After the fallout of the inaugural edition of Reviewing Reviews, someone suggested that I review one of my own reviews, which is sort of like putting a math student in a room by himself with the curriculum and asking him to grade his own test. Despite how awesome that would be, it is a very, very stupid idea.
However, it was suggested by several people that I review a contributor or staff writer because for some reason everyone decided to ignore the fact that I said I would most likely be doing more and common sense would dictate that since I do not care about anyone’s feelings and I’m a bully, I would be taking on some contributor and staff reviews as well. You think I don’t know that thebhoy needs some criticism too?
Anyway, Sobhi Abdul-Rakhman (kingsoby1) made waves back in 2000-whenever when he became the first colored person to make it onto Sputnikmusic’s team of staffers (except for pixiesfanyo, an honorary black man). Earlier this year Sobhi was joined by fellow brownie Kiran Soderqvist but by that point he had already one-upped the competition by having a baby, something that not even John Hanson has been able to do despite what MTV says about 16 year olds keeping their babies. Sobhi’s claims to fame are hype, anti-hype, and how those two things relate to hip-hop. Here are some recent soundoffs written by Sobhi (paraphrased to point out the salient parts):
People are sucking this off way too much here. It’s definitely great, probably a 3.7 even. But still, just because it doesn’t suck like we thought it would, doesn’t mean we need to worship it. This will probably make my year end list, but near the bottom definitely. – dredg’s The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion
Kind of similar to the Mesa Verde record from last year, but heavier. John Hanson says this is skramz isis. this will definitely be on my year end top 10. – Spires’ Flowers and Fireworks
There are at least 3 sludge/ post metal albums from March you could be listening to instead (namely Zoroaster, Kylesa, and Buried Inside). – Mastodon’s Crack the Skye
Brand New, Thrice, these names can do no wrong here, predictably. This is probably slightly above average, and all this ridiculous praise is just as unwarranted as that for Beggars. – Brand New’s Daisy
As you can see, those soundoffs have a few things in common. They namedrop things that have nothing to do with the album in question, they make blanket statements ad nauseum, and they all address hype in a negative fashion and present a sort of hive-mind mentality on Sputnik. Oh, and this guy is really obsessed with his own year-end list and thinks everyone else should be too.
The good thing about Sobhi is that they put him on staff because he could write about hip-hop. The bad thing about Sobhi is that he writes for a site full of white kids who don’t know the first thing about hip-hop but aren’t interested in learning from him because they think they already know everything about hip-hop. If you’re reading one of Sobhi’s hip-hop reviews, is it because you want to learn more about the Chicago rap scene? Do you want to know more about production techniques? Nope, you look at the 4.5 rating and immediately start downloading because you don’t actually understand what, specifically, “Detroit-esque” implies.
Astute Sputnik users will remember the Nick Greer Flowchart. It was made by Ryan Flatley to display the relationship between an album, the person reviewing the album, where Nick Greer heard about the album, and the album’s hype. A flowchart about Sobhi would look sort of like this: Is it an indie/rock album? (Answer: yes) —-> Do other people on Sputnik like the album? (Answer: yes) —-> OVERRATED. Conversely: Is it a hip-hop album? (Answer: yes) —-> Is it slightly underground? (Answer: yes) —-> Do other people on Sputnik like the album? (Answer: yes) —-> YES FINALLY PEOPLE ARE SEEING THE LIGHT.
Every year Sobhi picks an album to whore incessantly. This year it’s Dark Time Sunshine’s Vessels.
Section #1: The Summary
Innovative production complementing excellent lyricism – one of the first memorable records of the new decade
The summary is great. It sums up his general thoughts tersely in the first half and generates a bit of hype in the second half. However, one of the things that bothers me about Sobhi is that it seems like he can’t write about something without alluding to its eventual place on a list or how it relates to other albums released in that year or decade. Sure, music websites are all about year-end lists; Sputnik is no exception. But that correlation shouldn’t have such a crucial part in reviews. It’s a tricky subject because obviously the goal is to get people to listen to the album and statements like the one Sobhi makes in the summary definitely help reach that goal, but a good reviewer should be able to sell the album’s appeal without resorting to a tactic like that, which is cheapened by overuse.
Section #2: The Intro
Relaxing and always likely to yield some results (positive or negative), crate-digging is a vacation hobby of mine. In town for Seattle’s 2008 Bumbershoot festival, I walked into the (somewhat) renowned Silver Platters record store seeking not only to relieve a bladder beyond capacity, but also enlightenment on the local music scene. With respect to hip-hop, the first name out of several mouths was “Grayskul” – being well known in the underground is typically a good sign, so that made Bloody Radio an easy selection. While the overall sound was pretty typical for the region, one part of the equation really stood out: MC Onry Ozzborn. So I’ve kept my eyes peeled for the past two years – albeit a few equally uninspired releases followed, Dark Time Sunshine’s Vessel was well worth the wait.
