By Megan Rose Dickey
Detroit-based entrepreneur Erik Torenberg, also known as "T-Berg," believes that anyone can have fun rapping. That's why he's launching Rapt.fm into public beta to let people rap battle each other in real-time. Rapt.fm is relatively simple. If you combine a Skype video call, two rappers, hip hop beats, and an audience that votes on the winner, you get Rapt.fm.
So tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern, artists like Soul Khan, Yonas, Big Pooh, Chester Watson, and others will rap live on the site. They may even battle with an audience member. As part of the launch, Rapt.fm and Tommy Boy Records are hosting a rap contest on YouTube where the winner will get a record contract. Tommy Boy has signed hip hop artists like Queen Latifah, De La Soul, and Naughty by Nature.
Torenberg says he believes that aspiring rappers will get discovered on Rapt.fm. The rap tech space got on people's radar around the time when top VC firm Andreessen Horowitz invested $15 million in Rap Genius, a site that helps you understand the meaning behind rap lyrics, poetry, speeches, and books. In Rapt.fm's case, it's looking to raise a $500,000 seed round soon.
Rapt.fm launched an early version in January 2012 to a limited number of people. Up until this point, Rapt.fm users showed a lot of loyalty to the platform, Torenberg says. In July, for example, Rapt.fm had 7,000 users. Sixty percent of them were returning and would spend 25 minutes on average on the site.
In order to practice what the company preaches, Rapt.fm requires all of its employees to rap. They don't have to be great, Torenberg says, but they have to love doing it. "Our goal is to be a tech company and a hip hop collective," Torenberg says. "That everyone in our crew raps and appreciates rap, regardless of skill-level. Imagine Facebook meets the Wu-Tang Clan."