Rap Genius, the Brooklyn-based site that lets the hive mind take a stab at explaining hip hop lyrics, announced today that they have received $15 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz. The powerful venture capital firm is run by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and rap fanatic Ben Horowitz, notorious for starting his business-minded blog posts with a hip-hop epigraph.
Mr. Andreessen went as far as writing his funding announcement Rap Genius style–complete with line-by-line explanations!–to the tell the world why his firm invested in the Y Combinator whiz kids.
While rappers like Das Racist have described Rap Genius as “white devil sophistry,” turning up their nose at it entirely, many others, like Nas, RZA, and 2 Chainz, have set up verified accounts to interpret their own lyrics for their confused fans.
But considering the recent freakout that erupted when Nicki Minaj’s satirical lyrics were woefully mistaken for a Mitt Romney endorsement (no help from Rap Genius there!), we had to wonder if Mr. Andreessen’s politics would affect the site’s newly-established street cred?
After all, according to Open Secrets, Mr. Andreessen, one of the richest billionaires in tech, has contributed exclusively to Republican campaigns over the past two years. That includes donations to Mitt Romney, Tea Party favorite Paul Ryan, “race-baiting” Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, and Orrin Hatch. The dollar amount is a pittance of Mr. Andreessen’s personal fortune, but donations also include giving $100,000 to Romney’s main SuperPAC Restore Our Future, $30,800 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and $30,500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Earlier this year, Mr. Andreessen told CNBC that he was once “a big Clinton Gore supporter,” before he decided to reverse his position for a “dyed in the wool” businessman like Romney.
One reason Rap Genius might not be sweating partisan backlash from rappers and hip hop fans? The founders, who all met at Yale University, have bigger goal in mind that just decoding rap lyrics. They want to annotate all the text.
That meshes with a vision Mr. Andreessen first had at the beginning of his career. The first version of Mosaic, the original browser, was supposed to include a feature that would let the entire internet comment on anything. As he explained in his Rap Genius post:
Back in 1993, when Eric Bina and I were first building Mosaic, it seemed obvious to us that users would want to annotate all text on the web – our idea was that each web page would be a launchpad for insight and debate about its own contents. So we built a feature called ”group annotations” right into the browser – and it worked great – all users could comment on any page and discussions quickly ensued. Unfortunately, our implementation at that time required a server to host all the annotations, and we didn’t have the time to properly build that server, which would obviously have had to scale to enormous size. And so we dropped the entire feature.
So like all things today, perhaps his investment was inspired by a case of 90s nostalgia. Now that’s he’s got skin in the Rap Genius game, though, we’d love to hear his interpretation of one Kanye West lyric in particular.