Here's a little story that must be told, and it goes a little something like this: When I was in that sacred stage of human development known as adolescence, rap opened my eyes to just how words could be used. I was on the verge of tearing my everything out in fits of angsty, pre-teen rage, when I realized that what I really needed to do was write. I needed to get out the crazy build-up of everything and put it on paper, which I was actually decent at. That realization came to me when I walked into my older brother's room and heard his Wu-Tang tapes (yep, I said tapes--as in cassettes) blaring out of his speakers. It was the most amazing thing to me to sit and listen to these wordsmiths that just spun a story to a beat; quick and dirty. The rhythm, the rhyming, the references, the metaphors, the similes! I was a dorky, English-class-loving sixth grader and I was in mad, passionate love with this hardcore rap that spit rough lines about grabbing girls and smoking blunts. It was like some secret version of poetry that I wanted to know all about. But, that was easier said than done. Pre-Internet (Yes, I said pre-Internet--as in perhaps you had a dial-up connection on the family PC days) lyrics were hard-won information when you were sneaking listens in your big brother's room and had no idea where he kept anything, let alone cassette cases (and were afraid to look because one time you found pot and thought you could get arrested for simply knowing it was in the house). So, I never knew what anyone was talking about most of the time, and my initial interest gave way to the embarrassment of never feeling cool enough to like what the older bro liked.
Cut to many years later when songs are downloaded, the Internet is wireless, and I don't care about being cool: I love rap more and more all the time. Good story telling is such an admirable talent, and good rap songs are stories the way folk songs are stories. Jay-Z? Lil Wayne? Ghostface? They are amazing with words, and it's awe-inspiring. With the advent of lyric sites coming out the wahzoo, I'm now able to perform most good rap songs as Karaoke numbers (I said I wasn't worried about being cool), meaning that I know what the words are. But, as a white, suburban girl by birth, I still don't know what most of the words mean. Enter Rap Genius.
This site breaks down the lyrics of a growing number of rap's greatest songs. It provides all of the background info you need on any mention of anything that isn't 100% straightforward. I kind of think I'm the target audience (white girl from the burbs with no refernece point for the myriad of urban insider secrets that she's fascinated by) and I'm honored. The site delivers the goods a la Pop Up Video, with floating blurb boxes explaining what it means to be "faded to brown" (drunk off of Hennessy or high on heroin!) or to have a "thick knot" (lots of cash!). The best part? You can listen to the songs as you read along! I have a feeling the hardcore rap fans won't like their lyrical secrets all spelled out to outsiders, but I think it's a perfect idea, executed hella well with mad humor, yo. Check it before you wreck it. (I'm kidding...kind of.)
Lick it like a lollipop like Lil Wayne, or spread your B.I.G. love (it's the Brooklyn way).