“We need more uppers in our verticals,” joked Mahbod Moghadam, co-founder of Rap Genius, sipping water from a gallon jug at the Modca coffee shop in Williamsburg. The site is akin to Wikipedia, with a community of users explaining and annotating rap lyrics for one another. “Weed verticals are really a downer. We need more meth, more country music, something to keep us going.”
Mr. Moghadam was fresh off a red eye from the West Coast. His co-founder Ilan Zechory will be heading out to LA in a few weeks for a meeting with Nas to discuss the possibility of creating verified artist accounts on Rap Genius. “Artists are really interested in connecting with their most passionate fans, and who is more into your rap than the people who spend days dissecting the meaning of your lyrics.”
The duo, are full of an infectious energy. Their company has been growing like mad, more than doubling its monthly traffic since this may, according to Compete. And while they are largely still focused on their original goal of explaining rap lyrics, their ambition is now much wider.
“People are on the site explaining the Bill of Rights, parts of the Bible, the poetry of Emily Dickinson. When a rapper drops a verse from the Old Testament, people go in and explain the religious context too,” said Mr. Zechory. “Lyrics account for 2% of all searches on Google, so you’re talking about a massive market. We want to annotate it all.”
Stereo IQ, the indie rock vertical, is already in soft launch,While the boys ponder their next move, their fans are doing the work of expansion for them. “Rap Genius France is getting huge. Rap Genius Nigeria is blowing up. Reggae Genius was doing well, but those guys are getting lazy,” said Mr. Moghadam.
While Rap Genius can’t beat older, more established sites on generic searches like “Jay-Z lyrics”, they have been winning the SEO race on new albums. “Our community is so strong, we’re the first ones now to get most rap albums up, and with a lot of detail and explanation. So music blogs are linking to us, and that means we’re at the top of search results,” said Mr. Zechory. “The most recent Wilco album, we totally won the search on that.”
The site has around 300 editors, chosen in the Wikipedia model, who were big contributors to the site and proved themselves dependable enough to oversee other users. Above that are 20 core editors, then a group of moderators. The site has been growing rapidly, doubling in size since this May, according to Compete. It’s adopted some game mechanics, awarding users Rap IQ for explaining lyrics. “People go crazy for these IQ points. It’s accepted on Silkroad now, just like Bitcoin,” said Mr. Moghadam. “A lot of these users are teens, I keep telling them, go do your homework, but they never listen.”
In October, CBS bought Metrolyrics, which has grown into the third largest music site in the world. It was a sign to the Rap Genius guys that they were on to something big, but they are still strident about perfecting their product before anything else. “Right now its about trying to become a pillar of the internet,” said Mr. Moghadam. “Then we can bring in some business goons to monetize.”