Content-wise I have no qualms here. The anecdote, while uninteresting, serves a purpose and is short enough that the reader won’t start wondering what the point is. The dash after “Grayskul” should either be a period or a semicolon (a period would work better), and there’s a bit of detail lacking. Obviously Grayskul is either a singular rapper or a hip-hop group but some expounding would be appreciated. He could have made it clearer that Bloody Radio is one of Grayskul’s albums as well. You might think that it could be inferred by reading the review (and it can), but any sort of detail that can make the writing easier to comprehend should always be included. He makes the jump from Grayskul to Bloody Radio to MC Onry Ozzborn to the album he’s reviewing, Dark Time Sunshine’s Vessel, without giving much of a link between them (especially between the former three names and how they relate to Vessel). You don’t want to baby the reader or insult their intelligence, but as written, the introduction is all namedropping with no purpose. The first half starts the review well, but by the second half it simply feels like an introduction for the sake of having an introduction. Also, his use of “albeit,” while technically correct, is used awkwardly and the dash in that sentence should be a comma/and.
Section #3: The Body
The DTS project rectifies every Grayskul-presented hip-hop faux-pas by, first of all, removing all other lyricists from the mix. Ozzborn, reborn under the new pseudonym Cape Cowen, is given a chance to shine. And shine he does, beyond all expectations set by his prior involvements: insightful storytelling, multi-syllabic and internal rhymes, and an obvious intelligence presents a unique interbreeding of several “indie-rap” innovators. For sake of comparison only, picture elements of Slug, Aesop Rock, and El-P, sans the scientifical wizard-rap. A true testament to his abilities is his capability to keep up with highly respected featured artists; where P.O.S., Aes Rock, and Solillaquists’ Swamburger drop fantastic verses, they never overshadow the star of the show, who justifiably and creatively maintains any listeners’ focus.
The second important facet of Dark Time Sunshine’s success is its forsaking of Northwestern tradition with respect to production. Chicago producer Zavala further expands his region’s burgeoning sonic renown to include not only the pop-rap and electronic ideals of his peers and precursors, but also an experimental aura courtesy of late 90s-era Company Flow influences of sorts. Zavala puts forth what seems to be roots in rock composition and sampling, combining this with electronic-heavy beats, soulful choruses, and more-than-adequately performed vocal cameos. The result is a completely different breed of hip-hop, drawing from the psychadelic.
This is great. It dispels some of the confusion that the introduction left in its wake and does a fantastic job of both describing and selling the album. Remember before when I was talking about how people on this site are notorious for not knowing much about hip-hop? Well I don’t know much about hip-hop either, but it’s not because I don’t want to. It’s because it’s hard to care, and I’m assuming a lot of you feel the same way. Do I really care about the Chicago scene? About East Coast vs. West Coast? Not particularly. And while Sobhi’s review delves into that a little bit, he does a nice job of keeping his writing focused on the essentials – what the beats sound like, how good the lyrics are (he does this outstandingly, given the fact that he piques your interest in the lyrics without quoting a bunch of them), and what guest artists appear. It’s grammatically sound as well, although the relationship between semicolons and dashes seems to be muddled for him. He spelled “psychedelic” wrong but that’s okay because I probably would have spelled it the same way. ”Psychadelic” makes more sense if you think about it.
Section #4: The Conclusion
Everything about Vessel just works, from the operatic-come rock leanings of intro “Vessel” to the epic chilldown outro of “No Eye Contact”, Dark Time Sunshine’s sophomore effort is a ride worth taking from start to finish. This not only for fans of indie-rooted hip-hop, but eclectic music in general and will be remembered as one of the first great joints of the new decade.
Should be “operatic-cum-rock” but let’s not split hairs. Although it wouldn’t be splitting hairs to point out that the first sentence is a run-on. There are a few ways to go about fixing it but some of them involve the use of a semicolon so I don’t know if Sobhi would be able to handle that. He gives his robotic “decade” comment and I wonder why people aren’t waiting until at least 2015 to start talking about albums in relation to the current decade. I also have reservations about the use of the word “joint” to replace “album” or “record” but that’s hip-hop slang for you I guess.
Overall Review Grade: B+
There are technical issues that shouldn’t be there in a staff-level review but Sobhi hits the nail on the head content-wise. I feel obligated to say that his review didn’t make me want to check out the album but these days it’s hard for me to get excited about new hip-hop albums, so that’s not his fault by any means. I definitely wouldn’t use the term “room for improvement” because the guy knows his way around a review but he should break out his old grammar textbooks and start reviewing.
|GDandBlinkfan76 (6:23:10 PM):||robertbona|
|robertsonarofl (6:23:18 PM):||huh|
|GDandBlinkfan76 (6:23:23 PM):||whats up|
|robertsonarofl (6:23:35 PM):||sorry who is this? lol|