Unwrapping Meaning: Rapgenius.com and Why Collaborative Analysis Matters

If musical analysis is thought of as a specialized skill reserved for specialists inside a specialist field, how does a website like rapgenius.com thrive? Since 2009 rapgenius.com has provided space for user-generated analytical content to be shared in a moderated environment, aiming to critique rap as poetry. Lyrics are uploaded and analyzed collaboratively by a community with a hierarchical structure of thousands of members, moderators, and verified artists in which RapIQ is the currency. In this presentation, I will explain rapgenius.com's operating structure and discuss the impact a similar system could have inside formal music scholarship. While there are a number of technical and philosophical limitations, online collaborative analysis provides a way to share and transmit knowledge in a highly accessible form. As ethnomusicologists continue to strive for the most ethical way to share their research with populaces they have studied, could systems like this be one possible answer? By discussing the role of music notation systems, the need for a detailed editing history, and the value of multiple viewpoints I hope to present a starting point for fellow researchers to consider when collecting and sharing data.



A version of this paper was presented at the University of Alberta Graduate Music Students' Conference in 2012 and at the Society for Ethnomusicology's Annual Meeting in 2013.