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Exclusive: Mahbod Moghadam Reveals Rocky Origins of Rap Genius

Maboo explains how Rap Genius got its name.
Rap Genius cofounders Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam.

Rap Genius cofounders Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam.

(adapted from Chapter 5 of  entitled Rap Jesus)

When Rap Genius started in 2009, the name was Rap Exegesis — the words “Rap Exegesis” were literally the first words that came out of my mouth when Tom (Lehman — my co-founder/BFF) presented me with the concept. We worked on the site for six months with this name, and even though we loved it, we knew it would someday have to change because:

1) NOBODY knows how to spell “Exegesis”

2) It has “rape” in there if you read in between the lines

The issue came to a head when my homie Ariel — instrumental to the creation of the site — decided to make a stand. Ariel — he has a nose for marketing — he said that he would quit the entire project if we didn’t change the name. That forced the issue to a head. Tom made a bunch of online polls, charts, graphs and other bullshit to assist us with the name change.

These were the frontrunner options:

- Rap Exegesis (don’t change)

- Clipse Notes

- MeaningOfRap.com

- Raptionary

- RapWiki

- HipHopOpedia

- RapJesus

Ilan and I were obviously big supporters of “Rap Jesus” because Jesus is our favorite dude, and we bet he would have loved the site! If Jesus could get his own account on the site and explain his parables — come on, how dope would that be?!

Some people liked “Clipse Notes” — this is the one that made my skin crawl. This name is meaningless to 99.999% of all people. The Clipse is a marginalized rap group that most of the youth has never heard of — I really like them, sure — but you don’t name your website after a cult rap duo!

After several weeks of poll-taking, number-crunching, etc., we decided to stick with Rap Exegesis.

Then, a week passed and we once again realized that nobody can spell Rap Exegesis and that we have to change the fucking name.

And THEN — a couple weeks later — something really cool happened. Honestly, it was the coolest thing that ever has happened in my life. When I was working at the law firm, I was obsessed with New York Magazine. I have always hated the New Yorker — I think it is snobby as fuck. I like to think of New York Magazine as a big “FUCK YOU!” to the New Yorker — it is a magazine that kinda has the same name, is also very intelligently written… but it isn’t a snobby-ass hoity toity snotrag like the New Yorker.

My favorite part of New York Magazine was the back page — the “Approval Matrix,” they call it — where cultural memes are rated on a scale of “highbrow” to “lowbrow” and “despicable” to “brilliant.”

So, imagine: I’m in the Stanford Law Library reading NYMag — I get to the Approval Matrix – AND RAP EXEGESIS IS THERE!!!!

“RapExegesis.com explains the references and slang in classic songs like ‘Juicy’” (GET A GRIP MUFUCKA!) I started screaming like a giddy little schoolgirl. I had just been sitting there, reading the magazine. It came out of nowhere! The best part was that I was the one who had annotated “Juicy” – I kept reading the blurb over and over again, I couldn’t stop. I started thinking in my head “Yeah… this website is dedicated…. to all the teachers who told me I would never amount to nothing… IT’S ALL GOOD BABY BABY…”

This was one of the crucial moments when I realized that this website — whatever it’s called — is going to be the focus of my life. NYMag had put us in the “somewhat highbrow, somewhat brilliant” quadrant of the Matrix! I was overjoyed.

I was soooo excited that I booked a flight to New York — I had to see the homies after this happened! It was back to the yoga mat for me. The first night I got there, my friend Amalia came over to congratulate us on the New York mag shoutout.

Amalia is female Ilan. She is as cute as a button and — like Ariel — she has a serious knack for marketing.

I was musing about how when I was a kid, my mom — who doesn’t really speak English — became obsessed with the word “genius.” She loved telling people that I’m a “genius” — she just loved the word!

“How about Rap Genius?” Amalia said.

I was like “BOOM!” — as soon as I heard it, I knew. It is like when you see your wife for the first time. “Yeah, Rap Genius, I like that,” said Ilan. “And we can call the points your ‘Rap IQ.’”

Most people seem to agree with us that “Genius” is a really cool word. Even in foreign languages, people love this word. If anything, the troubling part was the “rap” part – some people call it “hip-hop”… that is why I am so down with the recent, corporate, two-syllable “Genius” rebrand.

To quote the Notorious B.I.G.: “Biggie Smalls the Rap Genius! I keep the Glock by the penis…”

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