As a dedicated music listener very much in touch with your own tastes and preferences, you should be able to tell from any album review if the record is worth checking out no matter the reviewer’s opinion or rating. Much like listeners in the ’70s checking out bad Zeppelin reviews in Rolling Stone, many of my favorite records have been discovered through reading poor reviews where the sticking points that tripped up the reviewer rang out as endorsements in accordance to my tastes. This is the beautiful thing about music criticism when done well. We all share different preferences, and just because a reviewer gives something a 4.6 doesn’t mean that this same record won’t ring out as an 8.6 in your own head. The art of panning a record comes with explaining to readers exactly why it is being panned. This way we can all choose for ourselves whether those points will work for us or cause us to dislike the music similar to the reviewer. The main mistake often made here is that the panning reviewer will go for a scorched earth approach, essentially saying: THIS RECORD IS HORRIBLE AND IF YOU DISAGREE THEN YOU ARE HORRIBLE TOO. We’ll call this “Going Ian Cohen”. A review should not be a line drawn in the sand. It can and should be opinionated, but in the end the reader should be free to make their own choice based on the descriptors contained within the poor review. Anything less than this will cause the review to veer out of the criticism category and into the unnecessary realm of the critical assassination.
With his 808-word savage 4.8 panning of the new Smokepurpp mixtape, Sheldon Pearce does not go Ian Cohen on our asses. And for this he should be commended. Granted, Pearce certainly tears hard into this record and the entire movement which birthed it, but he does so in a way that a listener such as myself who actually finds that movement refreshing can discern that this tape will be right up my proverbial SoundCloud alley. Nowhere within this review do I feel in the least bit chastised for enjoying this music. I am not called to task for any social or cultural ramifications brought about by this music. I am not called dumb or marginalized. Of course I understand from the very first sentence that Sheldon Pearce and I do not share the same tastes in rap music, but unlike what Twitter would lead you to believe, this does not mean we can’t respect one another as individuals and could maybe even get a drink or something. Putting judgments on listeners is the fatal flaw of any review and a sure indicator that the whole thing is slipping into Cohen territory, and Sheldon Pearce is careful not to do so even as he savages the album in question. This is a deft critical maneuver than few critics can master and a surefire sign that you are reading the words of a true pro.
Right from the first paragraph of this review I already know two important things: 1) This is going to be a critical mauling and 2) I will probably like this record very much. The very first sentence lets me know that Smokepurpp raps in the style of Lil Pump (yes, please), that he poses as G.G. Allin (terrific), that he defines his music as “ignorant” (where do I sign up?), and that he has a lean-filled baby bottle tatted on his stomach (LOLZ, dude). After all, Pearce may not be into rappers “staring dead-eyed into the void” but I certainly am. Pearce has drawn me in even though I disagree with his overall opinion. This isn’t even a hate read for me. I’m genuinely interested in perusing further, and this is testament to Pearce’s skills as a reviewer. He hasn’t drawn a battle line, leaving the door open for readers who may disagree with his thoughts. Ian Cohen would have slammed this door shut in the very first sentence, in the opening blurb even, and in not doing so Pearce has established himself as an infinitely better critic.
I will fully admit to feeling refreshed by the SoundCloud rap scene. I enjoy the unchecked decadence, the bits of poetry that bleed out within all the ignorance, the lack of moralizing and politics, and the wide-open creative possibilities left ungoverned by regional taste makers and cultural watchdogs. Sheldon Pearce obviously disagrees. And yes, when he puts down the short song lengths on this record (“rap’s ongoing obsession with ridiculously short songs”) or complains that the tracks sound “halfway finished” or brings up the fact that the record was recorded in one night as a negative, he does sound like the prog rock dudes in 76 dissing on punk. But unlike The Old Grey Whistle Test slamming The New York Dolls, I never feel as if I’m being lectured or looked down upon at any point in this review. Pearce also deserves props for making the effort to search out bright spots within a project he clearly isn’t into. The third paragraph contains a rundown of lines he finds clever or effective (that “rain dance” line does sound enticing) and he hits upon a nerve often missed by old-head SoundCloud dissers when he draws the aforementioned punk link: “In certain situations, Purpp’s aggro raps seem to channel bluntness, chasing an “idgaf” punk aesthetic.” Pearce may not enjoy Smokepurpp or this record or the scene that it comes from, but at least he understands it. And this makes all the difference. Pierce is just letting us know how he feels, not wielding his opinion like the cumbersome cultural battle axe swung about by many of those attempting to critique this admittedly confusing genre.
Pearce cuts right to the beating heart of the SoundCloud rap debate in the last paragraph: “There’s little on Bless Yo Trap to suggest that Smokepurpp has much room for growth, and there’s even less to suggest he cares about that.” And there you have it. Those who can enjoy the music for the sensory thrill ride it is will probably enjoy this tape. Those who worry for the growth of the genre and fret over its inherently ignorant nature will not. And while Sheldon Pearce obviously falls into the latter category, he hasn’t made me feel looked down upon for falling into the former.
Thank you for not going Ian Cohen on us, Sheldon.