The world of music is one that overlays nearly every aspect of our lives. Everything we watch has a musical soundtrack of some kind. Every place we shop pipes in something for our listening pleasure. The technology that allows us to own music and take it wherever we go is utterly pervasive, and the genres of music to choose from has diversified into realms that even fifty years ago would have been unimaginable.
In 1962, the modern rock era was in its infancy. The British invasion was still up and coming, and Ray Charles, The Four Seasons, and Booker T and the MGs were the most recognized names in R&B. There was a jazz scene, and classical music has always had an audience, but the level of musical diversity we have today was beyond limited in those bygone times; by today’s standard’s, one might almost consider it stunted.
Today, we have satellite radio and iPods. Pandora lets us program our own stations. On-demand cable offers music channels for our high definition flat screens. And the choices in the on-demand queue range from classical to death metal, and from old-school blues to one of the top-ten most popular current styles: Rap/Hip Hop.
Rap music is more than just a derivation of the R&B genre. It’s an art form that speaks to a lifestyle full of glamor and fame, full turmoil and danger, and a culture in its own right. And, like all other musical art forms, rap imitates the lives of the artists who create it. Also like most other musical art forms, for those outside of the culture to which it speaks, it can be very difficult to understand.
By “understand,” some might take the broader meaning. Maybe like the art of Picasso, or the offerings of free-form jazz musicians, the meaning is abstract and elusive to average perceptions. So it is with rap, but it’s often a much more obvious matter as well: Rappers’ lyrics often flow faster than an auctioneer’s spiel at The World’s Fair, and their word choices have been imbued with definitions so obscure and specific to the world rappers are representing that the rest of us are mystified . . . and with ever-increasing popularity, enthralled. The fan base probably knows what these musicians are talking about without any help. The rest of us must sheepishly admit, if we want to know what these people are really rapping about, we need the lyrics translated.
So has arisen the popularity of RapGenius. Started in 2009 by a trio of friends and Yale undergrads, RapGenius doesn’t merely corner the market on rap lyric translation … it IS the market. And the website isn’t just a resource for moms who want a clue about what their kids are listening to and why. Fully rounded out with a blog, song/video playback with lyric selections, a discussion forum, and a “Rap Map,” ( purpose: “mapping the gangsta terrain of the planet”) RapGenius is arguably the Wikipedia of Rap/Hip Hop, exactly as its founders intended it to be. For those who want to know, RapGenius is the place to go. One might wonder, however: Will there be bunches of angry kids when their moms discover the meanings of some rappers’ lyrics and then exercise parental censorship rights?