Are Album Reviews Dead?
Thursday May 14th 2009,
Filed under: Features,Internets,Not Your Average,The Unkut Opinion,Vote Or Die
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With all the talk of the music industry in being decline, print media on it’s last legs and the so-called ‘power of blogs’, it seems that the art of music criticism is also at a cross roads of sorts. Now that Pruane can make a name for himself as a pop-culture reviewer, who gives a crap what some college graduate thinks about the latest El-P CD?

Rafi Kam from the Internets Celebrities agrees: “I think the idea of critic as a profession is absolutely on the way out. Everyone can publish their reviews now and there’s more supply than demand.” This reflects the “Me too!” that Comments Section Culture has delivered us. Pen a review of a new record online and there’s a good chance that several of your visitors will write their own reviews in your comment section, since eveybody can Rapidshare the retail version the same day that you do. And thanks to Metacritic and their ilk, we can now have dozens of reviews assembled for us and assigned an exact numerical score, eliminating the need to even read a single sentence while trying to decide if it’s worth shelling out $60 for WiiPoopSportzPonyz 2. Trying to order a DVD on the internets? Even Amazon rams ‘Readers’ reviews down you’re throat. Did I ask what Billy from Wyoming thought of Eraserhead? Then again, is he any less qualified to tell the world that he thinks a movie sucks just because he hasn’t written a thesis on the collected works of Jim Jarmusch?

Another casualty of the declining influence of magazines is the lack of a definite authority on rap. There was once a time when a ‘Four Mic’ review in The Source could make or break a new album, while ego trip were known for their take-no-prisoners approach to LP analysis. It’s now more important to be the first site with the review than to offer any particular insight or critical ear. Byron Crawford‘s track-by-track reviews work thanks to his gift for snarky one-liners, but if you copped rap CD’s based on his recommendations alone you’d only have spent $20 last year. And yet there are a number of hip-hop blogs dedicated to reviewing literally every new rap record to released, so surely someone cares how Johnny Punchclock rates the latest post-Dilla Detroit rap phenom?

Thun from T.R.O.Y. offers a more open-minded interpretation: “I trust the first 100 pages of the NYC phone book to write legitimate reviews of rap CD’s more than any of the established print magazines, so I’m kind of okay where things are going. The Source magazine used to be literally the one source for all opinions and memes and idiots would just echo whatever they said, for years. Now people can voice their opinions and have them Twittered across the globe. The potential for creating rich, incisive commentary is greater – does it work in practice? Probably not. It’s not the new media that’s the problem, it’s the attitude of certain commentators who feel the need to just brain-fart their ideas out in real time with little to no discretion.”

Well-written and original music criticism is an art unto itself, and it’s been said that critics such as Robert Christgau deliver music analysis that is “dense with ideas and allusions, first-person confessions and invective, highbrow references and slang”. Chairman Mao, O-Dub and Dave Thompkins are three rap critics that spring to mind as having attained that level of slang editorial mastery, but who should we look to for impeccable taste and creative prose now? Or should we just download everything and decide for ourselves what’s worth shelling out cash for?

Are Record Reviews Pointless?

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13 Comments so far
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Can care less about reviews. Opinions are like Rap Careers, everyone has one. Like Main Source Fuck What You Think!

Comment by Andyman187 05.14.09 @

I think your constant drivel about print media’s death is way overblown. Sure, HHC went digital and some other mags have gone away in recent years; but head to any local newsstand and you will find thousands of print titles. Maybe you won’t find any that are well written about hip-hop, but I guess most of the hip-hop consumers that could read stopped buying mags. When Elemental disappeared, that was the end of hip-hop mags for me. I took that extra loot and subscribed to some metal mags such as Decibel. Good writing is good writing, so any good print of fine by me.

Comment by HipHopHistorian 05.14.09 @

I actually appreciate a good review, but as long as it objective. I don’t need to know the writers opinion, just tell me what the album is like in technical terms. The better the writer, the more he can disguise his own opinions.

