Rap Genius – The Real Meaning of Music


Have you ever been listening to the last track of your favorite artist and wondered: “What does this song really mean?”

Since 2009, a community of fans of Rap, R&B and Soul music has been trying to decipher the lyrics of thousands of songs for the enjoyment of the general public. To this end, the founders of the website rapgenius.com have applied crowdsourcing to the annotation of songs’ lyrics.

 This is how it works: Anyone can create an account on rapgenius.com and start annotating the lyrics of any of the songs on the website. If the song in question is not on the database yet, the user has the possibility to add its lyrics himself. The user will then select the words or lines that he wants to annotate and suggest an explanation. Other users will then rate the annotations and suggest changes. If one of the annotations is well rated by other users and is validated by the site’s moderators, it will appear in a pop-up window when curious internet users will point with their mouse at the words that the annotation intends to explain. Good contributions are rewarded with points named “Rap IQs”. When one user gathers a large amount of points, he can become a moderator and be in charge of editing the content on the website and reviewing users’ suggested explanations. Following Malone’s framework on Collective Intelligence Genome (2010), it can be argued that users contribute to the understanding of songs not only because they love to do so, but also to find a form of glory by accumulating many points.

 Since, the person most qualified to explain the meaning of a song is arguably its author, artists have the possibility to create “verified accounts” allowing them to annotate, moderate and correct their own lyrics.

 The future of Rap Genius

Mysterious, poetic (or sometime confusing) lyrics are not limited to Rap, R&B and Soul music. This is the reason why Rap Genius has lately been expanding to other genres such as Rock music, Latin music but also Poetry.

While it remains unclear how Rap Genius will generate profits in the future, venture capitalists invested up to $15 million in the website because of the potential impact that crowdsourced annotations can have on the media. To investigate the possible role that crowdsourced annotations can play in the media, the founders of Rap Genius recently launched “News Genius”, a twitter account that offers internet users the possibility to annotate various contents such as a speech of US President Barack Obama on closing Guantanamo Bay or Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. However, one potential concern may be that people annotating on these various contents will not have the same incentives as music enthusiasts who want to share their understanding of music. As a result, the outcome of that new endeavor might be entirely different…







Malone et al. (2010) The Collective Intelligence Genome

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