Arts / Investing / Media

Mahbod Moghadam on his place in the history of Genius

The cofounder of Rap Genius, who was fired by the company (now known as Genius) in May, talks with Technical.ly Brooklyn about the site's early days — and his role as its "trembling aorta."

Mahbod Moghadam. (Screenshot courtesy of Boonsri Dickinson)

Genius has been a hot topic in the tech press, and its recent $40 million vote of confidence from the investment community has only increased that interest.

Previously, the company was arguably more known for its founders’ antics than the addicting functionality of its flagship product, Rap Genius.

But as the site’s cofounders appear to be toning down their public profiles a bit, one has become more open to talking about the company: Mahbod Moghadam, the cofounder who was let go by Genius in May after making insensitive annotations on the manifesto of Santa Barbara gunman Elliot Rodger.

Moghadam is currently working on a book, titled Genius Inc., that chronicles his time with the company.

Below is our email interview with Moghadam.

You can also check out this exclusive excerpt from his forthcoming book, in which, Moghadam writes, “I take my mom to see The Social Network.”


Why did the Rap Genius crew locate to Brooklyn? You started the project in New Haven, correct? When did the move take place and why Williamsburg? Do you miss Brooklyn?

The project started in the East Village! I don’t miss any part of NYC I am a California boy through and through.

I think [we moved to Williamsburg] because Tom wanted to be more hipster… I liked the East Village more, frankly, there is no Whole Foods in Williamsburg…

I was living in the Genius Villa in Malibu at the time so I gave not a fig.


What was your specialty within the founding team? It sounds like Tom Lehman took the lead on code and Ilan Zechory on business/marketing. Were you the lead exegesizer

I have the 2nd highest IQ of anyone, I gave the site its voice. I’m not really a business dude, I am an artist.


During the founding and early growth of the site, did you see it more as an editorial company with a new approach to publishing or a tech company with an editorial component?

I suppose the former – I didn’t have the bigger vision. I thought of it as a blog, an art project.


How receptive have traditional media been to incorporating Genius technology on their sites? Is that something you worked on selling them on?

Adoption is taking time, but SOON, everyone will do it. How can you not use this technology when it makes your articles 10x cooler?


Have you seen intellectual/academic communities engage with texts on Genius in a way that’s interesting to you? In other words, has the community moved beyond the hardcore fans and on to the people for whom publishing and analysis are their career?

Classrooms using Genius are a mixed bag, some are really cool, some not so cool. Depends on the kids. What I have only seen a little bit of, but I think will be HUGE soon, is “Code Genius.”

I think, someday, that will be the BIGGEST use for the site, and people will be like “Can you believe it? Genius started with rap lyrics!”

A major inspiration for the site was Stack Overflow, btw (also the site that taught Tom how to code!).


What do you mean about classrooms using it being a mixed bag? What makes it go right (or wrong) in your opinion?

I think intelligence, mainly.


How much was Rap Genius both a business and a place for you to express yourself? Was the community both a thing you managed and also your own community? In this interview it feels as though there was something in participating in Rap Genius for you besides building a business or company? Something personal.

Yes I thought of it as my blog! I used it like a diary. I suppose that is not healthy now that it is becoming part of the fabric of the Internet, so it is probably better I am writing a book instead…

I was mainly into making jokes. The community is the Brain of Genius, I was the trembling aorta…


In the intensity of building Rap Genius did you find your personal life sort of disappear into the intensity of building the company?

The two melded. I stopped chilling with anyone who didn’t contribute to the cause.


Can you tell us a song you broke down that you’re especially proud of? And are you still going to be doing annotations on Genius?

I shall! I am proud of “Regulate” even though it is a perfect example of now NOT to use the site – but what can I do? I get nostalgic for the olden days…

Read an excerpt from Moghadam's forthcoming book
Companies: Genius
Series: Brooklyn

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