All kinds of genius
July 18, 2014 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Today the lyrics and annotation site previously known as Rap Genius officially expanded its scope to allow users to annotate anything, renaming itself

In an email to users, founders Tom and Ilan wrote
When we created Rap Genius 5 years ago, we had no plans to expand beyond rap lyrics. But the community had a bigger vision, and it wasn’t long before "Rap" Genius housed the collected works of Shakespeare and Jane Austen, the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, poetry by T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes, TV and movie scripts, Chipotle’s menu, the back of a Tylenol bottle, the roster of the 1986 New York Mets, and that dream you keep having where your teeth fall out—all lovingly and carefully annotated.

In retrospect this was inevitable. Any text can be as layered, as allusive and cryptic, as worthy of careful exegesis as rap lyrics. Furthermore, it’s simply not possible to create a website that annotates rap alone, just as it’s not possible to create a website that annotates any individual slice of human culture—because no slice of human culture stands on its own.

Thus, "Genius" is now the name of the grand project, born from rap’s rib, to annotate the world—and of the platform and company we’re building to enable it.
Lit (Canterbury Tales)
News (Burwell Vs. Hobby Lobby)
Pop (Weird Al's "Word Crimes")
History (Mayflower Compact, Darth Vader Vs. Hitler)
Sports (Chelsea FC Squad)
Screen (Game of Thrones: The Children)
X (everything else) (Tylenol warning label)

Rap Genius previously
posted by bleep (29 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

I really like Rap Genius. Thanks for posting this!
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:09 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

Rap Genius is indeed pretty great, but this picture, tho.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:13 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]

No mass murderer manifesto section?
posted by el io at 11:20 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

Rap Genius is a really interesting tool for collaborative document annotation. Imagine Genius for Wikipedia articles! I'm hoping they rebrand themselves from the silly bro nonsense they had going for so long. It was a little funny and a little appropriate to the rap business but it obscured what could be a really good tool with much broader appeal. Firing Moghadam may have been necessary to get the company to grow up.

(Related: I think we should have mandatory Voight-Kampff tests for tech startup employees. You know, just to be sure they're human.)
posted by Nelson at 11:24 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]

I'm disappointed there's no entry for Dr. Bronner's labels.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:24 AM on July 18 [8 favorites]

I love that someone is annotating the FAFSA. It's amusing AND helpful.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:26 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]

The silly bro nonsense is behind the scenes and easy to ignore. The product itself is great, IMHO.
posted by bleep at 11:35 AM on July 18

I'm going to LOVE this for poetry.
posted by sallybrown at 11:37 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]

I'm disappointed there's no entry for Dr. Bronner's labels.

posted by tofu_crouton at 11:46 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]

I love when artists add notes to their own lyrics. This one is my favorite.
posted by Blue Meanie at 12:05 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]

The silly bro nonsense is behind the scenes and easy to ignore.

The silly bro nonsense is central to their identity and is damaging to the industry and the society it exists within. It is not easy to ignore.
posted by frijole at 12:19 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]

This is... so wonderful! I've been noticing Rap Genius had overreached its supposed borders, bringing consensus of hidden meanings to so many more things.

It's... just so smart! I wish there was a word to express how smart, and wonderful, and innovative this is!
posted by IAmBroom at 12:19 PM on July 18

The company and its outspoken founders have a habit of rubbing people the wrong way. Here are just a few of the many examples.
The National Music Publishers Association. The Rap Genius business model is to post song lyrics online and then let users (including, in some cases, the artists themselves) annotate them. This is done without the approval of the holders of the songs' respective copyrights, and that has gotten the NMPA, which represents many of those copyright holders, up in arms.

Sorry, but in my opinion that's like saying police have a habit of rubbing murderers the wrong way: you might just be blaming the wrong group for the confrontation.

In what lunatic version of reality does a site intended to let fans discuss their favorite music count as business infringement? Having the legal right to do something doesn't mean it makes any damn sense at all. But that's US copyright law for you.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:25 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]

I'm not a big fan of Rap Genius. At first it was mostly because of the awful personalities of the founders, but the site itself has been bothering me too. It tends to erase multivalent meaning, ambiguities and built-in contradictions and takes a literal-minded, lowest common denominator approach to interpretation. It explains without holistic understanding. It's actually how the site is designed to function. I haven't seen anyone criticizing it on this level except this piece in relation to Kanye's "New Slaves":

The problem with Rap Genius is its presupposition that language is logical. The site’s purpose is to break down a piece of writing into its constituent parts, determine the meaning of each individual part, and then add all those meanings up to get the meaning of the whole. That’s not how art works. But the site has achieved great success through that approach. SongMeanings is a decade-old site, and a pretty good one, that focuses on discussing the meaning of songs as whole pieces; unlike Rap Genius, it has not received $15 million in seed money. It’s not surprising that a site focused on making language into a kind of math has done well on the web, a thing built by (and heavily used by) programmers, people who do use language in a logical way every day to write code. It does not, however, do the lyrics any favors. Rap Genius’ system encourages each line to be annotated only once, creating the idea of a “definitive” meaning. But since when is meaning ever definitive?
posted by naju at 12:26 PM on July 18 [7 favorites]

to annotate the world—and of the platform and company we’re building to enable it.

