Just Genius

Today in WTF Rap Genius News: $40M Raised, a Kanye West Redesign and Mahbod Is Writing a Book

Just your typical Friday!
Rap Genius cofounders Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam, who was recently ousted.

Rap Genius cofounders Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam, who was recently ousted.

When it comes to covering the tech industry, Rap Genius is the startup that keeps on giving. The average human can only take so many boring press releases about how a knockoff of Snapchat is going to change the world, you know?

But whenever the Rap Genius guys appear in public or sit for an interview, something bizarre happens. Today, for example, Business Insider broke the news that the annotation site has nabbed $40 million in funding from Ben Gilbert (as well as Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen, who is also an investor in BI) and that they’re changing their name to the catch-all Genius.

The BI story covers the ups and downs of RG over the past year, including their punishment by Google and cofounder Mahbod Moghadam’s ouster after he showed questionable judgment in his annotations of Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodgers’ manifesto.

But for those of us who managed to get through the entire story because our attention spans haven’t been ravaged by Twitter, there were a few Easter eggs sprinkled through the piece. For one, there’s the fact that noted tech guy Kanye West once submitted a redesign of Rap Genius to investors. From BI:

“… I overheard Moghadam tell the Genius employee that Kanye West had once made a redesign of Genius in Photoshop and sent it to an investor. Moghadam said the investor had forwarded the redesign to [cofounder Tom] Lehman, Genius’s CEO, and that Lehman had rejected it. This had seriously pissed Kanye off, Moghadam told the employee.

“I thought this was a funny story, one that would make for a great post on Business Insider. But I didn’t want Moghadam to feel as if I’d ambushed him.”

The reporter, Nicholas Carlson, asked Mr. Moghadam a few days later if he could write up the anecdote. Mr. Moghadam said in an email that he’d fabricated the Kanye story:

“’I am a big-time faker to these kids,’ he wrote. ‘I tell them stuff to build RG mystique because that keeps them impassioned — but I am full of lies.’

“A few weeks later, I spoke to Ben Horowitz, the investor to whom Kanye sent his redesigns, and Horowitz readily confirmed that the story was in fact true.”

So that’s a whole lot of WTF. We’d love to see what Mr. West’s redesign looked like, though. Mr. Lehman told BI the design was “astonishing and progressive.”

“We spent a ton of time thinking about it and tried our best to keep up the collaboration,” he’s quoted as saying, “but Kanye was too busy and we haven’t gotten together on it yet.”

Mr. Lehman and the rapper were able to get together for Mr. West’s marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian, though; you can see him in the background of that Keeping Up With the Kardashians episode.

(UPDATE: In an annotation on the new Genius.com, Mr. Horowitz says the BI story was misleading on the point of Kanye’s redesign. “He never actually completed it,” Mr. Horowtiz wrote. “If he had, that would have definitely been the new design of Rap Genius.” So Kanye, get on it!)

The other interesting deet from the story: Mr. Moghadam is writing a book about the origin story of Rap Genius — oh, sorry, just Genius. He’s “about 40 pages in,” he told Mr. Carlson in an online chat (and this reporter, too, who respected his wishes not to go public yet), and his “dream is for james franco to play [him] in the movie.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Moghadam is reacting to the BI story — which doesn’t exactly treat him with kid gloves — and the news that his former company just got a $40 million cash injection with characteristic humor:

Follow Molly Mulshine on Twitter or via RSS. mmulshine@observer.com