magazines used to receive albums months before their release, not just to ensure that the reviews could be published around the time of its release, but also to be able give an album ample time digest and give it repeat listens. It’s simply impossible to write a decent review an hour after the album leaked, you haven’t lined up your thoughts about it properly, you’re actually doing that as you go along. As a result, early enthusiasm or dissapointment can easily cloud any serious critical anlaysis (Full disclosure: this happened to yours truly as well, resulting in a very high rating I felt was not entirely deserved less than a week later). It’s not actually a review, you’re basically just liveblogging your first response. Migth be interesting too, but it’s a whole different animal.
Make some ground rules for yourself, like listening at least a certain minimum of times and letting it digest a couple days. If you wanna aim for the stars with you writing don’t be preoccupied with shooting first.
The TRU Rating system:
1/5: Shite on a stick.
2/5: Living in Sucksville but shows some (possibly accidental) craft or creativity.
2.5/5: Has some dope but isn’t fully there yet.
4/5: Highly recommended.