Glosynge is a glorious thyng, certeyn.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:27 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]

So, who's going to import the entirety of over there? Because that would be kind of cool.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:31 PM on July 18

so they want to be wikipedia with ads?
posted by at 12:46 PM on July 18

The biggest problem I see with the Genius product is it seems to present only one interpretation. Anyone use the site regularly? Can you comment on how consensus is reached? I see for an oft-commented song like The Message each annotation has multiple authors. There's also votes for the annotation. How does it all work?

Also with user-generated content sites like this I always wonder about the incentives and legal rights of the users producing the content. Their terms of service seem to say that contributors continue to own their content, but that Genius get a blanket perpetual license to use it. That seems like a reasonable balance; at least I can take my brilliant annotations with me to some other site if I want.

In what lunatic version of reality does a site intended to let fans discuss their favorite music count as business infringement?

Pretty much every country that respects copyright. Lyrics are text, copyrighted just like a poem or a short story is. Genius and all the other lyrics sites are being quite brazen in using that copyrighted material without a license.

Now I think it's a good use. It allows direct discussion of the music. It helps drive sales of the music. There's no other meaningful market for song lyrics. I think it'd be insane for music companies to prevent the use of their lyrics on Genius. ("OK, we won't discuss your product.") But the copyright and right to license still exists.
posted by Nelson at 1:04 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]

The silly bro nonsense is behind the scenes and easy to ignore.

Ignoring the silly bro nonsense rewards and perpetuates the silly bro nonsense.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:11 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]

I've annotated a handful of things; the process could be improved. Anybody can add their interpretation to a line, but it doesn't become "official" until an editor gives it a pass. Oftentimes these early notes are poorly spelled or incorrect but accepted anyway. You just have to send in a correction and hope the editors notice it later on.

Also, how does it work copyright-wise? Do they have permission to duplicate these lyrics, documents, etc?
posted by Rhaomi at 1:12 PM on July 18

AcademiaGenius would be really interesting. Public peer review platform, anyone?
posted by sockermom at 1:23 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]

I don't know about Rap Genius being "blacklisted by Google" but when I Googled "word crimes lyrics", Pop.Genius.Com was near the top of the first page of results.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:59 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]

The silly bro nonsense is behind the scenes and easy to ignore.

Like sweatshops!
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:21 PM on July 18

Ignoring the silly bro nonsense rewards and perpetuates the silly bro nonsense.

I wish people would tell that to the customers of banks (which banks? all of them).
posted by el io at 4:10 PM on July 18

I have never once read a rap genius annotation and gone "Oh that's what that lyric means!" I have used it to discover what slang words mean tho. So there's that.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:04 PM on July 18

There are plenty of song lyric sites that look like shite. I like the look of this one. Good design gives me the feeling that people are taking it seriously. I did hear a piece about this site on NPR a while back. I believe they were still calling it Rap Genius at the time.

The first thing I looked up was Pavement. I still like the dreams Stephen Malkmus (et al.) has given to middle class whites, dreams of an upper-middle class white life through variant verse and texture of song styling. But, I don't always understand what he's saying.

Although I have a problem with understanding lyrics, this site seems to give a good-Overton window methodology to address this problem: If they have 'interpretation' as the selling point then all of their lyrics MUST be correct, right? I believe this gives greater necessity/priority for the song-words to be correct in the first place and, well, I like that. Genius is ultimately a good song lyrics site (with interpretations, if you so choose).

Now, I just have to figure out if I can live with the second verse of Pavement's "Here" starting with "And all the sterile striking" as opposed to "And all the sparrows striking"...
posted by coolxcool=rad at 12:34 AM on July 19

Chipotle mexican Grill Inc menu annotated. It's pretty weird how much time someone put into this a thing on the internet. It's detailed from the word Entrees
If you really wanna game the system — which I do, I’ve been going to ‘potle now for 5 years and their chips have gotten smaller and more expensive, thanks McDonald’s! — get a burrito bowl.

You get way more food (they fill the bowl up!) and you can ask for a tortilla on the side anyways! Plus you don’t feel compelled to devour all of it in one sitting…
Yes, those are on-topic links in the annotation of Entrees.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:52 PM on July 20

Rap Jesus: Ousted Genius Founder Mahbod Moghadam Finally Speaks. He's writing a book. "I am going to spend all the money I get from the book on Bitcoin, because I believe Bitcoin is “Internet 2.0″ and it going to change the world and help the poor."
posted by Nelson at 11:41 AM on July 22

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