Freshman Thesis Lyrics

Genius benefits from the appearance of a redemption narrative.

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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.

Even the company’s voice tries to enact a kind of millennial black vernacular (as brands are wont to do these days).

One of those rare non-black interview subjects is French Montana, who sat down with Genius in June.

These studies often focused on black speech as a deficient derivative of Standard English, a racially unmarked form of speech coincidentally spoken by a majority white population.

Part of the problem with black speech, they determined, is its supposed oral primacy, a linguistic inheritance sourced all the way back across the Middle Passage. And yet, black authors, poets, and scholars across the century disclose black sound as no more unrepresentable in text than anything else spoken, that inventions in vernacular are in fact occasioned by the visual-verbal feedback that happens when working with written forms.

Rap is just one of many genres made available on the one-stop annotation station known only as Genius, which boasts, in its own words, “the world’s biggest collection of song lyrics and musical knowledge.” Unlike other lyric sites which mostly lie in wait below the Google search bar, Genius is proactive about its image, primarily on Twitter, where it boasts over 402,000 followers and counting.

In 2016, it announced a partnership with Spotify, letting listeners go “behind the lyrics” on certain “Genius-powered” tracks.

If the lyrics on the page fail to reflect the music in our ears, what are the epistemological limits to knowing the music in our ears through the lyrics on the page?

This question and its implication — a mismatch between what’s heard and what’s known — threatens to unsettle the entire ethos of the Genius project, which, for now, persists as a mission to disambiguate black musical production.


Comments Freshman Thesis Lyrics

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