There is one website, yes free plug coming, that I i used to read alot called and all it does is review albums… and although the writing is sometimes funny and on point, most times it seems like the writer, Max, is a 15 yr old shithead.

But still, I suggest the website to all.

Comment by cenzi 05.14.09 @

i don’t buy or rip by reviews but if
someone that’s opinion got some worth
for me gives me an interseting insight
in an arists product i’m aight wit it.
btw.was pruane the kid in smokin aces?

Comment by swordfish 05.14.09 @

Up to early/mid 1996, the Source’s record reviews used to be ‘almost’ everything to me in regards to buying music. I’d still listen to my friend’s opinions as well. But today, it’s not really the reviews themselves that bother me because there are some people out there who can write. What bothers me more is ‘what’ is being reviewed. The more I hear garbage music and then read an above average review, it makes me wonder if I’m in the hip-hop Twilight Zone. There’s just no way that Lil Wayne’s ‘Tha Carter 3’ or ‘Tha Carter 28′ or whatever deserves a 3.5 like Souls of Mischief’s ’93 til Infinity’ received. The scales have definitely tipped over somewhere.

Comment by Vincent 05.14.09 @

Just because shit won’t be on paper doesn’t mean the “print media” i.e. professional journalism will be dead. It’s going to be much harder to make that model work on the Internet where everything is free, or at least we users have the expectation that it’s free. It’s going to be a situation like the automation of the manufacturing industries. Like some workers had to find a new line of work and the survivors had to learn to love the machine, the j-school grad/MFA holder is going to be sharing space with a bunch of people who only have an “opinion.” The same goes for pro critics who get paid to write wherever their work appears.

No functioning adult has the time to review and blog ten releases a week and do a good, readable job of it. At some point, people have to say “I need to make a living.” Some might get lucky like BOL and get picked up by a paying outlet but most are going to move on eventually, if their readership hasn’t already moved on.

In the end the consumer suffers if all we have is a scattershot of blogs giving us some idea of what’s out there. A few voices, dedicated voices paid to sit around all day and think about this shit, have to stick around.

Some smart people like Kam and Bob Lefsetz are beating this kind of futurism into the ground. We keep waiting for the hammer to drop and all the newspapers and record labels to disappear completely and it hasn’t happened.

Comment by Mark Mays 05.14.09 @

Fuck a casual rap fan.

Comment by eric 05.14.09 @

Probably not. It’s not the new media that’s the problem, it’s the attitude of certain commentators who feel the need to just brain-fart their ideas out in real time with little to no discretion.”


That blurb right there basically states there’s still will always be a place for reviews even when the peanut gallery continues to increase their frivolousness.

Fuck a casual rap fan.


Pretty much Eric

Comment by TC 05.14.09 @

best way to judge an album? listening to it (so you can make your own opinion)!
some groups i can’t stand are loved by the critics… but boring as fuck!

Comment by grizzle 05.14.09 @

I’ve always felt that the value of record reviews isn’t selling records so much as establishing a historical record. “Critically acclaimed” commercial failures have a tendency to get picked up by future generations and reworked into something new. In this case, an “expert” opinion IS necessary, and valuable. Without any commercial viability, I don’t see how professional criticism can survive, but I don’t like the idea of only popular music leaving an impression.

Comment by Justin 05.14.09 @

i’m w/ eric…knowledge born

Comment by er4se 05.14.09 @

It’s become more like getting recommendations from your friends all the time rather than one definative resource.

With bloggers at least you know what you’re getting. You have some idea of how they think and their tastes so it’s much easier to know if you’re likely to agree with them and check out a record. That wasn’t always that obvious with mags unless you religiously noted who did the review you agreed with.So it’s much more like a personal recommendation from a mate that way, you know ehre they’re comign from.

Comment by Vern 05.15.09 @

I do it every week. I also stress that regardless what I may think or say it’s ultimately up to the READER to listen and determine whether they like it or not.

If I didn’t feature or review 75% of the albums I did the overwhelming majority of my readers wouldn’t have even known those particular album had ever been released at all or that they were available for download or purchase anywhere.


Comment by Dart_Adams 06.13.09 @

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