Introduction: How to tell What’s Really, Really Good

Welcome to the new and improved blog fellas (and ladies if there’s any of you reading, I doubt it though). If you’ve read my year-end awards before or listened to my podcast of the same name (which will be returning soon with a new and improved format soon, more details to come) I’d like to say thank you and welcome back, and if you’re new to this whole thing, welcome aboard and be sure to expect loads of great hip-hop related content!

What It Is (ho, wassup?)

This blog is out to make sense of exactly what the title states: What’s Really Good? in terms of hip-hop music. My beautiful not-so-dark twisted fantasy is for all of the best music in the genre to get the sales, critical acclaim and shine that it deserves, as well as for all of the artists who put out the best music to rise to the top of the proverbial mountain; a hip-hop meritocracy if you will. Unfortunately, this almost is never the case in the entertainment industry let alone hip-hop, but when it comes to this blog, like Cudi once crooned: “This will be my world”. Clout chasers beware: the reviews do not account for social media presence, followers, or viral videos, it solely judges the quality of the music. Unfortunately, I’m only one man and even though there’s enough for me to go around (ladies if you’re out there that’s for you) I can’t review everyone’s SoundCloud links that are tweeted/DMed to me. The blog will review 3 hip hop releases per week based on how well known the projects are to a general hip-hop superfan (a.k.a. myself) that are released by the Friday of the previous week. Every Thursday we will also do a weekly hip-hop roundup where general music related hip-hop things will be discussed (i.e. loose singles, songs of the week, upcoming releases, etc.). Once the podcast gets up and running again, we will cover the weekly round-up there as well as many other things in a very entertaining fashion. As far as the album reviews go, here are some guidelines that we consider when it comes to reviewing and judging the music:

Instrumentals: The blog will determine how good the instrumental is. This judgment is a mostly matter of taste, but these technical things will be considered:

  • Originality: We will judge how creative the beat is in terms of how it fits the artist based on his/her style and/or current climate of hip-hop. This can go both ways; an artist could be praised for going outside the box and succeeding in terms of his/her style (i.e. Childish Gambino – Redbone) OR by sticking to the script and selecting an instrumental that his audience knows he/she would pair with flawlessly as long as the artists personal style is his or her own as well (i.e. Meek Mill – Dreams & Nightmares). On the technical side- unique drum kits, unfamiliar/atypical samples (or lack of) and sounds will be praised, whereas blatant lack of creativity with multiple sounds and overall soundscape will be criticized.
  • Commercial Appeal: If a beat is catchy, infectious, makes us bob our heads and/or dance, it will earn praise for being commercially viable. A beat won’t lose points for not being commercially viable, but it will lose points by the originality barometers if it applies no matter how commercially viable it may be.
  • Quality of the Mix: We will judge how clean the mix is from a technical standpoint. Because professional recording artists should be using professional equipment and making sure that their product is of the highest technical sound quality, any mix with noticeable errors (ex: instruments too loud/overpowering, imbalanced sounds, quiet vocals) will be criticized.

Quality of Vocals: We will determine how well a rapper performed in terms of his craft on a given track. Again, this is a matter of taste, but these are a few aspects of this that we will consider.

  • Flow:  A crucial, fundamental aspect of rap music. If a rapper can’t ride a beat properly, it is the most noticeable tell-tale sign of bad rap music. The blog will praise flows that ride the beat all the way down to a tenth of the BPM (ex: Jadakiss, Snoop Dogg) and those that are creative and outside the box of contemporary mainstream hip-hop (ex: Andre 3000, Young Thug). The blog will dock points for flows that have been recycled many a time or flows that compromise the delivery of the lyrics (i.e. too fast, too slow, too much mumbling).
  • Delivery:  Another crucial fundamental aspect of rap music due to the fact that if a rappers presence isn’t felt on a track, there is no feeling. The blog will praise deliveries that encapsulate the mood of an instrumental and keep a consistent feeling/vibe of the instrumental, which includes vocal delivery, charisma, and ad-libs. We must be able to feel the confidence, bravado, anger, sadness, introspection or any other emotion conveyed in the vocals along with the beat.  Points will be docked if the delivery is not charismatic or infectious enough to make the artist felt throughout the track or if the feeling of the vocals does not match the music. The blog will not discriminate against melodic nor spoken word deliveries, but no matter the style, the execution of either is paramount.
  • Lyricism: Always a hot-button issue for hip-hop music as it means different things for different people. Here the blog will judge the creativity of the lyrics a.k.a. “rate the bars”. Points will be given for great metaphors, wordplay (i.e. entendres, alliterations etc.) complex rhyme schemes, punchlines, subject content, storytelling, imagery, and humor. A rapper won’t necessarily lose points for what he/she decides to speak about, having a simple rhyme scheme or lack of wordplay if they are simply “keeping it real”, but points will be docked for cliché subject content and metaphors (ex: I got racks on racks, I’m shooting like Curry) as well as (key word in caps) PROMOTING negativity (i.e. violence, substance abuse, misogyny, rape culture, etc.). In the other direction, artists will be praised and earn points for discussing content that is deeply personal, freely gives priceless knowledge, and/or gives informed critiques on political and/or social issues.

