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Flocab Answers Your Questions!

Every week, our Week in Rap Shout Out Contest gives students an opportunity to win a shout out for their school in the next Week in Rap. Last week, we asked you to send in three questions for the Flocabulary team. In addition to giving the winner a shout out, we’re also answering their questions, as well as the questions from the runners-up.

Congratulations to our winning school Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, MD, as well as our runners-up Hidden Oaks Middle School, FL, and Jonesboro Math & Science Magnet School, AR.

With no further ado, our answers to your questions:

With everything going on in the world every week, how do you choose which events to feature? And do you try to find a balance between the sad news with the happy news?
To keep a balance that is just right, we try to work in an interesting mix. Stories that cover national, international, science and student-related pieces usually strike our fancy, and then, of course, any BIG news definitely makes the cut. And, yes—too much sad news bums us out, so we make sure to give positive news a fair share of attention. Plus, all news isn’t bad news! Also, because of our partnership with Channel One News, we typically check in with them to see what stories they plan to cover.

We have a daily news show & write news scripts every day. What news outlets or websites do you rely on to create your rap?
Good question. It’s important to us to use reliable, credible news sources. We are fans of the New York Times, Reuters, Associated Press and BBC News, but generally, there are things to keep an eye on when deciding if a website is good. For example, if there are trashy ads on the site—Lose 99 Pounds in Six Days!—then it’s probably no good.

Do you ever want to use a word in your rap that’s hard to rhyme with? What do you do?
If a word is really hard to rhyme with, we usually have two options. Let’s say I have this line:

That’s the ex-president of France, Sarkozy.

It’s pretty hard to rhyme with “Sarkozy.” So the first option we have is using slant rhyme. Slant rhyme means the words won’t rhyme “perfectly,” but it will sound close enough. So we could rhyme “pardon me” or “all to see” with “Sarkozy.” The other option is to switch the line to change the rhyme word.

That’s Sarkozy, the ex-president of France.

It’s a lot easier to rhyme with “France”—dance, trance, prance. And we can even slant-rhyme with “France”—hands, bands, pants, etc.

What other people/jobs, besides the rappers, work at Flocabulary?
We have a great team that gets a little bigger each year. We have editors and writers who research the information that needs to be in each song and write the infoboxes and activities; we have visual artists who create the videos, and developers who code and build our website. We also have someone who is really good with numbers who runs our marketing (trying to get more people to learn about Flocabulary); we have salespeople who help schools purchase, and we have customer service who help teachers when something isn’t working. We also work with a lot of freelance artists to make the beats, perform the songs, and animate the videos.

What is it like collaborating with each other?
It’s great. At this point, at least nine people are involved in the creation of the Week in Rap each week. We’ve tried to create an environment where we can check each other’s work, make suggestions and then quickly move on to the next stage. Technology helps a lot. We use Google Docs to make comments on the lyrics and the story summaries (in those infoboxes). We also talk to each other the old fashioned way: face to face.

Does anyone on the team sing outside of Flocabulary?
Yes. Over the years we’ve worked with a whole slew of rappers and singers and producers who make non educational music as well. Probably the most famous is 9th Wonder, who is a Grammy-winning producer and who has made beats for Jay-Z, Mary J Blige and others. Our regular producer, Daniel Lynas, was just on tour with A$AP Rocky. And one of the two main Week in Rap emcees, Donwill, is in a hip-hop group called Tanya Morgan. You can check out our artist team here.

Do the performers use their own voices, or are they digitally altered?
Those are actual human voices. Our mixing engineer will usually adjust the EQ of the vocals, add some reverb and compress the sound. Sometimes we use pitch-shifting, but not often.

How do you gather all the information?
After we determine which stories to cover, we do a little research to find some solid news articles from which we pull our information. One really good article per story usually does the trick. Of course, if anything is confusing or vague we do more research to make sure we really understand the story. Sometimes something that seems small, like an article’s use of a specific term, will set off a 20 minute scramble to get the facts straight.

How do you make all the information into a single rap song/video? (It’s just so awesome!)
Ha! It can be tricky. We generally tend to try to cover each story with four lines, though some stories only get two lines. Probably the hardest part is coming up with transitions from one story to the next so that it doesn’t just sound like we’re reading a list. Hopefully we’ve been getting better at it though. The Week in Rap celebrates its fifth birthday this week!

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions. Don’t forget to enter this Friday’s Week In Rap Shout-Out Contest for a chance to win a shout out next Friday!