You could call Rap Genius a “text annotation website,” but its founder says that’s selling the Brooklyn-based, venture-backed startup short. Better, he says: Rap Genius has probably discovered the next Kanye West. Or best: Rap Genius might help Nas find his next wife.
Interested yet? Cofounder Mahbod Moghadam will present about the company this Sunday at Underground Arts as part of the Philly Tech Week event “The Intersection of Music and Technology.”
Rap Genius is a a website that lets fans and rappers interpret and explain lyrics, line by line. There’s more than 3,500 verified artists on Rap Genius, said Moghadam, including 200-300 big names like Nas, Kendrick Lamar and all of the Wu Tang Clan. About a thousand of those artists are up and coming rappers. That’s where the next Kanye West comes in.
“Kanye isn’t on there yet,” Moghadam said, “but I guarantee you the next Kanye West is there.”
The company, with about 20 full-time employees, has been blowing up: check its $15 million Andreessen Horowitz funding announcement and its cofounders antics (including some Mark Zuckerberg drama).
Below, our Q&A with Moghadam, in which he explains how Rap Genius is the “lyrical OKCupid” and how it’s run like “Samurai Japan.”
There’s tons of lyrics sites out there. What made you guys stand out?
I don’t consider our site a lyrics site. It’s about fans interacting with lyrics and other types of text. Our site’s competitors aren’t the lyrics sites — those are some pieces of crap. Our competitors are those that let fans interact with artists. We’re more like Facebook and Twitter. Comparing us to a lyrics site would be like comparing Craigslist to Facebook because someone can try to sell a couch on Facebook.
How’d you start getting rappers to explain their lyrics?
It was [rapper] Nas‘s idea. Nas was one of our investors. The reason he got into it was because he wanted to explain his lyrics. He was the first one to do it. He has a 10,000 Rap IQ — the highest of any artist.
How does Rap Genius change the way fans experience music?
Nas messages his fans that leave really good explanations, like “That was really dope.” On Twitter, what are you supposed to talk about? “Hey, it’s sunny today, what do you think of that, Nas?” On Rap Genius, you’re talking about the text, the meat of why you like this person.
Nas is single now, and I told him, you’re gonna meet one of your brainiest, cutest fans on Rap Genius and you’re probably gonna get married.
We consider Rap Genius to be the lyrical OKCupid.
Do you think there’s any danger in reading too far into the lyrics so that the music’s not enjoyable anymore?
Over-reading is part of criticism. And it’s not like the artist creates the work. The artist is a vessel of god. All of art comes from god. So anything that a critic can read into it is valid. That’s why you can do a Marxist reading of Dostoyevsky even though Dostoyevsky had never heard of Marx.
What makes it valid is if it’s not corny and what makes it not corny is if you do a close reading. On Rap Genius, it’s literally impossible to not do a close reading because you have to [analyze lyrics] line by line.
How do you make sure the corny explanations stay off Rap Genius?
Rap Genius is organized like Samurai Japan. There’s six different levels of hierarchy, 300 top level moderators, 500,000 who have written explanations and over 1 million who have accounts and 20 million who are reading [the site].
It’s a Ponzi scheme of knowledge.