Longtime hip-hop journalist and Brooklyn native Rob Markman joined the team at annotation powerhouse Genius (formerly Rap Genius) not long ago and serves as the artist relations manager; basically, this means that Markman now facilitates a better connection, with clearer than ever before communication, between artist and audience, i.e. we now get to know exactly what Pusha T was thinking when he wrote “Grindin.”
You joined Genius last year from MTV, what was the transition like, and what is it that you do at Genius?
I went from MTV News’ Senior Hip-Hop Editor to Genius’ Artist Relations Manager and the transition has been amazing. For starters, I get to work in Brooklyn—which has been a dream. But I’m most excited about the opportunities that have opened up here at Genius. We have a different way of working with artists, really helping them to contextualize their art.
My role here at the company is to bring artists to the Genius community, expand our verified artist community and develop new and interesting ways to use the site. When we worked with Pusha T in December, we really wanted to help him to showcase the lyrics on his Darkest Before Dawn album and have conversations about technique and lyrical intent.
I always imagine what it would be like if Genius was around when Bob Marley was alive and making music. I think we could’ve done some incredible things. I hope to work with the new Bob Marleys.
Genius has taken on the project of “annotating the world,” but it started off as Rap Genius, and hip hop lyrics lend themselves to interpretation that ranges from amateur to scholarly perhaps like no others; what has it been like moving, as you did, from the world of hip hop journalism into Genius?
I can’t lie, the move from hip hop journalism to Genius took a bit of an adjustment.
I started my journalism career in 2004, and grew over the course of 11 years. I’ve interviewed almost every rapper that I ever wanted to interview. Artists like Jay Z, Rakim, Lil Wayne, Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj—we’re talking hundreds of artists. There was a period when I was at MTV News where I was writing seven news stories a day. I did quite a few XXL Freshman covers, I did some television with RapFix Live, I’ve written magazine cover stories and newspaper articles in the New York Post… but I’ve never done anything quite like what I do at Genius.
The biggest adjustment I had to make was to learn to see the bigger picture. When a news story broke, I didn’t have to run and report on it. Like when Drake dropped “Summer Sixteen,” I didn’t go write a post, but I did go to Genius and write some annotations.
What are some of the best parts of facilitating communication via annotation from artists to audiences?
The best part about working with artists to break down their work is learning the backstory behind some of our favorite lyrics and then sharing them on a site that will live forever. When I sat with Bryson Tiller recently, he really explained the story behind his hit single “Don’t.” He revealed that the song was about him, that if he didn’t do right by his girl then some other guy will come along and give her all that she desires. He wrote the song from the other guy’s perspective—but the other guy didn’t actually exist. It makes you hear the song differently, and that insight is going to live on the site forever.
What are some of the projects you’re most excited about that are on the horizon?
Right now I’m really excited about the Genius and Spotify integration, “Behind The Lyrics.” We launched it earlier this year, and it’s only going to get bigger. The idea of bringing the Genius experience directly to where fans listen to music is my biggest motivator. At the moment we’re powering tracks on the single level and we’ve made a few playlists, but imagine what we could do with an entire album. Imagine the stories we can tell over the course of 12 tracks. Stay tuned.
What does Brooklyn culture mean to you?
Brooklyn means everything to me. I was born in Bed-Stuy and raised in Flatbush; I take so much pride in that. When I look back, I realize I learned everything in Brooklyn: I learned how to love, how to fight, how to dress. Brooklyn basically taught me how the world works and I have stories and memories from every neighborhood. I went to junior high school in East New York, went to high school at Brooklyn Tech, I hung out in Coney Island, used to go to the public pool in Sunset Park, shopped on Fulton Mall. Brooklyn will forever be home to me.
What are you listening to the most right now?
Right now I’m listening to a lot of Your Old Droog; his The Nicest and Kinison EPs are really dope. He has a new single called “42” that I like a lot.
To read more about the 100 most influential people in Brooklyn culture, visit here.