I remember reading an article a few years back concerning how Source Magazine goes about determining their once-coveted mic ratings. If I recall correctly, it was featured in The Source 100th Issue and it referred to how they went about determining which albums would receive five mics, along with a breakdown as to why certain albums managed to miss the mark.
Of course, Source Magazine managed to do a considerable – and some would say irreparable – amount of damage to its’ credibility during the Benzino/Mays controversy. However, a reference made to the amount of “7s” being rewarded in recent reviews by another Rap Reviews writer made me go back to that article – and to describe how I go about determining the scores I give.
What I want to clarify is that, for me, there is definitely a process that I go through to get to a final score, and to make sure that readers are not under the impression that I just pull review scores out of the air.
I do not know how other RR writers go about their process, but for those who care to read, this is how I do mine.
I listen to EVERY album that I receive all the way through at least once. I try to listen to the music in a setting that befits the type of genre the music is specific to. For example, if the music is mellow, I am going to drop it into my MP3 Player and ride the train. However, if the music is designed to knock, or there are mad bodies being caught in the lyrics, THAT ONE is going for ride in my hooptie all the way around I-285.
After I give an album a complete listen, I will give it a second run to make sure that I do not have “first-listen bias”. First Listen Bias can work in one of two ways.
1. You can hear a collection of songs so HOT that the best tracks supersede the mediocre and cloud your judgment towards a TOTAL SCORE.
2. You can hear a group of songs so bad that you miss that the overall recording actually has depth in other places.
The point to this step is to ensure that you are taking the entire collection into consideration instead of having your perspective colored by a few standouts – be they good or bad.
I take note of the various qualities important to me:
* The quality of the recording. Is it clear or is it distorted?
* The professionalism in the mix. Does it sound muddy and rushed? Is the EQ balanced? Do the music levels and vocal levels compliment each other?
* The packaging does not NEED to be expensive, but did the artist take the time to make it attractive? Or did they just copy a sheet at FedEx-Kinkos and stick a black label on a CD-R?
* Is the music working for me? If it is supposed to be a headbanger, does it knock or am I having to fake-nod my head?
* Does the music compliment the vocals well? Does the lyrical content flow along with the tracks or does it sound like a product in serious need of a remix contest?
* Does the artist demonstrate reasonable breath control, annunciation, and a MINIMAL mastery of the language in which they choose to rhyme?
After I complete these steps, this is how I go about making my score.
For a score of 1 to 3:
You just about have to be as bad as Scuba Chicken to approach this score.
To score this badly for LYRIC VIBES, you would almost have to be TRYING to screw up your music. This score would mean that you have failed to demonstrate that you are capable of keeping a steady flow going, right alongside an inability to articulate beyond a third-grade level.
Trust me, I have a fair share of artists who would qualify for this low a score, but I have not had any of their albums to review – yet.
However, if you care to know what an artist, in this range, sounds like, you would be best served by surfing right on over to Google and putting in Scuba Chicken and getting a demonstration beyond the power of this author’s words.
In this modern day, when most production equipment damn near composes the track for you, it is very DIFFICULT to create any track work that would score this low. Most people have access to endless amounts of pre-fabricated resources designed to make you sound halfway decent out the box, that it is hard to totally screw up production.
But I can tell you ONE WAY to do it is to not have your tracks probably quantized (synced) correctly. True enough, J-Dilla and Madlib have built how careers (and track work) using remarkably sloppy timing in their music. The difference is that, for them, it sounds intentional and the music would not be as fly any other way.
A person who just does not know their way around their equipment when most production equipment only demands that you plug in the prefab sounds and hit “GO” is just an atrocity of pure laziness and deserves the score it gets.
Amount of time I play this record: Once, and it is out. However, if it is this bad, I’m definitely playing it a few more times – because I have to let my boys hear it before it finds its way to someone’s landfill.
For a score of 4 to 5:
For the LYRIC VIBES section, this artist would have demonstrated that they can somewhat rhyme on the beat, but they have managed to commit a different type of fallacy.
