(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:
Rap Genius cofounder Mahbod Moghadam might not be working at the startup he helped create (which was recently rechristened Genius) anymore. But he’s not going quietly — he recently revealed he’s working on a book about his time with the startup formerly known as Rap Genius.
We had to get some more details, so we emailed Mr. Moghadam some questions about his new project and his past experiences. Also check out this book teaser Mr. Moghadam shared with us from his upcoming tome, Genius Inc.
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.
Teach Me How to Startup
The bros from Rap Genius opened up the final day of TechCrunch Disrupt NY with a very special announcement. They’re launching soon a new vertical called News Genius, which follows the paradigm of Rap Genius. However, instead of analyzing 2 Chainz lyrics, the site will explain news-related clippings and documents. That sort of sounds like journalism!
“I want Barack Obama to explain the news, the constitution and Jay-Z’s ‘99 Problems,’” semi-joked cofounder Mahbog Moghadam, adding that “there has to be a legal explanation behind that.” The site, which was the idea of investor/”godfather” Ben Horowitz, has already softly launched judging by its Twitter account.
Visitors who search for Harlem rapper Azealia Banks’ breakout hit, “212,” on Rap Genius, an online platform that crowd-sources explanations of hip-hop lyrics, will find nearly every verse annotated by the site’s users, who clocked more than 2 million monthly uniques in August, according to comScore. Click on the line “Now she wanna lick my plum in the evening / And fit that ton-tongue d-deep in,” and a pop-up immediately appears explaining that Ms. Banks is employing a metaphor for cunnilingus and that “She stutters the words tongue and deep to mimic the stuttering that occurs when one receives such a gift.” That exegesis received 11 upvotes, earning the contributor jamima-j, a female “slam poetry writer,” a healthy bump in “Rap IQ” points on the site.
Readers might find her analysis either amusing or unnecessary. But the reigning kings of Sand Hill Road, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, view Rap Genius as “one of the most important things we’ve ever funded,” co-founder Ben Horowitz told Betabeat last week. The prominent V.C. firm, which clawed its way into the Silicon Valley firmament in just three years by aggressively plowing millions into fast-growth tech start-ups like Facebook, Pinterest, foursquare and Airbnb, often at towering valuations, were the sole investors behind the site’s $15 million Series A.
“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.”