I like Wired magazine but I don’t go to their site very often. My second year of grad school just started so I figured so should I — start reading Wired, that is. None of this is really important but what is is the first post that I read off their site this morning. It was about the $15 million the founders of site Rap Genius just made. The title of the article was “These Guys Might Actually Be Rap’s Geniuses.” Beneath it is a picture of three guys who are clearly not Black or Latino. I read it and I winced much like Jill Scott did in her famous column for Essence magazine.
I just learned about Rap Genius over the weekend. Described as the “Wikipedia of rap”, what it does is explain rap lyrics for people who don’t understand them. Anyone can create an account and upload lyrics explaining what they mean and others can in turn go to the site and clarify, correct, erase and do all of the things that one can do on Wikipedia.
It’s a clever idea. I hear the site is cool (obviously, since it just landed a $15 million investment). I winced not because I have a problem with its founders — Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam – creating a successful website but because I see this as an example of how institutionalized inequality breeds success for the privileged, and when it happens we throw lei’s at them while ignoring the irony of their success.
Rap music and hip hop culture was created by poor Blacks and Latinos when they had nothing. Stripped of art and music programs, after school programs and many other social support programs throughout the 80’s a fully fledged American art form, and later institution, was born. Rap is the voice of its people. It is their CNN. It is church. Even today the music and the culture is of paramount importance to the people who created it. And, now it is being codified – in some cases with their help – and that codification process ain’t making no money for ’em.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that the founders of the day’s hottest site met at Yale University. Curiously, I looked up the amount of Blacks and Latinos that enrolled to Yale and learned that the total number was 14% (6% Black or African American and 8% Hispanic of any origin in 2011) vs. a whopping 58% for White and Other. Of course, this isn’t news. We all know that Blacks and Latinos are not being accepted into universities, let alone ivy league’s, in droves. We also know that the tech industry has a serious diversity problem. And, therein lies the issue. How many ideas of this nature are being stifled due to the lack of diversity in our colleges and in our tech industry, ideas like a Wikipedia site for rap music? I’d like to think this would be an idea that a group of Black men or women would come up with given the opportunity for a healthy amount of them to be working in this field.
So, yeah I got a slight pain in my side when I read this Wired post this morning. It didn’t happen because I hate the players. I just hate the game.