That Bootleg Guy On…Revisiting His CD Reviews

In early 2002, The Source Magazine celebrated its 150th issue by retroactively upgrading several previously reviewed albums with its then-coveted “5 mic” rating. The controversial move was one of many that Source owners/publishers Ray “Benzino” Scott and Dave Mays would make over the next four years that would help kill off the credibility of the most powerful publication in the industry.

In late 2002, I wrote the first of what would be nearly 100 CD reviews for this website.

The first one was far from my finest, but I blame that mostly on the insipid sub-headline I wrote. Speaking of teasers, I unintentionally recycled the same one for this review…and, this one, too. One of my earliest reviews resulted in a week-long hate mail exchange between myself and the rapper I ripped, while another review produced a complimentary comment from one of the stars of MTV’s Making The Band 2.

Then, there was my infamous Freeway review, which resulted in two of my all time favorite pieces of reader feedback:

“Does your wife know she married a bitch?” and, not to be outdone…

“I used to think you were Black. Now, I have to question that.”

So, maybe I have made some mistakes over the years. Hell, I know I have. Of course, all of the above reviews (especially, Freeway) were equally accurate, but I thought it might be time to take another look at every review I’ve ever written. By and large, I was pleased with what I’d originally wrote (and scored), but I found five reviews that genuinely made me ask: “What was I thinking?”

These reviews can’t be re-written, but if I did get a second chance, here’s what I would’ve done differently.

“You’re with me, Goodness…”

Canibus-Rip the Jacker
Original Score: 10.0

What I said…

“Canibus drops the best album of his controversial career…about five years too late. Rip The Jacker is akin to listening in on someone’s therapy sessions and the results are simply the blood, sweat n’ tears of a man who deserved better from the game he came so close to ruling. The minor critiques are not nearly enough to detract from what will likely end up being the best album of 2003.”

What was I thinking?

What can I say? I’m a sucker for the underdog. The rap game is littered and layered with careers that “could have been” and Canibus was one of those guys whose self-inflicted wounds were especially inexplicable. While Rip the Jacker remains his strongest effort (with some criminally slept-on Jedi Mind Tricks production), the monotony of Canibus’ flow is oftentimes indiscernible from one track to the next. Sometimes, it seems that if you root for someone long enough “damn good”, on the grading curve, can cross over into “classic”.

Score (on second thought): 8.0

Kanye West-Late Registration
Original Score: 7.5

What I said…

“The best hip hop album of 2005”? That’s the very definition of damning with faint praise. Seriously, if you need an escape from what might be the worst mainstream year in Hip Hop history, cop this album. It’s not an all-time classic, but it’ll certainly qualify as such, by it’s comparison to the current crap on the airwaves, alone.

What was I thinking?

Kanye West’s embiggened ego and sense of self-worth probably blinded me long past the point of simple bias. Now, it was manifesting into a stubborn zeal to refuse Kanye any credit for what was a much better album than I originally opined. Late Registration was, in fact, the second best album of 2005 and one could argue that Kanye deserved extra credit for refusing to sink down the same sonic sewer that’s almost ruined the industry, as even established acts get caught up in the “crunk” craze. West will never be a great lyricist, but he brings much more to the table than that.

Score (on second thought): 9.0

D12-D12 World
Original Score: 8.0

What I said…

“If you were turned off by their 2001 debut or the love it/hate it My Band single, you should still give the whole album a chance. It’s not as smarmy as you might think and, in fact, has a little bit of heart and sincerity mixed in with the usual gags and raunch. A solid CD all around and one of the most pleasant surprises so far this year.”

What was I thinking?

Honestly…if there was ever one review I wish I could have back, here it is. I even have a ready-made explanation for it, as I fell into the “write the review after one listen” trap. Some of the IP staff may be able to piece together an opinion after one spin, but it’s rare for me to automatically entrench an album in the upper echelon after my initial listen. Upon repeated plays, it was obvious that D12 had grown a little from the “Eminem Mini-Me” schtick that bogged down their Devil’s Night debut, but the evolution wasn’t really that, uh…evolved. D12 World was a step in the right direction for the group, but I’ll admit to confusing a step sideways with a step forward.

Score (on second thought): 6.0

Daz Dillinger-DPGC: U Know What I’m Throwin’ Up
Original Score: 9.0

What I said…

“As a rapper, Daz pretty much is what he is, however he has never sounded better than he does here. The themes aren’t all that varied, but his charisma on the mic and the beats behind him make almost everything work. There’s not much re-inventing of the wheel lyrically, but the production helps make everything sound fresh and original. Good gangsta rap is almost impossible to craft these days without sounding trite or cliché, but Daz found the formula that works and has put out one of the biggest surprises and best albums of the year.”

What was I thinking?

Much like a hard-working hooker, “bias” can work both sides of the boulevard. In the case of Kanye West, it might have cut into his original score. And, in the case of Dat N-Word Daz, my bias probably…well, I mean, come on. “One of the…best albums of the year”?! And, from the fatter, ashier half of Tha Dogg Pound? Coming of age in Southern California, the early ’90s Death Row Records catalog was the soundtrack of my life for most of the decade. Credit where it’s due: Daz’s unpolished DPGC opus came the closest to replicating that era on my eardrums. But, 10 years after the gangsta apex, the album plays more like a high school reunion. It’s fun to relive the good times, until you realize you have to go to work in the morning.

Score (on second thought): 7.0

Little Brother-The Minstrel Show
Original Score: 9.5

What I said…

The Minstrel Show isn’t just a collection of cuts…it’s a concept. Actually, it’s an incredibly executed concept that’s sharply subversive, while remaining accessible to anyone who loves the genre. 9th Wonder’s beats lay the foundation for Phonte and Pooh to let loose on almost every track, yet the “message” cuts are never preachy, while the arrogance is never overbearing or obvious. As an aside, you’re not going to ever hear funnier skits than the ones here. This is your album of the year and, as of this writing, nothing else is even close. Everything from the artwork to the liner notes to the skits to the music all tie together to turn the rap world on its ear.

What was I thinking?

My boy from the Bootleg Days, Nick Salemi, reviewed this album for our column and gave it a 10. The following week, my “Junk Mail” segment was filled with letters taking him to task for so readily handing out a perfect score for an album that my readers seemed to find faults with…even if none of them could really articulate what any of them were. That’s not a shot at my readers or m’man Nick’a, but it probably played into my hesitation to hand out my own perfect score. The Minstrel Show just couldn’t be a 10, right? Hell, only about eight people even own the album and half of ’em write for this site. Classic? Yes…yes, it is.

Score (on second thought): 10.0

Aaron Cameron wrote The Friday Music News Bootleg for three years and has reviewed nearly 100 albums for Inside Pulse. Fortunately, he has no credibility, so it’s ok for him to hand out new scores on old CDs.