Published On March 5, 2012
Rap Genius is currently the fastest growing site online for music. Catering to lovers of hip-hop, it provides a home for fans and rappers alike to explain their favorite lyrics– adding a bit of comedy, entertainment, and debate to the mix. As apparent in the logo, it’s a mixture of lyrics, facts, and culture. For this reason, rap greats like RZA, Nas and Lupe have embraced the site, hip-hop bloggers and writers are enhancing the site, and fans are continuously sprucing the traffic up daily. We had a chat with one of the most visible faces of Rap Genius, co-founder Mahbod Moghadam on its history, challenges, competition (or lack-there-of), and more.
GOT COMPUTERS ‘PUTIN
We were just doing it for fun, you know? We thought that the site would turn into some kind of fun book and we just wanted to rear it off of our favorite rappers. Originally, the site was called Rap Exegesis. We didn’t care that nobody knows how to spell ‘exegesis’ because we didn’t think the site was going to blow up. I actually wanted it to be called ‘Cam’Ron Exegesis’ or ‘Cam Exegesis’; I only wanted to explain Cam’Ron lyrics. But then we opened it up, and now it’s changed the face of human knowledge. It’s cray.
SERVE THE COMMUNITY WELL
We started the site basically with one goal in mind. And that was to meet Cam’Ron. And we also wanted to do this Master’s Tea with [him]. But now the funny part is that I don’t even get to facebook and tweet Cam’Ron anymore. The thing is Rap Genius stopped being for just our friends and became a community. And now I just use it to serve the community. Like, my favorite rappers are Gucci Mane and Cam’Ron and both of them—because they’re not popular with the community– I’m not even allowed to Facebook or Tweet their lyrics.
And also, on the community element, I didn’t know how excited people were gonna get. I think of writing as work just because I’m a writer. But for most people, it’s pleasure. And the crazy thing is now that we’re getting rappers to explain their own stuff—you have no idea how excited they get. Like yesterday, Nas was explaining one of the songs to us– he was telling us line-by-line what it means, and all of our shit was wrong, of course. And after every explanation he would just say ‘Wow, I would never have even thought that I would get a chance to explain that to anyone. I always wanted to explain that to someone.”
SIZING UP THE COMPETITION
Most people who want to get something published on the internet—they have to deal with a bunch of idiots. So that was the other reason Rap Genius expanded, it was just because something needed to fill this gaping hole. Lyric sites are all run by these wack ass Russian mobsters and they’re all totally a joke. And blogs, music blogs especially, are completely horrible. Like, Pitchfork is a joke, I think the writing’s terrible. But if me or you wanted to write something for them, we’d never be able to get past the hierarchy.
I think tying social networking into music makes a lot of sense. That’s how they do it in Russia. Russian Facebook has been tied into music since it got started. And music gets people something to talk about. I don’t think it’s an accident that the first social network to blow up was Myspace. And Myspace, when it was successful, it was still tied in with like, everyone should be their favorite music, everyone should put their own music.
Nas with RG co-creator LEMON
DON’T TRUST THE CRITICS
Well, early on, everyone said that this is going to be a site for White people. And actually over half of our users are non-White now, so that was ridiculous criticism. If anything, I’m disappointed white people didn’t get into it more. Like, we thought that there’s all these white people who love hip hop, but I guess they just don’t exist…?
Another criticsm we came across– the new criticism is ‘You guys don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.’ Like Vince Staples. ‘Why is everything explained? A lot of these explanations are wrong. The others are too obvious.’ And in the early days we got that too. Not from artists, but from users. And now the response to artists is: ‘get verified.’ You could reach out, and you know, I’d tell them about the RG groupies too. You know you could be getting RG groupie love? Rap Genius is like the new grinder, it’s a hip hop grinder.
VERIFIED LIKE TWITTER, COOLER THAN A TWEET
So one weird thing about Nas–kicking it with Nas yesterday–is that his typing speed is like 3 words per minute. It was like watching my Mom type or something. And that’s why we’re gonna get video on verified accounts because that’s probably going to be front and center. Rappers won’t need to type. And it don’t have to be a rapper just sitting down. Like, Nas can just like be doing some push-ups or he’s cooking some eggs or whatever, and just explaining some lines. And if he wants to just drop some random shit on a line, that’s dope.
