When describing Rap Genius — “a hip-hop Wikipedia” — it just reminds me of the opening diner scene in the film “Reservoir Dogs,” in which Quentin Tarantino’s character Mr. Brown explains to his bank-robbing associates that Madonna’s hit song “Like a Virgin” was a metaphor.
Rap Genius is the place to find explanation of music lyrics, and I just love it. Founded in 2009 by Yale students who were pondering the meaning of a Cam’ron lyric, they’ve created a combination of Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia.
It’s a website where people can crowdsource the meaning of lyrics in as much detail they want using pictures, videos and GIFs.
It’s the beauty of discussion and discovery. Lyrics of songs sometimes can’t be read at face value, and research is required to figure out what they really mean.
If you’re wondering how much Jay Z really did know of his rights confronting a cop in “99 Problems,” or why Eminem mentions Phil Collins witnessing someone being drowned in “Stan,” Rap Genius has the answers.
We no longer need to check Google just to figure out if we sang that word wrong while in the shower. Now we can find out the backstory of a song that we disregarded because we never could piece together a 1,000-piece puzzle by ourselves. With a community dissecting individual songs line by line, it’s effortless to complete that puzzle and see the whole picture.
And it doesn’t even stop for just rap music. The annotating website has expanded its reach into Poetry Genius and News Genius.
You can now search for your favorite high school Robert Frost poem, the 2012 Presidential Debates or Martin Luther King’s speech, and you’ll come upon the collection and fact-finding of the website community’s work.
It may seem silly to have this much content open to annotate, but the dedication of the contributors is appreciated. You can learn something new every day just by simply spending a couple of minutes on the website. It’s the power of giving the community the tools that make this happen.
But the goal of it is clear. Every line of text in an article that exists is like every detail of a painting or scene in a movie: It has purpose.
Send Vincent your favorite Jay Z lyrics at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @TaeQuangDoh