Introducing RapGenius 2.0 And Its Revolutionary Rapper Ranking System

Argue for the best team in the NFL, and there are numbers and rankings you can source to back up your claim. Argue for the best rapper in the game, and you’re left to debate based solely on subjective opinion (except if you reference the Green Label Rap Power Rankings). But what if you could toss in some concrete statistics to prop your assessments?

Svlien Kostadinov, a Bulgarian hip-hop head and user experience designer, recently unveiled RapGenius 2.0, his lyrical quantification project that aims to rank rap songs based on a variety of factors.

With RapGenius 2.0, various types of wordplay (alliterations, metaphors, etc.) can be visually isolated to dissect any given song’s lyrical DNA; it also uses colorization to highlight rhyme patterns, average syllables per bar, and literary distribution; and though he warns it “needs tweaking,” Kostadinov’s system also assigns a numerical rank to the influence any given spitter holds over the contemporary cultural landscape—Kostadinov is determined to finally quantify hip-hop excellence in an age where Macklemore can beat Kendrick Lamar to a Grammy.

We chatted with Kostadinov to get some more insight on the project, and his not un-ambitious plans for Rap 2.0 to influence hip-hop for the better.

Can you tell me a bit about your background?
My whole life I’ve been breakdancing, rapping, skateboarding. I’ve always been into creative expression in one form or another. I went to art school here in Virginia and I’ve also always been an engineer at heart, too. I discovered design, which is kind of a cross between art and science. It solves problems. I’m a user experience designer right now.

Why did you feel there was a need for something like RapGenius 2.0?
I think it started out in an argument between me and my brother. We were watching a rap battle with Murda Mook and Loaded Lux or something, and we were arguing who’d won. I was like, “I bet there’s a way to quantify this,” and we got into this huge argument that music is not quantifiable, which didn’t sit well with me because I beg to differ. I’ve always had this fascination with rhyming patterns; I used to rap and study them, so I think that’s where it stemmed from. I wanted to see how far I could push this concept of quantifying literary devices in art.

Did you feel like there aren’t enough people talking about rap in this way?
I think the barbershop talk of who’s the greatest and the GOAT in the game is unsubstantiated and subjective. I compare it to organized sports. In the NBA, they keep track of the performance of all their players: points per season, assists per game, stuff like that. Why don’t we have this for how many rhymes in a verse? In the Jay Z and Eminem Renegade thing, everybody leans toward Em, but how can you actually see who had the densest rhyme patterns and the most analogies? I’d like to start those sorts of intelligent discussions in hip-hop.

You rank artists on a few different fronts: lyricism, cultural impact, and sales. Can you take me through a break down of each of the sections?
Rank is subjective based on the framework of RapGenius 2.0.

For lyrical complexity, we’ll need to figure out an algorithm to measure it, and I’m sure people will disagree on how to measure it, but I took a stab at it.

I think cultural impact is really important. I’m like the biggest Em fan in the world, and I think that today’s kids don’t really appreciate the impact this dude had. Same with Pac and people like that. They transcended rap. Pac was into civil liberty and stuff like that, where Em had the White House trying to manage his music and he really pushed the envelope of freedom of speech. I think kids don’t really see that and it’s important to capture impact somehow.

Sales are pretty straightforward. Those are just how many units sold.

Have you had any companies reach out to you since starting the project?
I put this project on Reddit and a few interesting people who reached out to me. There’s this guy in Austin, Texas who runs a big data company who has a side project, and he’s trying to build a platform that analyzes all these elements. I think he has a conversational linguist hired to work for him. He and I have been in talks. It’s in the very early stages, but he already seems to have a good platform for exploring the more technical and analytical side of lyrics. I pitched it to RapGenius, but didn’t get much of a response from them. As of right now, I’m not really pursuing it full time. It’s more of just an idea I had that’s been getting a lot of attention.

What’s your vision for RapGenuis 2.0?
My ultimate goal is to replace the Grammys. They’ve been cheating hip-hop for years; they don’t even televise it anymore. I would love to, instead of having ten people behind closed doors, have a radically transparent way of leaving it up to algorithms. Many people might disagree with the ranking score I have, which is completely understandable. You can’t completely eliminate subjectivity, but when hundreds of people have hundreds of different formulas to rank music, over time the masses will eventually gravitate to the ones they agree with the most, much like the Darwinian process. This platform isn’t the ultimate answer, but it will inject a healthy dose of objectivity in hip-hop discussions. While it’s easy to dispute who had the Best Hip-Hop Album of the Year, there’s no room for disagreement on who had the highest syllable-per-rhyme ratio.

Do you have plans to expand it beyond hip-hop?
I think it’s definitely doable. I’m not sure it’s completely right for that, since it’s inherently based on literary devices. I wanted to cater it toward RapGenius, and I was hoping they’d pick it up and run with it. I’m not looking for compensation or anything; I’m just trying to contribute to the culture. So there aren’t any immediate plans to take it beyond hip-hop.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
It’s nothing official, but I’ve gotten into contact with DONDA. I think I have a few channels that I could pitch a concert experience concept I have in mind. Fundamentally, the concert experience hasn’t really changed in the past however-many years. Sure the technology has gotten incrementally better, but what fascinates me is that every single person at that concert has a supercomputer in their pocket—a camera, a gyroscope, an accelerometer—and it doesn’t do anything. People just SnapChat. There are some really interesting things you can do, and I want to pitch them to Kanye because he seems like the kind of person who understands design and seems really innovative on that front. I hope to reach him at some point.

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