Like yesterday, I was telling Vince Staples, if he wants to give bullshit explanations and lie to his fans, that’s cool; it’s anything that’s entertaining. So these verified accounts are going to make the site a little bit more playful. And that’s the other thing– back when everybody thought the site was going to be just for White people, they thought the point of the site is to translate rap into White person talk or be like anthropologists and try to decode rap or whatever. That’s not what we’re trying to do at all. We’re just trying to read hip-hop as literature. And part of reading literature is just riffing on it, fucking with it, like, making up your own stories. So anything that’s entertaining. Basically, Rap Genius is supposed to be anything insightful and entertaining. It’s not supposed to be the home of the truth or anything like that.
HOW TO APPEAL
We get through connections. Now that our web is growing, its growing faster and faster. We were chilling with Nas yesterday and Eric B called him out of the blue. So he hooked us up with Eric B; Soulja Boy wants to fuck with us; Stalley puts up all of his own lyrics now; My girl Jean Greazy [Jean Grae]; Childish Gambino is fucking with us; X to the V; My boy Vince is definitely down; I think I finally convinced him last night. Kendrick Lamar is fucking with us; Danny Brown, RZA, ya know, a lot of rappers are also getting into investing in it, it’s going to be insane.
I could go on and on. And Nas also said–and he wasn’t even kidding– that he thinks Rap Genius is going to be bigger than Twitter. And I think that’s honest. And I think it swallows up the other [social networks]. But we don’t want to get too big, you know. Like, our main purpose is to educate people, hip hop hookups, and that’s really it.
REGULATING THE SCENE
I was always just the bad kid in school. I would get picked on in school, was kind of depressed, and I started listening to rap, I guess to try to fit in or something. But hey, that’s what got me starting to study. I got obsessed with rap. I wanted to memorize every rap song. I would write down the lyrics just to help me memorize them. It’s funny, like right now, one of the hardest things to do on rap genius is transcribing lyrics, and I remember when I used to do it for myself for fun.
And the first song I memorized was “Regulate” by Nate Dogg and Warren G. The second [song] was “Juicy.” And hip hop for me, became the way that I got interested in scholarship; in reading, and in studying hard. Like, I decided I wanted to get good grades so that I could get into the music industry. So that’s what’s funny, so many people consider hip-hop to be the enemy of education, but I think Pop music has been the enemy of education. Hip-hop presents the text that are useful unless you totally block them out. Like, if you really want to pay attention and listen, it’s kind of like reading a book for school.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE INSPIRED
I would tell them to fuck with me. Whether you’re trying to get into programming type stuff and design type stuff or you’re trying to get into writing, I don’t think there’s any place that can hook you up like Rap Genius. And we’re connected with everybody, you know. Like, you have no idea the eyeballs [that are focusing in on Rap Genius right now].
If you want to get into computer programming– they think you got to turn into a nerd and sit there with a book full of numbers or you can’t do anything. And there’s a whole middle ground that nobody explores, like just learning how to master WordPress. ’Cause WordPress can do a lot of shit; there’s a lot of plug-ins, a lot of add-ons, a lot of customized features. And once you totally master [it], you basically, on some level, learn how to program. So there’s a lot of power in blogging.
One of our first blog affiliates is MostlyJunkFood.com. And he doesn’t consider himself a programmer, he considers his blog like his skateboard. And hes like ‘yeah, I gotta get this new —‘ and hes trying to trick out his blog. But I consider that dude a programmer, you know. He doing one of the nicest sites on the internet and he doesn’t even know how to code, he just learned from WordPress.
BUILDING THE BRAND
I can count on one hand the number of days that I’ve done hard or unpleasant work. It’s really been the most fun. I’m definitely not doing this for money, I would be happily paid to do all this, and that was before meeting the artists kicked in. Now that that’s kicked in, it’s really like I’ve been on a rush for the past 3 months or whatever. I went to law school [Standford, Yale] and I didn’t hate law or anything but I wasn’t down to do it for free. The main reason I wanted to do it was because I thought I would make a lot of money off of it. And I know it’s corny but you just got to do something that you’re down to do for free. I know how corny it sounds but anything else you do, you won’t be down. And if you won’t be down, you wont succeed.
RAP GENIUS WRAP-UP (RELEVANT QUOTES TO EXPLAIN RG)
Our catchline is
Or in the Bible it says
I always say that because a lot of times when I see a tweet that I like, instead of retweeting it, I just jack it, you know! So if they respond, I’m always like ‘theres nothing new under the sun – King Soloman.’