RaptFM: Like Chatroulette, But With More Hip-Hop and Less Dicks

Categories: Hip-Hop

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"Not everyone is lucky enough to live or grow up in a hip-hop community," Khan says. "This could be a great way to bring those folks together to hone their abilities."

Also a fan: Queens rapper and underground legend Dres of Black Sheep. He says he was pleasantly surprised by the rapt.fm community. "Everyone was anxious and open to the experience," he says via e-mail. "I enjoyed it."

Rapt.fm is linked to a larger trend of rap populism as exemplified by the website rapgenius, which transcribes and annotates rap lyrics. Rapgenius made a splash last year when the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz decided the site was promising enough for an investment of $15 million (not a misprint). Rapgenius and rapt.fm operate under similar, seemingly noncontroversial premises: Anyone is entitled to understand rap lyrics, and everyone can rap.

Though the two have no formal relationship, the sites are simpatico -- when rapt.fm launched, a promo song Torenberg and his developer made was placed on the front page of RapGenius. That's no small gesture: As of September, the site was receiving about 24 million unique visitors a month. The investment from Andreessen into rapgenius helps rapt.fm too, as there are always those eager to write checks, for fear of missing out on a hot new something that others have already deemed worth the risk.

"Their success in the tech world kind of paved the way for us," Torenberg admits.

Rap was colonized by corporations decades ago. But rapping itself has long been thought to be the province of a select few. Sites like rapgenius and rapt.fm seek to decode what, for some, seems sacred. They take hip-hop off its pedestal and present it to anyone interested, as a kind of hip-hop populism.

But there's a difference between the way two sites interact with the music. RapGenius rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when it first debuted, as its founders often seemed to be treating rap with a kind of ironic distance, mocking and monetizing it in the same breath. Its founders didn't have to participate -- they could sit back, let other people do the work of explaining lyrics for them, and watch the cash roll in.

Torenberg, though, thinks of himself as a rapper, and that changes the way that he interacts with his work.

"The reason I made the website is because I wanted to learn how to rap," he says.

Bronx rapper YC the Cynic, one of the better up-and-coming rappers in the city, vouches for Torenberg's talent: "I participated in a real life cipher with [Erik]. He's incredible. And I never say that. He's one of the best at freestyling that i've ever heard in my life."

Torenberg's attitude toward hip-hop informs the community that he's created. Every employee at rapt.fm is encouraged to use the site, and to learn about the rap community. The emphasis is on sharing and empowering those who might be too timid or not have the access to hip-hop that others are blessed with. Not to mention that rapt.fm encourages rap meritocracy. All that matters, in the site's current format, is how well you can rap.

"Just seeing this is joyous," says Dres. "It very well may become a tool that sharpens the new generation of emcees."

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