Is Rap Genius Really The "Definitive Pocket Guide to Human Culture?"

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There’s no shortage of websites to look up song lyrics—but then again, Rap Genius has always felt like more than that. But with the release of their new app Genius, they’ve gone far behind their original statement, calling its new product the “definitive pocket guide to human culture”.

It’s an ambitious claim but can it live up to all of Rap Genius’ bravado when it’s already called itself “the Wikipedia of all text”?

The Genius app opens to a busy interface that puts music front and center. Tapping on any of the album art tiles slides over a page of text that should look familiar to anyone who has visited lyrical websites before. But Genius has an added feature of tapping on any bits of orange text to open an expanded view of individual verses complete with a short explanation on what it means.

Despite the app maker’s name being Rap Genius, the app actually covers a wide gamut of music including alternative, country, and even some more obscure indie bands. The wide coverage of musical cliff notes comes in part thanks to music artists writing about their own songs as well as crowdsourced entries left by others visitors of Rap Genius’ main site. No matter where they come from, these annotations give a little bit more background on a song.

From this page app tappers can be transported to a YouTube video of the song by hitting the play button on the upper right. Alternatively, you can start listening to piece of music from the progress bar near the bottom. Sadly the music stops once navigating away from the lyrics page. Genius also does not have any close integration with iTunes, or support for Amazon MP3 and streaming services like Spotify to play music directly from the app.

Genius app.jpg

Besides learning more about the six songs splashed on Genius app’s starting screen users can pane over to My Music and lookup some of the music in their library. Unfortunately the library of decoded songs or even posted lyrics is not complete. More than half of our music library was missing and often we would find songs on the Rap Genius’ website that were perplexing omissions on the app.

The Genius app also can listen to unknown songs and find a match on the web just like Shazam and Soundhound. However, the app’s limitations rear their ugly face again. In one particularly dumbfounded situation the app gave us a failed notification that it could not find “Addicted to Love by Florence and the Machine” despite identifying exactly what the song was. We assume that this expansive lyrical library will be eventually ported, but for now this pocket guide feels a little thin.

Although Genius mainly focuses on music it also can bring up annotation’s on literature with books, poetry, and even news items. The additional reading materials run into a similar content shortage problem as Genius’ song selection, meanwhile, news is a neat addition that can be schizophrenic at times. Updating the news list recently brought up current events including a Super Bowl post-game rant then an annotated explanation of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech quickly followed by a transcript of Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

It’s easy to see the Genius app is still a work in progress, but for the parts the app that actually work—it seems like the start of something truly great. Genius adds a quick, easy to access source of lyrics and song meanings without having to scan through web searches or comb through extensive album reviews—not that you should stop. That said, the app still has a lot of work ahead of it to fulfill some big promises. But for the price of free, this interesting little app is still well worth a curious peek.

Kevin Lee is a freelance writer who types all day and listens to his ever-expanding music library. Follow Kevin Lee on Twitter at @baggingspam.

Rap Genius is an iOS app available for free on the iOS App Store.

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