Rap Genius and taming the unknown

I can’t count the number of times I went on Genius to decipher lyrics, to annotate a couple of verses, to figure out how a song fits in the entire album, or just to enrich my hood vocab.

But I recently have come to resent the website and what is stands for. (this has nothing to do with my low IQ. I swear)

It all started when I saw this video of Sampha, one of my current GOATs:

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As I watched the video, I found it unsettling and awkward. In trying to understand why, I quickly realized that Sampha’s discomfort is not caused by his shyness but rather from the irrationality of the whole situation. Asking an artist to explain his choices completely defeats the purpose: He somehow managed to capture the way he feels and convey it through his music and we ask him to translate them in plain words. It doesn’t make sense!

When I read his annotations, I realized even more that not only is it useless and besides the point to capture his take on his own work, it actually ruins the fun. When he said that he was actually running in the studio, I felt so uncomfortable because his breathlessness in the song seemed so genuine to me, when I heard it, like he was having a panic attack or something. The fact that he had to fake it, by running around his studio is part of the process that I shouldn’t hear about. I feel like “the process” should be a silent part of any artistic endeavour. I am supposed to wonder how he got there but I am not supposed to know.

I could have realized this watching any other verified video, but I very much enjoy the irony that I have come to this realization watching a video on Sampha’s new album which is entitled “Process”.

If you think about it, there should be no difference between a regular Genius user annotating a song and the actual artist doing so. But I think that watching the artist struggle with the vicious circle of explaining the feelings that motivated him/her to chose the words that s/he chose to express his/her feelings really shows the limit of what Genius is trying to do.

It’s kind of sad to see that Genius changed from being a platform to share different perspectives and interpretations of what a piece of Art means to a platform with “verified accounts” and “approved annotations”. Instead of showcasing the richness of the meaning, it restricts it to a single explanation that was given by the artist himself, or the producer or a close friend.

Once I realized Genius’s growing Pensée unique, I started seeing the same trend in many other things: personality tests, the MBTI, horoscopes, buzzfeed quizzes enlightening you on the kind of bread you are and of course, the eternal questions of “Are you a Tia or Tamara?” “Zoe or  Zelda?” “Are you Ross or Chandler?” Too many questions that we want binary answers for without bothering with nuances.

I really think this is symptomatic of the kind of society we live in. A society that is obsessed with choices. One where we reject the transient, indeterminate nature of things around us, including art. One where we prefer answers to questions. One where we want to find but we don’t want to search. Where we want to be told who we are instead of discovering how we change. We seek finite answers because we can’t deal with ambiguity.

I guess what I am saying is that I wish there was more room for uncertainty. I wish we were more comfortable with chaos and less obsessed with shallow order.

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3 thoughts on “Rap Genius and taming the unknown

  1. Oh shit! I’ve been thinking about this idea for a couple of months now! Not so much with Genius-related lyric-explanations (Genius stopped being my go-to resource as soon as they removed “rap” from their name), but with, like, film. There are a lot of films that don’t really make sense, and my go-to reaction after seeing them used to be to go on twitter, letterboxd to see what people thought of it. Or, you know, reading reviews. Movies like The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer come to mind immediately. And, honestly, seeing other people’s opinions on them has ruined a couple of movies. So now I avoid it.

    That was a lot of word vomit I just (potentially) made you read, so, to make up for it, I’d like to recommend Tyler, the Creator’s interview about his Flower Boy album. This is one of those situations where it’s *awesome* to see the artist talk about their artwork.

    ALSO, if you’re gonna go out in search of someone’s opinions about a movie—it should be the screenwriter. If this kind of shit interests you, I highly recommend the Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast. 10/10.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find that movies are so long and packed with meaning that you can’t possibly analyze all of it. So imo reading people’s reviews enriches my own reading and adds new layers of meaning. And even if a majority of the reviewers share the same opinion, they rarely proclaim it as the one true meaning. But I see your point.

      Thank you for the recommendations. Do you mean the “FLOWER BOY: a conversation” hour long video on Youtube?

      Wow that’s unbelievable. This Jeff man has been doing Q&As since 2011! I haven’t seen anyone keep up with a project that long. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

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