Rap Genius: Innovation Toward Archiving Hip Hop

Technology to Preserve Hip Hop
In the last 20 years we’ve witnessed massive innovations that have increased our ability to process information. Google, Facebook, Apple, and so many other companies have made their fortunes around making information comprehendible and easily accessible. As lazy as it may sound to those of us that remember using the Dewey Decimal System to research anything of significance, easy data is just a way of life now. It’s only natural that this concept would somehow work its way into the Hip Hop world. Let’s face it, if you lack a think-tank type of brain and have an over-demanding life, what is the possibility that you’d sit down and decipher rap? Well, maybe a song you really like, but not the entire album. We can currently say with enthusiasm that a generation of Hip Hop babies are in full swing. We move to the beat of the boom bap, flow to polysyllabic verses, and amplify a current rhyme scheme through our purchases. However, our natural affinity to rap, that’s intrinsic to our generation, sometimes lacks the probing needed in order to spread the science of some extremely prolific rhyme sayers. Last night I had the pleasure of meeting two of three founding members of Rap Genius, an online media group that have dedicated their programming savvy, love for Hip Hop, and entrepreneurial aptitude to perpetuate rap as significant literature.

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From Left to Right Martha Diaz, Ilan Zechory, Tom Lehman, and Alex Koenig

Organizing and Adding to the Community
Rap Genius catalogues rap lyrics in a Wikipedia style formatting, but with added benefits. Subscribers are able to upload content and annotate aspects of the material to share its meaning with the world. Those that are registered to the site can add comments or notes to analysis that has already been posted. So the text being evaluated is a living document that serves the layman and the adept giving anyone interested the ability to probe into the depths of rap lyrics without a sufficient starting point. Unlike Wikipedia, Rap Genius allows anyone to add details to material posted. Also, anyone can post his or her lyrics or writing sample. This isn’t true with Wikipedia which doesn’t allow post about people or ideas that aren’t prominently in society. Although this may cause an issue with credibility and accuracy, the site has promoted a number of verified users that are experts of the content posted. One good example is Nas who has verified a number of his songs on the site. Fans can now bridge Nas’ actual experiences with his lyrics as he annotates his songs. The feature really generates a connection between the artists and the community. Rap Genius has acquired a good number of verified accounts song writers and authors of most of their material posted on the site.

What Does the Future Hold?
What impressed me the most about Rap Genius’ presentation was their powerful push toward education and using Hip Hop as a central means for feeding people knowledge. In responding to a question posed about Rap Genius’ longevity and future Ilan Zechory a founding member said, “Most of our world is influenced by Hip Hop to some degree…” These guys really believe in the artistic aspects of Hip Hop and promote its value on the site. This type of cataloging will contribute to building a Hip Hop library in some way, and it was appropriate that this event was held at The Schomburg Center in Harlem, USA. This library was the meeting point for legendary African American scholars and currently houses thousands of manuscripts and other texts from famous African American authors such as Maya Angelou. During the Q&A session toward the end of the presentation, a poet asked the panel if they saw the site moving away from Hip Hop and producing a site that cataloged texts more generally. This question was in response to Rap Genius’ announcement subscribers now adding poetry, legal documents, Rock music, and even recipes to the site for annotation. Tom Lehman, another founder of Rap Genius, enthusiastically responded that he had no idea what the future held, and said “..but everything can be scene through Hip Hop in a sense, right?”

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