Lately there has been a lot of talk about the popular internet website Rap Genius and its founders, who convinced some old people to write them a giant sized novelty check as their reward for not being black. So I wanted to take a quick moment to consider how Rap Genius became, as one such old person called it, “the biggest hip-hop site.”*
The creators of the site would have you believe that their success is directly tied to some wide reaching desire amongst rap listeners to have lyrics explained in poorly researched and awkwardly constructed sentence fragments by the same teenagers who sneak into the unoccupied high school computer lab during study hall to watch the “Yonkers” video. While there might be some demand for this service - I would never underestimate the needs of idiots - I suspect it is not where the bulk of the site’s traffic is coming from.
In actuality the true genius of Rap Genius lies in their SEO manipulation tactics. People tend to Google lyrics to songs. A lot. I learned this back in my blog days, when I would post things like this and it’d end up dwarfing the incoming traffic that my posts with actual, thoughtful writing would receive. These hits weren’t coming from searches for the song title or artist name either but from loose strings of single lines. (Presumably kids are looking to ID the song or to verify these lyrics, not to better understand their meaning.)
What sets Rap Genius apart from the thousand other lyric spam sites rife with pop up ads is that they’ve figured out how to exploit this tendency. The annotation format gives them a good excuse to create a standalone page for each individual line, which maximizes their presence on search engines. Any way you search for “Classical” - be it for a “on point like a unicorn” or “we don’t bump the Blueprint 3”** - you’ll be likely to draw one of the fifty or so individual pages they have up, each titled after every individual bar, which will then redirect you to the main lyric page. The Rap Genius annotated lyrics approach isn’t a new model for how people communicate online or TEH INTERNET TALMUD or whatever power point presentation bullet point they sold those suits with. It’s a clever smoke screen for an old fashioned Google bombing.
(Also, as I mentioned on Twitter, they stole all their shit from Ohhla, anyway. Do a side by side comparison of any rap song from before 2008*** and tell me I’m wrong. Of course neither site actually owns the rights to this intellectual property at all but I guess that’s why the RG’s first money move was to hire a lawyer.)
* I take it he hasn’t seen Worldstar? Q is all like WHERE’S MY 15 MILLION? as his third eye quivers and he shakes his fists at the space alien gods who first set him upon his divine quest to post videos of pregnant teenagers twerking.
** You won’t, however, be able to find “my bozack swelling” because their genius does not extend to this particular slang word.
*** Which is the year that most Rap Genius editors were born.