For the past seven years, I’ve been blessing these very Internetz with in-depth album reviews of your favorite R&B and hip-hop artists. I think I’ve done OK for myself, but there’s one thing I’ve yet to master — the art of “vlogging,” or, videoing my reviews for the Web.
One guy who has mastered it is Nova Scotia’s own Luke James.
Luke’s a fan of many types of musical genres, but it was his rap reviews that caught my attention. Some of his videos net tens of thousands of reviews on YouTube. Not too shabby. But don’t take my word for it, check out this YouTube channel for yourself.
I caught up with Luke (#NotTheSinger) to talk about the success of his video channel, the art of a good music review and who’s set to dominate rap in 2015.
Edd: Thanks for coming through and showing love to Soul In Stereo today. Tell us a little about yourself, your music interests, and how long you’ve been doing online reviews.
Luke: Thanks for having me! I’ve been a fan of the site for awhile now so it’s an honor to be a part of it! I’m 30 years old and born & raised in Nova Scotia where I live with my wife and babygirl. I’ve been reviewing albums (and mixtapes, EPs, etc.) for about 2 years now and I’m into many different genres. My playlist can go from Black Sabbath to Chromeo to Blind Melon to Three 6 Mafia to Toro Y Moi to Isaiah Rashad and beyond. My main love has always been hip-hop though, so that’s where my focus is for music reviews. I also used to rap back in the day and have been a part of some albums & compilations, so hip-hop has always been a very important part of my life.
Regarding those reviews, step us through the process, from conception to creation. How long does it take and what tips can you give potential reviewers?
Luke: Well, first off, I listen to the album that I’m reviewing multiple times – regardless of whether I like it or not. I try my best to find a balance – I don’t want to review after only one listen, but I don’t want to study the album for a month before speaking on it either. I also take a lot of notes and do some light research as I go along, but I try to vibe out to the music in some different settings too. That way I can really get the feel for it.
As for how long each review takes, it all depends on the project itself. For example, a project with a lot of tracks and deep lyricism requires more listens & notes than a six-track party music EP. I like to give my honest opinions, but I also try to be fair, too – although sometimes an album is so awful to me that I can’t find many redeeming qualities about it!
Now, when it comes to advice for potential reviewers, I would say that quality and consistency are key. If you’re able to spend a couple hundred bucks, getting a good camera and editing program will really uplift your channel. Of course, what you’re saying and how you’re saying it is what’s most important, but it always helps when your video is nice to look at and the sound is clear.
As for the consistency part, don’t overwork yourself, but try to keep the new content flowing. You don’t have to do 10 videos a week, but it’s important to keep delivering new content so that people will subscribe and keep coming back to your channel. Also, there WILL be haters. Don’t let it phase you. I used to have people telling me that I would never hit 1,000 subscribers. It’s four or five months later and I now have 2300+ and am steadily growing. Don’t get discouraged! Just be yourself and be honest because that’s how you build a great fanbase! Welcome constructive criticism, but don’t fall victim to negativity – especially from anonymous YouTube commenters!
Did you encounter any troubles in your first few attempts at reviews?
Luke: Surprisingly, not much. Sometimes there would be annoying little technical hiccups to deal with during the video editing process, but other than that I’ve never really been one to shy away from expressing my opinions, so that side of things has always come naturally.
Of course, all your insight means nothing if it isn’t promoted well. What’s the best way to spread word about your work and boost viewership?
Luke: My main tool has been Twitter. Hash-tagging albums & songs always brings in more viewers – especially if that album or song is new and/or trending – but another great way to boost YouTube viewership is to be active in the YouTube community. What I mean by that is to get out there and be seen in the comment sections. Talk and network with other music critics, spark some discussions on videos that are of interest to you, and respond back to the people who respond to you (except for the haters and trolls, of course).
Well, since you mentioned it, I know you can relate to this – the most annoying part of being a reviewer is dealing trolls and those obsessive fans. I got called a rapist the other day for daring to say that Lil Wayne’s Sorry For the Wait 2 was hot garbage (cuz it was). What’s the worst criticism you’ve dealt with and how do you cope?
Luke: I’ve definitely gotten my fair share of hate and trolling. I’ve actually had people wish death and disease on me just because I didn’t like a certain album, artist or mixtape – which to me is more funny than bothersome because of how ridiculous it is. It used to bother me a bit, but not anymore. I used to respond to the negativity and trolling in my comment section, but over time I’ve come to learn that responding to idiots makes ME look like an idiot (“a wise man told me don’t argue with fools…”). For the most part, I’ve found that anyone who is being negative right from the start isn’t looking to bring anything interesting to the table. They just want attention and arguments so don’t give them what they want!
These days I usually just delete useless comments and/or block the people who are out to be negative and steer attention away from the discussion at hand. I welcome disagreements on my channel, because it’s fun to share and discuss different opinions, but I’m smart enough to know the difference between someone who is trying to add to the conversation and someone who is trying to troll/be negative/rile people up/argue, etc. Some people are just out to get a reaction and/or a response by being negative, and I just don’t go for that. I try my best to moderate my comments so that viewers and subscribers don’t have to sift through racist posts, troll posts, dumb posts, spam, etc.
We’re just a few months into the year – any predictions on the state of hip-hop in 2015? Which albums have impressed you so far?
Luke: Well, it’s not a bold prediction at all, but I think that Kendrick Lamar’s album will provide a lot of great social commentary and be huge – possibly even bigger than his debut. As for what projects have impressed me so far in 2015, my personal favorite at this point is TUT’s mixtape Preacher’s Son. He’s coming out of Chattanooga, Tennessee and he has a great sound, so don’t sleep on him!
Who do you expect to break out or really deliver some heat this year?
Luke: I expect TUT to break out this year and it feels like a safe bet to say that Mick Jenkins and Isaiah Rashad will both put out some great music in 2015. I’m anxiously waiting! And as much as Drake gets slandered, his mixtape BLEW UP, so if Views From The 6 is still coming that’ll break the internet!
And finally, gotta hit you with this one – tell me your favorite album of all time, and why. You’re a reviewer, sell me on it, homie.
Luke: That’s a tough question to answer with 100% certainty because there are so many incredible albums out there, but my go-to answer tends to be Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. As for why…well, just check out my review for it! I’ve recently started a series on my channel called “The Archives” where I take a look back at classic albums from the past and The Blueprint was my first episode.