Tag Archives: Rap Genius

Threatened with closure, are lyrics sites a blessing or a curse?

Out of a simple lyric forum an extraordinary pursuit of knowledge and depth of meaning is taking form.

Last Friday on NME.com, deputy editor Lucy Jones wrote this blog post entitled, “The Questionable World Of Lyric Sites – Are They About To Implode?”, with an interview with Rap Genius cofounder Mahbod Moghadam. I’ve only ever used the Rap Genius site to help me decipher M.I.A.’s lyrics in an attempt to try and understand her madness. But it was very interesting to me to learn that a bunch of very high-profile rap stars, including Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, have signed on to the project and hold verified accounts with the site, themselves using this site to interact with their fans through discussion of their lyrics.

Lyrics sites – the standard ones that literally just list the lyrics, and maybe the album where you can find the song on – in America are being threatened by closure from the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), being given 20 days to stop their “blatantly illegal behavior”. While lyrics are copyrighted in the same way songs are, I don’t see why they are so concerned about intellectual property of the lyrics themselves. The songs have already been released to the public before the lyrics for them go online, and therefore anyone with something as simple as a Tumblr could transcribe the lyrics and post them, right? I’ve done this on my own Web sites, on my Livejournal, by hand in notebooks. Would Shakespeare have thought it wrong if someone had gone to see one of his plays and brought a notepad with him, with the sole purpose of scribbling down what beautiful words he had heard? I didn’t know him personally, but I’m thinking he would have been flattered.

Songwriters write words for themselves, but they also write words to share them to the world at large. If we lose these lyrics sites, it wouldn’t be a huge deal I suppose, since the standard lyrics site doesn’t really give you anything more than someone else’s transcription from listening to the song some 10+ times, and even then, the transcription might be wrong. But I think the powers that be are missing the boat here. Contemplating the meaning of song lyrics can be as enlightening as contemplating Steinbeck, Whitman, or Tolstoy. There is a living, breathing human who wrote those lyrics, and why shouldn’t we be allowed to discuss the lyrics (and the person behind them, for that matter) as deeply as we have done in school with The Grapes of Wrath, Leaves of Grass, or Anna Karenina?