Songwriting: This is where the blog will judge the song from a purely musical perspective. How good is the SONG as a whole? These are the factors that will be considered:

  • Replay value: This has to do with how often one would be willing to listen to the song after the first couple of listens, simple and plain. This does not necessarily mean that a song has to have commercial appeal to have replay value; it could also mean that the song has relatable lyrical content in the verses/hooks, has unique/top notch production or has memorable hooks/verses or any combination of these things.
  • Melody: Melody is a crucial building block of music, and a song with a melody that flows naturally and progressively will always enhance the quality of a song. A song will not lose points for not incorporating melody, but a song with good, catchy melodies in the hooks, bridges and even the verses will only add to any lyrical content that a hip-hop or spoken word based song has to offer.
  • Commercial Appeal: If a song does well virally and/or on the Billboard chart and becomes a staple of various tastemaker playlists the song will earn points for being commercially viable.  A song won’t lose points for not being a hit as long as the song structure is not designed as a hit and totally misses the mark.

Miscellaneous Factors: These are some things that we will judge albums on that don’t necessarily have to do with individual song quality and will be assessed after the conclusion of the album. These things help us judge the body of work as a whole rather than just the sum of its tracks.

  • Artist Growth: Artists release projects to show growth and range in their artistic ability and showcase heightened creativity. If an artist proves that they have shown significant growth between their current release and their previous releases, they have achieved their goal and will earn significant praise from the blog where we highlight their growth from previous projects. If an artist takes a step back or doesn’t show noticeable growth between the last project/other previous projects and the current release, it will be very difficult for the artist to earn praise and further his/her ascent to the proverbial top spot.
  • Cohesiveness of Sound: This is very much up to interpretation, but general guidelines for this are as follows. The ideal album should have no tracks that are skippable and should be an enjoyable sonic journey from beginning to end. An album will gain points for having songs that smoothly transition from track to track in terms of the sonic palate while still keeping the listener engaged with different sounds. Albums will lose points if many of the songs sound too similar to one another and hard to distinguish, or if all of the songs sound completely different and give the project a lack of sonic identity.
  • Concepts: If an artist attempts a concept album that is centered on a certain theme/idea and follows it all the way through while still delivering quality songs, this will earn an artist well-deserved bonus points on the album. However, if the concept is unclear and/or not followed all the way through, it will lose points based on lack of execution.
  • Artist Work Rate: If an artist puts out a good album with very few or no features/writing credits, produces tracks himself/herself that he/she raps/sings over, and/or adds a visual component for the entire album that will add bonus points as the artist went above and beyond the typical creative work rate in making said body of work. An artist won’t lose points for simply having lots of features/different producers on the album as long as it does not negatively affect the cohesiveness of sound.
  • Skits: If an album includes skits that are entertaining and/or provide context to a certain track/concept/theme on the project, they will be praised for their relevance and entertainment value. A skit can lose points is if it has no perceived relevance at all and can’t be tied to anything else to the album.

SCORES: The blog will take all of these things into account and give it a numeric score. Individual song scores will be scored out of 5 (1- trash, 2- mediocre 3- adequate 4- good 5- great, half-points allowed) based on the instrumental, quality of vocal and songwriting guidelines. The final album score will take the mean of these song scores as well as adding points given for the miscellaneous factors and give the entire project a mean score out of 100 (<60 = trash, 60 = mediocre, 70 = adequate, 80 = good, 90 = great/potential classic, half points not given).

TL;DR, this blog reviews new hip-hop releases based on how good the music is compared to the artist’s previous projects and similar contemporary hip-hop music. Score/100.

My Promise to the Readers

As a product of hip-hop culture, I can confidently say that hip-hop has overwhelmingly impacted my life for the better. When I couldn’t turn to anyone else, hip-hop was the only thing I could to relate to and make me feel better about certain problems I had growing up. Hip-hop has also given me confidence and allowed me to believe in myself when nobody else could. This genre of music is near and dear to me, and there is nothing that upsets me more than when people that are outside of the culture give misinformed critiques of the music and/or its artists. I will never give my readers a pompous, arrogant, “gatekeeper”-perspective. I am a fan just like the rest of you guys (and girls…hopefully) and I will keep my reviews at that; a hip-hop fan’s perspective. No one person is bigger than hip-hop, not even Taylor Swift let alone a hipster *insert major publication here* writer who is an outsider to the culture we grew up with and love. I promise to the readers that any critiques I have of either the music or the artists will always be informed and to not judge off of the hearsay or be affected by the noise that tends to surround them; all artists will get a fair chance.

Furthermore, I will listen to each project in its entirety as many times as possible before I publish my review in order to catch as many details as I can and give it a fair judgment. I will also make sure that I have done the necessary research on every artist’s music that I review which will be reflected in the review of the current release in order for me to judge the artist’s growth accurately. And lastly, I will make sure that my content is both informative and entertaining, and I hope that I can give other hip-hop heads something to discuss and something to agree OR disagree with! Comments and opinions are welcome, even more so if they do not mirror mine. Roast me all you want, I’ve got enough sunscreen to last nine lives on the Jersey Shore. Disclaimer: despite being the coolest cat on the blog, I reserve the right to clap back, bring the fire, and take out the trash in any and all situations if deemed necessary. Thank you for reading and follow @westside_rory on Twitter for updates on content, new shit coming very soon!

P.S. None of my reviews will be nearly this long. Mostly bullet-points and numbers actually. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

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