Wednesday, October 10, 2012

RapGenius: Not Hating the Players but Hating the Game Once Again

I looked at RapGenius over the past year or so. At first I thought it was pretty cool – a site to break down rap lyrics. They hit me up on Twitter randomly to ask me to join their site, I told them I’d think about it. Since I love lyrics, I ended up joining and added my two cents to some of my favorite Ice Cube/Nas songs.

I don’t have a beef with the site per se. Because it’s all user based, anybody can comment on a song. That’s both good and bad because while there are some great breakdowns (see Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean), some of the reasoning is silly and immature.  When you post a new meaning, there’s a corny “Yeeeeah Boy” picture afterwards.

RapGenius has also succeeded in partnering with folks like Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Murs and Jean Grae to help breakdown their lyrics. The site admits that not every breakdown is approved by an editor so that’s pretty much carte blanche to allow anything. In our Wikipedia generation, it works even if it emphasizes current rap over old school joints that deserve to be deciphered more.

So what’s the big issue? Discovering that RapGenius got a $15 million investment and it’s the brainchild of three slang-talking, non-Black guys from Yale. Guys who got started the site on a whim and watched it grow.

Tom Lehman, Mahbod Moghadom and Ilan Zechory are the 3 guys behind RapGenius.

I can debate the merits if that site really deserved that much cash - two folks believe they barely deserve less than a 10th of it and I think the site's good but not THAT good - but I think it’s yet another example of urban culture being appropriated by folks who were smart enough to gamble on it. It’s money that doesn’t come back to hip-hop.

“So what if my pants sag with my hat turned back The same swag got our merchandise flying off the rack Marketing companies is hiring blacks Fresh hip-hop lingo for your campaign ads” - Nas (Yall My N's)

Slang, clothing, attitude, swagger. All of it became profitable once it hit the mainstream. People saw dollars and cents and folks with privilege are taking advantage. It’s no surprise the three Yale students are successful guys who come off as cocky, ambitious and business oriented but care more about breaking things down than giving context.

One of the biggest flaws of hip-hop’s growth is that not enough people thought to own more things that matter. While folks bought superficial items and such, not enough thought about controlling the image of hip hop, reminding people of the rules, teaching the history and molding MC’s to do more than think of the hustle.

Dead Prez wasn't lying in 2000 when this dropped. It's still truth.
That’s what I miss most about old school hip-hop. Back in the day (and even up to maybe when this happened in 1996), it was more self-contained. Independent labels, Yo! MTV Raps and artists who were talking to the community, not just music as a whole. It profited from itself mainly.

Now there’s not a lot of money in rap now. People are making this music – which hasn’t been the best as a whole lately – but the ones who make the money don’t look like most of the musicians. That’s old news but I guess when you get reminded of it, it sucks.

Congrats to RapGenius but shame that it’s the latest example of our culture profiting somebody else instead of us. They convinced somebody to invest that much in a site which two people told me doesn’t look like it’s worth more close to a million.

It’s just the idea of it not being in the hands of rappers or folks more closely affiliated with rap to monitor and respect it. Not hating the player, but hating the game that’s as old as music.

“All the fresh styles always start off as a good little hood thing
look at blues, rock, jazz, rap
Not even talkin about music
everything else too
by the time it reach Hollywood it's over” (Andre 3000, Hollywood Divorce)

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