To work at RapGenius, one must believe that rap is the most important thing. One also needs to drink a lot of water, go on group gym outings, and share one’s feelings. A solid pair of house slippers helps too.
RapGenius co-founders Ilan Zechory, Tom Lehman (featured above) and Mahbod Moghadam (at RapGenius’s Malibu headquarters) met at Yale, taking jobs at a hedge fund, a law firm and Google out of school. After a series of failed attempts at entrepreneurship including a “proto-Venmo” payments company, a better Metro North train schedule app and an e-commerce company called Bombsheets.com, they hit on something legit with RapGenius.
The site is an annotated, user-generated encyclopedia for rap lyrics, Bible passages and even crappy pop songs.
With nine employees, some vague connections to the New York tech scene and hundreds of thousands of members, the site is quickly soaking up all the song lyrics pageviews, a category that makes up 2 percent of all Google searches and has been mostly dominated by the hideous ad farm that is MetroLyrics.
RapGenius garnered half a million pageviews in a single day last week, Zechory says. Rappers like Nas, RZA, Kendrick Lamar, Big KRIT and 2Chainz have joined to explain their own lyrics to fans. A rapper named Monster Mike got the RapGenius logo tattooed on his neck. Even venture capitalist and rap enthusiast Ben Horowitz is a verified blogger, who breaks down his own blog posts on the site.
Currently the site features no ads, and its founders have been quiet about their plans to monetize.
Even though the site is merely a conduit for rap-related info, RapGenius is no stranger to the requisite rapper beefs. After Willy Staley of the New York Times questioned whether a site like RapGenius takes the fun out of individual interpretation, RapGenius reproduced and annotated the Times article. How meta. Their explanation:
Rap Genius breaks down an article in the NY Times calling them out on being prescriptivists when it comes to lyrics…THAT’S THAT SHIT WE DON’T LIKE!
There’s also the Das Racist beef. Kool AD called the site “white-devil sophistry,” an accusation Moghadam refuted with an admittedly awkward freestyle rap on the site (“normally I can flow much better. My abs look aiite doe,” he writes in the annotation). The beefs sit somewhere between the tedious tech bickering found on Twitter and the tabloid drama of an actual rap feud.
More of the latter could help RapGenius get to the next level of user adoption. After all in the rap world, beefs never made anything less popular.