What the Hell is Happening to Rap Genius?

November 14, 2013 By:

There’s been a lot of information flying around regarding Rap Genius, lawsuits and angry music industry people. If you’re confused about everything, maybe this conversation we had with ourselves will help.

First off, what is Rap Genius?

It’s a website that posts lyrics to songs for critique and allows users to annotate them, explaining their meanings. The site’s about page states:

Rap Genius is your guide to the meaning of rap, R&B, and soul lyrics. You can listen to songs, read their lyrics, and click lines that interest you for pop-up annotations”

The actual artists can then verify those annotations as fact. It’s kind of like hip-hop Wikipedia meets Twitter.

And what exactly is going on?



On Monday, the National Music Publishers Association hit Rap Genius and a bunch of other brands with takedown notices, claiming their intent was “to protect its members' property rights on the legislative, litigation, and regulatory fronts.”

It’s sparked debate on whether posting lyrics should be illegal or not.

How many sites are affected?

50. Other names include Popdust and Allthelyrics.com.

Why does it seem like Rap Genius is being singled out?

Probably because it’s a recognizable and highly-funded brand. And people know and use it a lot.

What’s the big deal?

Money, basically. Anyone reporting on these legal issues has been sure to point out that, in 2012, Rap Genius received a $15 million investment from the Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz.

The majority of the lyrics Rap Genius posts are unlicensed. When you make money off other people’s work and don’t pay, you can plan on some friction happening.

Is posting lyrics without permission really that bad?

Technically, yes. The NMPA is going as far as to say it’s “blatant illegal behavior.”

According to Slate, copyright law indicates that: “Reproducing, distributing and displaying lyrics online without permission of the copyright owner, for commercial purposes, is a blatant infringement.”

Is my lyric Tumblr page in danger of being shut down by men in black suits?

No. They’re not after the little guys… yet.

Is Rap Genius gone forever?

Definitely not. In fact, Billboard is reporting that Rap Genius has already signed a licensing deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the first of what they hope to be many.

In a statement Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman & CEO Martin Bandier seemed to back Rap Genius cofounder Tom Lehman’s goal of giving “context to all important texts in people's lives," saying that the site allows fans and creators to connect “in a new and exciting way.”

Moving forward, Rap Genius insists that its relationship with artists “will only grow stronger.” They also plan to continue to expand into other territories.

Like what?

You know, rock and roll, news, poetry, crowdsourced business documents…


Yeah, really.