Grading on a Curve
My favorite teacher ever was my high school chemistry teacher Mr. Cuba. He wasn’t a young, hip, cool teacher. In fact it was quite the opposite. Older, slim-ish build, and an uber nerd. Every year on Halloween he wore a full out Star Trek uniform to class. I mean the whole one piece, snug fitting uniform. He wasn’t cool to us inner city kids but he was a favorite for many of us. But one thing he NEVER did with us was grade on a curve. If we got all of the questions on the test right, then he never wrote “Excellent!” or “Super Job!!” He would only write “satisfactory.” You’d get 100% of the questions correct and he’d only put “satisfactory.” Why? Well, his philosophy was “If I spent the last few days teaching it to you, and you got them all correct what’s excellent about that? I taught it, now you know it so show it. That’s satisfactory.” So because of this he NEVER graded us on a curve. If we all got 100% then cool. If we all got 35% then that’s what we earned. The standard is the standard and there’s no point in changing it just because we all fell short. Either he needed to teach it better or we needed to pay attention more but either way there were NO curves. (And for the record, this was in an honors type of program).
When I scan the landscape of the Christian Hip-Hop scene, I notice that many of us tend to grade on a curve. We either grade too harshly or too easily. Here’s what I mean. I once was asked about a Christian rap album and was asked to give my opinions on it. Before I could say ONE thing they gave me the “it doesn’t matter because its all Jesus anyway so its good!” When in actuality, it wasn’t. Like…at all. In fact it was pretty bad but because it was about Jesus then we needed to swing our grading scale to compensate for the fact that it was about Jesus. Its a common occurrence. I remember growing up watching “Showtime at The Apollo.” If you’re not familiar it was basically the original song competition show waaaay before American Idol or The Voice. It was held in Harlem and the responses were instant. If you were good you got applauded and if not then you got booed. And they were LOUD about it. But, no matter how bad you were and despite how notoroiously brutal that crowd was, there were two things you just DIDN’T boo – kids and gospel singers. How can you boo someone singing about Jesus, right? So no matter the audience, when it came to gospel music there was a curve to grade it on.
That sentiment didn’t sit too well with people who actually LIKED the music they listened to and purchased. The idea of giving someone a free pass just because it was about Jesus was a cop out, it was weak and they felt it contributed to a lack of quality in Christian music. Couple that with the idea that came into Christian circles that “if its for God then it has to be the best thing out there!” (I could breakdown where that came from, but that would take too long. Another day.) Thus, another curve was created.
This new curve sets such an unrealistic and unfair standard that no music – Christian focused or otherwise – could meet. I remember listening to a review of a popular Christian Hip-Hop album and the reviewer LITERALLY said “its not the best thing I’ve ever heard, so I’m disappointed. We’re Christian, we’re supposed to be better.” Que? So simply because it wasnt the best thing you’ve ever heard its a disappointment? How many times can we genuinely expect to hear “the best thing I’ve ever heard?” And using this same standard we say stuff like “CHH is wack man! The world has such better music.” Really? I’d go as far to say that with the exception of a select few elite rappers, CHH/I’m a Christian that raps/I’m a rapper that’s Christian/I make honest music and I’m a Christian/or whatever rappers are just as good and in many cases better than secular/non-religious rappers. You can’t have Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything” be the top song at one point and tell me that theres no better Christian music. Sorry, just not believing you.
So on one hand we’ve given people a free pass by grading them too low just because its about Jesus. On the other hand we’ve graded them too harshly because its about Jesus and “Christians are supposed to do the best because its about God.” But what if we removed the curve and grade the music for what it is? Am I saying we should give the “Don’t Kill My Christ” bad Christian remixes a pass because it’s all about Jesus? No. But let’s not hope for it to be the second coming of the Blueprint meets Thriller if its not and knock it for not meeting that standard. If its good, then let it be recognized as that. If it’s bad, then let it be. Let’s make Mr. Cuba proud and let’s not grade on a curve.
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