Rapt.fm Offers Online Space for Freestyle Rappers to Battle

My friend Troy has a rapping alter ego he calls Masta Flow. At parties, after a certain number of beverages have been consumed, Masta Flow often makes an appearance.

Masta Flow’s freestyle raps usually veer toward the scatological and are often cringeworthy because of clumsy execution. On one occasion, when Masta Flow popped up and began trading verses with a second friend while we were all driving in the car, my sister and I sat in the back seat wishing for trap doors to open in the floor so we could quietly escape into the night.

Erik Torenberg, co-founder of a Detroit-based startup called Rapt.fm, feels my pain.

Torenberg agrees that freestyle rapping is not only sometimes uncomfortable to do, it can be uncomfortable to watch. But like people who enthusiastically take over dance floors despite having no discernible sense of rhythm, it’s more about having a good time than being technically perfect.

That spirit of inclusive fun is the driving force behind Rapt.fm, a split-screen website that allows users to engage in a freestyle rap battle with anyone in the world as an Internet audience watches, chats, and votes for who they like best.

“Our tagline is, ‘Anyone can freestyle,'” Torenberg says. “Not everyone will excel technically, but everyone can talk and tell a story.”

Torenberg is also an aspiring MC, and he’s joined with people in the local hip-hop community like beatboxer Stevie Soul, 5E Gallery, and rapper Miz Korona to get Rapt.fm off the ground. Torenberg says the idea behind Rapt.fm grew out of his desire to learn how to rap by watching those who already know how.

Rapt.fm will be a place, he says, that welcomes all skill levels, where beginners can get live feedback or fierce competitors can hone their skills. Torenberg compares Rapt.fm to Guitar Hero, or Chatroulette “without the bad stuff.”

Rapt.fm is in the middle of an alpha launch that is open to the public two nights a week for six hours. The company will celebrate its “alpha 2.0” launch with a live demo at a June 1 concert featuring Brooklyn MC Mos Def and Detroit’s own Royce da 5’9″.

Torenberg says that, at the moment, Rapt.fm is focused on building its online community, but in the future, Torenberg imagines that the company will make money by offering sponsored content and hosted tournaments.

In the meantime, Torenberg says the Rapt.fm crew has been generating money by running corporate team-building seminars where they teach employees and their managers how to improve communication, creativity, and leadership skills through rapping. Another big part of Rapt.fm’s mission is to host educational rap workshops for students. As part of that, the Rapt.fm crew will sponsor a huge, public freestyle gathering in downtown Detroit’s Harmonie Park later this summer.

Rapt.fm, which is a company is the Bizdom accelerator portfolio, plans to add five interns to its four-member team as it begins a big push to add users. “We’ve had some interest from the music industry, but they say to come back when we have 10,000 users,” Torenberg notes. “We’ll see what happens this summer.”

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