Article by J.D. Thrasher
Being curious about rap lyrics was all it took for Mahbod Moghadam to launch Rap Genius, an online database that explains the meaning behind the words.
“We’re basically trying to make a hip-hop community,” said Moghadam. Along with lyrics, the site also includes a forum that allows viewers to have reliable and intelligent discussions about hip hop. One of the most controversial forum discussions going on is V-nasty’s use of the N-word.
But still, the main reason people go to Rap Genius is to find the meanings of a particular song.
Rap Genius is similar to Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia. In a nutshell, the way the site operates is people sign-up and provide insight to the often-cryptic meanings of rap lyrics and editors of the site, review and edit those submissions as needed.
A lot of the explanations explain double entendres, metaphors, similes, slang, borrowed lyrics from other rappers and regionally-specific points of interest.
For example, Mac Miller’s single “Knock Knock” has the line “Keep a smile like an Eat N’ Park cookie.” Now, a person not familiar with Mac’s hometown of Pittsburgh would not know what an Eat N’Park cookie is, but a Rap Genius contributor explained it. “Eat-N-Park is a drive in restaurant located in Pennsylvania and the logo is a cookie with a smiley face on it.”
One of the main rules for contributing is that explanations are given with a link and possibly a pop cultural reference. Humor can also be used.
The last line in Drake’s “Over” song has: “Man, nobody’s ever done it like I did it.” The explanation: Releasing free mixtapes to gain attention is fairly standard, but Drake’s So Far Gone mixtape was so absurdly popular that he has seemed to skip a few steps in the usual career path of a rapper.
There are some rappers with trickier lyrics than others, said the Rap Genius founders, namely Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z and Cam’ron.
Cam’ron’s often confusing rhyme scheme gave momentum to create Rap Genius.
Cam’ron’s song “Family Ties” has the lyrics,”80 holes in your shirt, there: your own Jamaican clothes.” The lyric stumped Moghadam. He knew 80 holes meant someone’s shirt would be struck by 80 bullets, but what about Jamaican clothes? What did that have to do with anything? Initially he thought Cam’ron might be describing clothes worn by people in Jamaica’s poor communities, but a friend told him that it was incorrect. The 80 holes in a person shirt would look like mesh shirts commonly worn in Jamaica.
Anyone can sign-up to submit or edit a Rap Genius lyric page, but that person will only gain points based on the usefulness and relevance of that that meaning and points could be taken away.