Either they rhyme so bland and boring that they do nothing to make the listener want to hear what they have to say or they are cursed with a voice so sleep-inducing that you don’t care what they have to say.
A grating, buzzing, and irritating voice would be preferable to a dull tone. Lyrics that float on the edge of utmost lunacy would be a treat compared to writing that sounds like it was created in one of those lyric generators you find on random webpages.
For the MUSIC VIBES, the production stays on tempo – but that is about all it gets right. The music aspires to eliminate inspiration, if you will. The artists who usually find themselves in this situation or those who create tracks designed to mimic a style of the moment, but does nothing to add the elements that make a person want to listen. Chiefly, nice melodies and fresh instrumentation.
The people who commit this fallacy will likely be those who are in possession of all the “right” drum and sample packs, as well as having all the “right” VST plugins. They will have mastered the technical aspects of the music without having learned that you have to include a little personality to make it all complete.
Amount of time I play this record: Once. If it this dry and boring, I don’t feel any NEED to go back to it. It doesn’t even warrant shock value.
For a score of 6 to 8:
For the LYRIC VIBES section, this artist will be someone who probably has a bit of professional seasoning. They are a cut above “just getting the ideas out” and are actually capable of delivering listenable and enjoyable vocal performances.
The degree to HOW MUCH the lyricism will be enjoyed, and for how long, largely depends on the amount of imagination, charisma, and style of delivery the artist puts into his or her work.
This score actually rewards technical proficiency and gives a lean to the individual who seems to know how to make a record that will keep your attention beyond a summary listen.
However, if we had to use words to describe what they are giving, we would have to say that this performance is ranging from “Good” to “Very Good”, but it is not approaching “GREAT”!
The MUSIC VIBES score in this range is for production that has managed to group sounds together that work with – or surpass – the lyrical performance and would not embarrass the listener if they have to play it loud on a residential street from an open window.
The music might ape what you hear on the airwaves, but it does it on another level. It even tends to take a few chances and dares to try and break a rule or two.
However, it tends to be the type of music that does not grow on you, or seems to get better as time goes by. You will listen and enjoy for a few moments and then quickly move on to something else – and you may not remember that you listened to it, even though you might have thought it was “kinda hot” when you first pushed play.
Amount of time I play this record: Range from a week to a month. It usually has a hot track or hot line worth going back to. However, it is NOT one I will be in a hurry to share with my circle in its entirety and it is a record that is likely to fade into the background shortly.
For a score of 9 to 10:
I can sum up LYRICS and MUSIC VIBES together: it is music that keeps touching you LONG AFTER the first, second, third, fourth, and FIFTH listen!
The albums I end up scoring this high are usually albums that I can’t seem to take out the player for a whole week. In addition, I just keep finding my way back to this same album months, even years, after I first received it.
What is it that places an album in this crazy echelon? Somehow, the producer and the artist just got it right. They had the right mix, the right engineer, the right production, and most of all, they had INCREDIBLE execution.
The best way that I know to sum up this type of album is that it is an album that you just cannot imagine having been done any other way.
Usually, I will hear something and hear a million little things that could have been done to tighten up the total package. In the case of albums scored this high, not only do I find myself short on suggestions, I actually enter a place where I just feel INSPIRED!
Amount of time I play this record: I might never stop playing it. I will cheerlead for this record. I will be a Stan for the producer and/or the artist. I will do everything I can to make sure that EVERYONE I know get a crack at hearing what I just heard.
Some people might be wondering why so many albums tend to pop up with these scores if hip-hop is supposed to be in such an extreme state of emergency? My answer for that is that it only seems that way IF you think that you are going to find what you are looking for on a radio station owned by Clear Channel.
There is actually a lot of good music out there, and much of it is being released by guys who do not have huge promotional budgets to let you know.
This is my summary of how I go about rating albums for RR. I hope it brings a better understanding to what my scores actually mean.