Rock ’em, Sock’em Rappers
Local duo created platform for online rap battles.
The music scene in Detroit has never lacked variety or creativity, but until recently it was lacking something that Erik Torenberg and Jamie Pitts now provide. The duo created the website rapt.fm, which allows rappers, fans of rap and anyone interested to participate in and view live rap battles.
Torenberg, 22, of Detroit is the co-founder and CEO of rapt.fm. “I came up with the idea during my senior year of college because I got into rap pretty seriously, but I didn’t have people to rap with,” he said. “So, I thought I could find them online. You can find anything online, right?”
A New Jersey native and graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in economics, Torenberg doesn’t seem like the typical rap fan. As he explained it, “I was also close to being a literature major, but I’d also always been reading and writing and rhyming. Rap was always fun and something that I enjoyed doing, and I thought I had a talent for it.
“I had a lot of supporters in college, and I really started to take it seriously, and I fell in love with rap.”
Rapt.fm began at Startup Weekend in Ann Arbor in January 2012, a weekend-long competition for budding businesses. Torenberg and Pitts connected during the event.
Pitts, 39, said, “Erik did this pitch at the Startup Weekend and his idea for real-time freestyle competitions stole the show. I was intrigued because of my interest in club culture, so I joined his team to build a demo that weekend.”
Pitts is now rapt.fm’s chief technology officer.
He added, “I think that the industry is on the brink of something huge with fully interactive TV shows. So Erik walks in with the perfect idea to make use of it, and I jumped onto the project.”
Rapt.fm grabbed the attention of Bizdom, a tech-based startup accelerator, which was a judge at the Startup Weekend.
“They told us that we need to be here, in Detroit. They showed us the M@dison Building and the community, and they offered us a spot in the accelerator,” Torenberg said,
He and Pitts, who is from Los Angeles and lives in Ann Arbor, were exploring their options on the East and West Coasts before Bizdom reached out to them.
“The idea of being a big fish in a small pond combined with the music scene here appealed to us, so we decided to stay here for three months, and that was a year and three months ago,” Torenberg said.
So far, rapt.fm has focused on building buzz and getting rappers to join the site for rap battles. “A lot of it initially,” Torenberg said, “has been reaching out to rappers who have followings and saying that we’ll give them a free platform to reach out to your fans, so we’ve had a lot of Detroit rappers on the site.
“We’re trying to bring progressively bigger and bigger rappers on — no Eminem yet, but hopefully!” he said.
Currently, their strategy to find rappers is a combination of social media, partnering with local open mic nights and using contests to lure national artists to their site. Recently, the site held a contest for a rap battle where the winner opened at the July 27 Oakaloosa Music Festival, where Girl Talk and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony headlined the show.
They’ve also expanded their team to include Kevin Chen, Mat Lefkosky, Randa Sakallah, Jacob Streiter and Jonathan Tan, in addition to a team of summer interns.
So far, rapt.fm has a record of 1,000 viewers for one of its Wednesday night battles. At the moment, the site is only open for six hours a week on Monday and Wednesday nights but has plans to expand its hours.
Because rap is Torenberg and Pitts’ passion, they are both pleased with the work they’re doing.
“I love that we’re doing something we’re passionate about and something we think can benefit likeminded people. We’re building a platform for people to be creative as a group. We love rapping and getting people who haven’t thought they could rhyme before to rap,” Torenberg said.
Pitts enjoys his work with rapt.fm because “it is definitely an adventure every day with the team, and we run into so many different kinds of people because we’re in hip-hop and in the Michigan start-up scene. … What we’re doing with rapt.fm on a technical level is sort of an obsession for me.”
Torenberg is Jewish and has been to CommunityNEXT events and has been to the Downtown Synagogue a few times. “I’m interested in learning more and participating more in the Jewish community in Detroit. I find the community to be really supportive and pretty large — I had no idea there was such a large community here.”
As for rapt.fm, he thinks “anyone can have fun freestyling, and we love giving that a platform. I don’t see it as work; I see it as that I’m co-building this platform, and that really excites me to continue.”
By Marielle Temkin, Special to the Jewish News