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The Origins of RapPad

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I feel I need to write down this story somewhere, so here it goes. This is the story of RapPad and how it came to be.

The Idea

I had the idea for RapPad because I like to rap and program and wanted to do something that combines the two. There were two things I really wanted: a rhyming dictionary and the ability to control an instrumental -- both of which were in the same page as a textbox. That was the original concept, and is the main aspect of the Write page now.

The idea for RapPad was floating around in my head for a while, since January 2013. I just couldn't get motivated to start building it. At the time I was doing a software engineering internship. I found it difficult to come home after programming for 10 hours just to program some more.

The Work

Then I heard about MHacks. It's an event held at the University of Michigan where students get together to work on a technical project for 36 hours. At the end of the 36 hours, all the projects are judged by notable companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. It was the perfect opportunity to just sit down and work on this burning idea I had. I think I slept 6-8 hours over the course of the three days. I ended up winning in a couple of categories.

I got a lot of great feedback, met cool people, and took home some cash. It felt great. Afterwards, I posted it on the HipHopHeads sub-reddit and it hit the front page. Then I posted it on Hacker News and it also hit the front page.

After those posts a lot of people were reaching out to work on RapPad. Not everyone was a good fit, but I did end up finding three guys that made some great contributions. Nicholas did a ton of work on the beats section as well as a variety of other things. Ray Masaki cooked up an amazing logo. Kevin Ho did a bunch of research and community management (and he was a high school student at the time!).

Back to School

I returned to school after my internship and that's when RapPad went quiet for a long time. I told Nicholas and Kevin to hold off because I didn't feel it was fair to them I wasn't working as hard. All my time started going into the courses I was taking at the time: computational mathematics, optimization, econometrics and statistics. To make matters worse, I had to start applying for jobs and interviewing for my next internship. RapPad was put on the backburner.

At one point an alumni from my school reached out to me to collab on a new rap project. He was working towards his masters in computational linguistics and had been doing a bunch of analysis with rap lyrics. We came up with this idea for a mobile app where people post four bars, then his algorithm would rank those bars, and a community would upvote them. We got our feet wet with a prototype, (calling it Rap Wall) but eventually I realized that I was essentially building a minified version of RapPad. At the same time, for whatever reason, traffic on RapPad kept rising even though I wasn't working on it. I told him we should ditch the mobile app, and focus on the users already using RapPad. We could take all the things we learned and migrate it over.

Back to Work

By August 2013, my exams were coming to an end and I secured my next internship. I was so ecstatic to get my life back. I channeled that excitement to re-focus on RapPad; producing new designs, thinking of new features, and figuring out how I could spend time on RapPad while working full-time. I sent an e-mail out to Kevin to try to get him back on the project.

By this point the guy I was working on Rap Wall with changed his mind to work on other things. That meant that RapPad wouldn't get the lyrical analysis part. This was a bit of a blow because as part of bringing him on the team, I had to let Nicholas go. Instead of being upset, I focused on building the analysis part myself. It took a long time and a lot of research, but eventually I built blueprints.

This post was originally written in December of 2013. I've worked on and off towards RapPad over the last years. You can see how far it's come by checking out the updates over time.

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