Should I kick a freestyle to set this interview off?
Mahbod Moghadam is the enthusiastic co-creator of RapGenius.com (originally Rap Exegesis), a rapidly growing website in which thousands of volunteer writers contribute their own interpretations to the lyrics of rap songs. “I think of Rap Genius as an academic tool, like Wikipedia,” says Moghadam, who often goes by his Rap Genius avatar: Baboo. “It’s a writing clinic for a lot of smart kids who never had a chance, who never had English teachers really work closely with them. The site is a tool that helps people become good writers.”
Rap Genius contributors are “crowdsourced”, a term which refers to the outsourcing of specific tasks to a communityÃƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬Ã¢â‚¬in this case, a massive online “crowd” of rap music fansÃƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬Ã¢â‚¬by means of an open call for submissions. “Sometimes people call us a blog or a forum. You can call my mom a blog, but don’t insult Rap Genius like that.”
Well-composed lyric analyses are rewarded with a “virtual currency” called Rap IQ Points. The most talented and dedicated writers, those with a high “Rap IQ”, have the opportunity to become Rap Genius editors and are then given access to moderate the site’s content.
“I’m always looking for new editors. We’ve got dozens of blogs cooperating with us, and a lot of those writers are also Rap Genius editors. 40,000 people have contributed explanations to lyrics, but I’ve only handpicked about 300 of those. And they are the ones who really run the site. They can change people’s explanations and edit lyrics.”
Moghadam, a former law student whose self-proclaimed expertise is social media (not to mention Hip Hop), started Rap Genius about a year ago with computer programmer/entrepreneur friends Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory, who also have a bed sheet company called BombSheets.com. “We’ve met developers whose jaws drop when they find out that Tom Lehman built all of Rap Genius. He’s a true prodigy. I like to think of him as Mark Zuckerberg with swag. If Mark Zuckerberg had the physique of a male model, he’d be our programmer.”
Not only writers and hip-hop fans are reaching out to give explanations on Rap Genius; occasionally the artists themselves are heard from. The site has given Moghadam the opportunity to correspond with some of his idols, including rappers such as Nas and Wale. “We’re getting involved with some big rappers who are our heroes. So for me, it’s just unreal; it’s like I’m living in a dream.”
“I think that one of the keys to our success is that we didn’t think of it as a business. It started out purely as a hobby. This was just a side project, just for fun. If we had thought of it as starting a business, I don’t think we would have been able to do it. The first time that we really took the site seriously is when we started getting some press. We were on the back page of New Yorkmagazine, where they tell you things they think are cool. Seeing the name in print felt completely unreal. Even today we just think of it as a hobby that’s gotten out of control. And now it’s all we do, 24 hours a day. It still hasn’t turned into a business, but it certainly isn’t a hobby anymore. Now I’d like to think of it as a cult. Our blog affiliates and editors are like the priesthood of our cult. It’s like a religion.”
“I think Rap Genius is the third best website on the internet. The only websites I like more are Twitter and Hype Machine. My goal would be for every rapper to have two websites that are always on their phone: Twitter and Rap Genius. We would love to collaborate with other music startups too. I honestly think this could be the biggest thing on the internet, especially when we get into explaining other types of music, poetry, the Bible, law, things like that.”
Indeed, Rap Genius has already branched out to other musical genres, offering line-by-line interpretations to songs by artists such as The Beatles, Animal Collective, and The Strokes. The community response has prompted the creators to plan the launch of a new site called Stereo IQ, which will focus on crowdsourced interpretations of lyrics to Indie Rock music. And still more plans are in the works.
“We did recently start selling t-shirts, but we’re barely even thinking about monetization at this point. All of our efforts are on promotion and trying to grow. We’re just trying to spread the gospel.” While Moghadam and his crew may not see Rap Genius as a lucrative business just yet, they are successfully amassing a vast online community of like-minded individuals through their forum, which is an extremely important first step toward earning financial income on the web.
To contribute to/collaborate with Rap Genius (blogs/writers welcome), and for more information on Mahbod Moghadam (aka Baboo), Rap Genius, and Stereo IQ, visit:
Justin Wiles is a Musician, Songwriter, and amateur Audio Engineer. He has previously written blog posts for Stem & Leaf, an artist collective based in Austin, TX. He is a contributing writer for BossStart and Co-Editor/Featured Author for BossStartÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s upcoming sister site, PauseStart, launching early 2012.
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