Bwog is getting to be sick of SparkNotes, which seems to be lacking a lot of key core texts (we’re looking at you, Herodotus). Lucky for us, we recently learned that Rap Genius’s poetry site has a section devoted to Columbia’s Core texts. Although most of them only have annotations on the first few books, there really are some gems. Bwogger Julia Goodman sat down with one of Rap Genius’s founders, Mahbod Moghadam, in an exciting interview about this new development.
Bwog: What made you decide to start working on Rap Genius full-time?
Mahbod Moghadam: Apparition of Jesus flanked by Rupert Murdoch as his right-hand man, they DEMANDED it of me. Since then, Rupert got a Rap Genius verified account. #JESUSNEXT
B: The site was originally called “Rap Exegesis.” Did you consider any other names? Were any of them harder to pronounce than “Rap Exegesis”?
MM: It was the “Rap Exegesis Telekinesis” that prompted our choice… if you look at the site though, exegesis is certainly the function it performs, no doubt, but what sublimates the exegesis is the $$$DIALOGUE$$$—the true purpose of rap genius is to create dialogue between fans, artists, geniuses—it is an academe, a forum of knowledge—and the end result is brilliant exegesis of all human culture.
B: Why did you decide to start including poetry? Are there any differences in the way users are annotating poetry as opposed to song lyrics?
MM: Some poems call to be annotated word-for-word—but then again that is true of lyrics too sometimes. Where do you draw the line between the two? The Odyssey, back in the day, nobody read it, they sang it. Is it lyrics? Is it poetry? I mean sure I did this bomb annotation on it but ultimately what do I know?
B: About how much of your content is user-generated, and how much comes from artists, authors, and Rap Genius employees?
MM: I don’t know! It would be hard to say even if I had the figures though, sometimes efforts co-mingle and it is hard to measure value. Do you do it by words? By upvotes? 525,600 minutes? How do you measure, measure a year?
B: Rap Genius has come under fire from the National Music Publishers Association and, more recently, Google. How did it feel to take on such major institutions as a relatively small site? How has the site been doing since the Google search penalty?
MM: Well, the actual LAUNCH of Rap Genius was two weeks ago when the Genius app came out. App is blowin’ up like crazy, it is a huge hit. Rap Genius has always been an APP! It was always meant to be an app. And yet the app just came out. This means the true launch of Rap Genius was two weeks ago!
The Genius App is changing the face of human culture—version 2.0 is going to allow famous artists to annotate words from their phone with Vine-style video annotations—look at our verified accounts and tell me that the very prospect of this doesn’t make you trip.
B: What are some of the weirdest annotations you’ve seen?
MM: I get a big kick out of it when my fans annotate my poetry—they get all sorts of stuff wrong, but I don’t care, I love them, they are my fans! I am honored they are reading it. Who is to say what is “right” and what is “wrong” anyways? It’s not like I ACTUALLY wrote the poem—God wrote it, merely using me as a vessel… maybe the fans’ interpretation is right and I am wrong!
Eminem doesn’t have a verified account yet (soon, inshallah), but he was saying how happy it makes him to go and read his fans’ annotations—it is his favorite way to discover what his fans have to say! Speaking in conversation with his lyrics, in concert with the poetry….
B: Rap Genius–and you personally–have gotten a lot of press for some controversial things. Do you see that as an important part of Rap Genius’s public presence?
MM: Rap Genius is going to be the biggest website in the world. It is the best website in the world. I get impatient sometimes and I do really stupid things—things that I regret—just to get attention for my site. Because I figure the more people know about it, the more it will blow up, because it is TRULY the best website in the world. It is even better than Twitter.
But I regret saying stupid stuff, I should learn to be more patient and just let history take its course. Like, Mark Zuckerberg is my HERO—Facebook changed my life, he’s my hero! He was a big supporter of Rap Genius too! And I started a beef with him, as a joke, to get attention, and everybody interpreted it like I’m trying to insult him! I am so ashamed that people think I was trying to insult the man who is truly my hero! I was just doing it for attention, because I am impatient for Rap Genius to grow. It was a dumb move… I wish I hadn’t done it.
B: Rap Genius gives users the ability to interact with news, literature, and the music of some pretty famous and powerful individuals. How do you think the site is changing people’s relationship to how they consume media?
MM: Sort of like how Gutenberg’s infernal machine changed it, but more so. This is the new way people will think. If you are a kid who is like 18 years old now, you grew up with Rap Genius, you can’t imagine a world without it. In 20 years from now, people will feel the same way about Poetry Genius, about News Genius… in the U.S. we have this myth of “Scientific Journalism” that News Genius is going to debunk! Every website—wsj.com, nytimes.com—is going to have “Genius Powered” annotations built into them! This is the new fabric of the internet, the new fabric of thought….
In 10 years from now, when you apply for a job, the cornerstone of your CV will be your relevant “IQ”—you want a job at a fashion label? What’s your Fashion IQ on Fashion Genius? You want a job at a newspaper? What’s your News IQ? You want a job as a priest? At a seminary? What’s your Bible IQ?
B: The annotations on the first canto of Dante’s inferno range from a picture of Kid Sensation’s The Power of Rhyme to a GIF of Spock to a photo of a statue of Virgil. Please comment on this.
MM: Are you saying it is a good thing or a bad thing? First canto is probably where people will play around, I’d search deeper into the tome to find better annotations. But who knows? Hopefully a true Dante scholar will get fed up and will join the site, improve the Dante annotations? Maybe a MOOC on Dante will launch (a lot of MOOCs are using Poetry Genius as the platform for their course reading and class assignments now!) and will turn these first droplets into an Ocean of Knowledge on the Divine Comedy?
Have you ever seen the version 1.0 of some Wikipedia pages? You have to start with something small… but a community with an IQ system, a built-in hierarchy of power, and a cohesive voice will eventually build an amazing body of knowledge—once the community comes together, Rap Genius speaks in God’s voice, it tells you precisely what you need to know….
Interview edited for clarity.