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In the Genius environment, music along with language must be standardized to the brand.That imperative becomes a problem when applied to entire genres of music predicated on bucking standardized language and sonic respectability.The segment was announced with an official @Genius tweet reading “bruh 😂😂😂” above a loop video of Montana dancing (I guess) against a stark yellow background.
But Genius, despite its public rebranding, is still heavily dependent on hip hop and, more broadly, black culture.
While severed from rap in name, the site’s persona and cool factor rely entirely on black music.
Genius benefits from the appearance of a redemption narrative.
Whereas apps like Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat, Tinder, et al are increasingly prodded to answer for the antiblackness, racism, misogyny, ableism, and transphobia embedded in the fabric of their design and workplace culture, Genius began with controversy and now need only concern itself with doing what it already does .
Can Genius ’tate the world if it ( Back when he was still funny, Steve Harvey joked that any functional “ebonics” dictionary “better be in pencil.” And even still, he continues, the gamut of phatic sounds black folks use to convey meaning would make any dictionary infinite as to be impossible. “Imma tell you the real reason America is rushing to come up with an ebonics dictionary … “Ebonics is the leading cause of white folks taking accidental ass whoopings during hold ups.” Jokes aside, the project of translating the things black people say for a white understanding has been underway as long as America has known a literature to call its own.
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In an early ’90s monograph, Desegregation brought a new impetus to knowing (and correcting) black speech patterns.Tyler the Creator and Lana Del Rey’s recent albums — — received similar treatment.On the shared night of their release, Genius tweeted “[email protected]‘s new album is here sounding beautiful as hell 🐝🌻” and “listening to @lanadelrey‘s new album smiling bout as hard as she is on the cover 😁.” An ad for Genius-branded merchandise, framed by flame emojis, says “check my hat yo, peep the way i wear it,” an -lyric from Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement,” translated to netspeak.In 2015, ’s Katy Waldman had plenty to say about the site’s cultivated “‘fashionably hyperintellectual’” stance and the “hipness” it painfully craves, but wasn’t at all worried about any lingering racial issues.She was primarily concerned with the way Genius prioritizes cutesy facts and trivia without offering anything that might count as a meaningful reading of the work at hand.Rap Genius has long shed the “rap” prefix from its name, a literal and symbolic gesture in concert with shedding a troublemaking co-founder, Mahbod Moghadam, and problematic past by expanding its sights beyond hip hop culture. once called it “white sophistry” in a song, which went on to be annotated by a user on the site.As Rap Genius, the site’s utility — as a rap translator — attracted criticism as an enterprise invested in mining black culture for white (or non-black) profits. Moghadam then recorded a response track making fun of the color of Kool A. This was all back in 2012, though, and might as well be ancient history online.The lyrics area of the site is now genre-inclusive, segregated into modules like “Pop Genius” and “Rock Genius,” and each new addition slowly pushes it further from not only rap, but music, period: There’s “Lit Genius,” a section to annotate prose and poetry, and “News Genius,” for articles, essays, and blog posts.Its Web Annotator module, which brings any web page into the Genius annotative universe, is most germane to what remaining co-founders Lehman and Zechory envision for the future.Genius speaks the language of black cool on social media well enough, but all those links have to go somewhere: what happens when it actually needs to translate black art?As it turns out, Genius (still) has a problem getting it right, primarily for its failure to attune itself to the vagaries of black sound.