The World of Rap Genius: Interview with the Founder Mahbod Maghadam
Born as a crowdsourced lyric site, Rap Genius is not just anymore that but now it'a an important brick of the hip hop culture. Few days ago former Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery put it at the top of the "50 Undesireble lyrics sites" and National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) declared legal warfare against them. "Rap Genius is something that has never existed before, a ‘case of first impression' and right now we are negotiating our legal fit in society" told us Mahbod Maghadam (Rap Genius Founder with Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory).
With Maghadam Fanpage talked (via mail) about Rap Genius world, the 15M Horowitz investment, crowdsourcing, Pharrell Williams and many more.
Well, Hi Mahbod, how are you?
Waddupppp! I am chillaxin, coolin…
What is Rap Genius and what's his major strength and his major lack?
Rap Genius is a Cathedral and a bazaar – Cathedral in the sense that it compiles all of human knowledge, the annotations are written by God – bazaar in the sense that ANYONE can join, anyone can annotate – you can sign up right now and join us!
The biggest problems with the crowdsourse are credibility, corrections and control in general. How do you manage them? I read you have 500 contributors…
We have over 1 million contributors, but they have 6 different levels of power. 5000 of them are editors, 1000 are moderators. We also have 4000 verified artists – rappers annotating their own lyrics – including Nas, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar – everyone important.
Andreessen Horowitz invested 15M dollars in Rap Genius: it's a lot of money. What will you do with it?
We spend almost all of it on rent for our office and salaries for our 30 employees, including 9 developers.
In 2011 in an interview you said: “Everyone wants a piece of Rap Genius”. Horowitz apart, what's the most important offer you had. Are they still trying to put their hands on it?
Our most recent investor was PHARRELL WILLIAMS! It is no accident he made a 24 hour video – he never sleeps he is a visionary prophet! Our first investors were Nas and Ashton Kutcher. Basically, everyone cool invests in Rap Genius.
Let's talk about copyright. Few days ago former Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery put you at the top of a list about the “50 Undesirable Lyric Website”. What's up? (You're also a lawyer, aren't you?)
I went to Stanford Law School – my 2 best professors were Mark Lemley and Larry Lessig and both annotate legal texts on the site! Rap Genius is something that has never existed before, a "case of first impression" and right now we are negotiating our legal fit in society. It is going very good! Once it is done we will be even closer with musicians and EVERY musician will be annotating her own lyrics on Rap Genius.
How the relationship between music and fans is changing? I mean… you are a crowdsourced website who pyas a lot attention to “normal people”, connecting them with a lot of artists. Eg. Beck wrote a sheet album that everyone was able to play. Moby let people play with his music, etc…
Beck and Moby are perfect examples, artists want to penetrate the lives of fans! You want the fan who will download one song of yours on itunes to go CRAZY, go to 6 of your concerts, buy the $50 hoodie, buy 10 posters.. twitter is a cheap, passive way to achieve this penetration. Rap Genius is a deep, meaningful way to achieve this penetration because you are discussing the meaning of your lyrics with your fans. Nothing is deeper than that. And while twitter and instagram are like television – they are here for one second and then they are gone – an artist's annotations on Rap Genius last FOREVER, they will be here when the aliens come down 1000 years from now.
Here is Snoop's commentary on AN ANNOTATION THAT I WROTE of his lyrics – he loved my interpretation! It is my proudest moment on Rap Genius, it made me an even bigger fan of Snoop Dogg (if that is possible).
How is crowdfunding becoming more and more important in music industry?
People listen to music because they want to discuss it – before Rap Genius a lot of the discussion took place on shitty message boards. Now, there is a beautiful edifice where the fans can discuss and get the artist's input as well.
Mahbod, where are ads on RG? How do you make your website rentable?
We are the 90th biggest website in the world right now, when we are 10th biggest we will monetize. I predict in about 6 months at the rate we are growing. Brands will have their own "verified accounts" just like artists and will discuss the placement of the brand in lyrics.
Here is Italian sportswear brand FILA's verified account, it is amazing! A lot of interesting facts about the brand – someday they will pay to feature this in our users' newsfeed.
What's the most searched song? And what kind of artists collaborates with Rap Genius?
Right now Eminem's RAP GOD is the most-searched because it is impossible to understand without Rap Genius!
Hopefully, someday, every artist will have a verified account on Rap Genius. Certainly every artist who uses twitter will realize Rap Genius is a far more valuable resource. Also amateurs, any amateur can put one of their songs up on the site and send me the link firstname.lastname@example.org and I will verify them! We need more Italian artists in our family please join us if you make music!
You started with rap but now you're open to a lot of styles. Did you know that in Italy we're having a new mainstream wave of rap? What does rap rappresent today?
Rap is at the cutting edge of human culture, especially youth culture. All the youth listen to it whether rich or poor, and in every language across the world. We have Rap Genius France, Deutschland, Italia, Brazil, Iran, Kenya, Poland, Denmark… 30 countries! Our new sites are called: Rock Genius, Poetry Genius and News Genius, but they also annotate film scripts, fashion, R&B, country music, sports, novels – things that don't perfectly fit in the 4 categories.
What's the most important personality in rap history? And now? What's your favourite rapper and, above all, do you know any italian rapper?
Sadly I don't know any Italian rappers I only know Italian pop music! When I was studying abroad in Paris "Verramente" was my jam, I'm sure this song is considered old now LOL.
Well, I don't know any Italian rappers but I DO know that Roma has the best hip-hop club scene in the world. I went out one night in the Pyramide district…there were 3 clubs next to each other, it was the best club night of my entire life. Every girl was beautiful without even trying to be beautiful, they played the best music. I danced until the sun came up.
At 5 in the morning I saw a Moroccan teenager get stabbed by his friend, I think they were fighting over a girl. He laid bleeding in the street for over an hour and no police came! I guess Italians are focused on more important things…
At 6 I began to walk and I walked from Pyramide to the Colosseo and then to the grounds of the Roman Ruins – it was October so the sunshine was crisp, I had not slept for 36 hours. I was 20 years old at the time. It was the most aesthetically perfect vision I've ever had and this is why Roma is my favorite city in the world.
The most important rapper of all time is 2Pac, he has a place in my mind that no one else will ever touch. He is the most handsome, he was a poet, an actor – he is the greatest artist of all time. My favorite current rapper is Gucci Mane, I am presently obsessed with the Dirty South because the rappers from the South are true gentlemen (unlike New York rappers who are all assholes!)
Talking about Italy… you're starting an italian version of RapGenius. Why? And tell us something more (which are the artists registered, when will it start, what's your goal)
Right now it is only a twitter – please follow!
I did not start it, a dedicated member of our community started Rap Genius Italia and runs it. Once it mushrooms (like Rap Genius France and Deutschland did) we can hire him – it would be my dream! I love Italy, Rome is my favorite city, all of my shoes come from your country…. my favorite brands are Prada and Santoni.
What's your favorite page and line in Rap Genius?
I love the annotation of Jesus' last words – did you know that he was quoting Solomon?
This is evidence for me that plagiarism is the key to art, I will never say anything unless Montaigne already said it.
And what about 50 Cent who never smoke weed in his life?
Meeting 50 Cent was an honor – his annotations of his own lyrics are here.
He annotated the charming song "Baltimore Love Thing" which is a love song written from a drug dealer to the brick of cocaine he is selling. Amazing!
He wrote the song "I get high all the time" but he has never smoked weed! His "high" is exercise, his body is flawless. Now that I can no longer smoke weed for medical reasons he has become a true idol for me, in 6 months I will have the same abdominal muscles he has, I am dedicated…
Qui la versione in italiano