What started as a fun weekend project between three Yale classmates to translate rap lyrics for the common man has attracted millions in investments.
Early last week, tech investment firm Andreessen Horowitz put $15 million into the site Rap Genius, created three years ago by friends Mahbod Moghadam, Tom Lehman, and Ilan Zechory.
Thrown together as ‘something you can look at in your dorm, when you’re on drugs,’ as one founder put it, the site now attracts up to 500,000 page views a day.
Trailing pornography and Facebook, lyrics are among the most searched content on the internet.
The site takes lyrics and allows users to annotate the language and explain its real meaning, much as literary scholars would do with a classic novel.
For instance, rapper Jay-Z’S song 99 Problems is revealed to explore the artist’s complicated relationships between himself, the law, money, media, and men of low character.
That song contains the lyrics ‘Got two choices y’all, pull over the car or / Bounce on the devil, put the pedal to the floor,’ which could be totally misinterpreted if one was unfamiliar with rap idioms and metaphor.
Rap Genius users have translated the phrase to mean ‘Jay is unsure whether he ought to cooperate with the police trying to pull him over, or to try to run away. The ‘devil’ here is, of course, the White Devil.’
Rap lyrics make up 90 per cent of the site’s content but users have added annotations for text as varied as science papers, poetry, the Great Gatsby, and even Pres. Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address.
While most sites feature a white background with black text, Rap Genius has a black background with blue, orange, and white text because its creators believed it was more ‘chill.’
Many rappers and celebrities use the site themselves, founders said. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a frequent visitor.
‘It changes so fast, it’s exploding,’ Zechory told Business Insider. ‘It’s literally millions of unique visitors. In a year from now it will be the biggest site in the whole internet.
Andreessen Horowitz has a history of picking winners.
The firm was one of the early investors in Twitter, and Forbes ranked them 10th on the magazine’s 2011 Forbes Midas List of Tech’s Top Investors.
‘I often wonder how the Internet would have turned out differently if users had been able to annotate everything – to add new layers of knowledge to all knowledge, on and on, ad infinitum,’ Marc Andreessen, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, wrote on Rap Genius.
‘And so, 20 years later, Rap Genius finally gives us the opportunity to find out. It’s an ambitious mission, and one we are proud to get behind’