Genius (website)

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The former logotype of the Rap Genius website.
Type of site Media knowledge base
Available in English
Headquarters Gowanus, Brooklyn, New York City, United States
Area served Worldwide
Owner Genius Media Group Inc.
  • Tom Lehman
  • Ilan Zechory
Chairman Ilan Zechory
CEO Tom Lehman
Key people
  • Tom Lehman
  • Ilan Zechory
  • Mahbod Moghadam
Industry Entertainment
Slogan(s) Annotate the world
Alexa rank Increase 933 (As of 11 August 2016)[1]
Registration Required for editing
Launched October 2009; 6 years ago (2009-10)
Written in

Genius is an online media knowledge base founded on October 2009 by Mahbod Moghadam, Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory. The site allows users to provide annotations and interpretation of song lyrics, news stories, sources, poetry, and documents.

Launched as Rap Genius with a focus on rap, the site expanded in 2014 to cover other forms of media, such as pop, literature and R&B, and an annotation-embedded platform. That same year, an iPhone app was released. To reflect these new goals, the site re-launched as Genius in July 2014. An Android version was released in August 2015.[3]


Rap Genius was created in October 2009 by founders Mahbod Moghadam, Tom Lehman, and Ilan Zechory, who met during their undergraduate years at Yale University.[4] Lehman and Moghadam came up with the idea for the site in the summer of 2009 when Lehman asked Moghadam about the meaning of a Cam'ron lyric. After Lehman built the earliest version of the site, Moghadam, a 2008 graduate of Stanford Law School and a first year employee at Dewey and LeBoeuf who was on a paid sabbatical leave, decided to pursue the idea full-time. Lehman, the programmer of the site, and Zechory soon joined him and brought the idea to fruition.[5] Originally named Rap Exegesis, the site changed its name in December 2009 to Rap Genius because "exegesis" was difficult for users to spell.[6] The ability to listen to the songs while viewing their lyrics, the Rap Map, and Music Video annotations were eventually added to the site as well.

In October 2013, Rap Genius was one of fifty sites targeted with notices by the National Music Publishers Association for the unlicensed online publication of song lyrics. Unlike Genius, most of the sites that were targeted were ad-supported. In response, Zechory stated that they "can't wait to have a conversation with them about how all writers can participate in and benefit from the Rap Genius knowledge project."[7] In 2014, Rap Genius entered into a licensing agreement with music publishers covering both past and future publishing of music lyrics.[8]

Google search penalty[edit]

In December 2013, Google penalized Rap Genius for violating their backlinks guidelines,[9] in particular participating in blog networks, by removing them from its top search results.[10][11] Even for the search query of "rap genius", results from did not appear on the top results. Instead, the top results showed Rap Genius' Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia pages, as well as news related to the penalty.[10] This happened after blogger and Rap Genius contributor John Marbach exposed its link scheme to manipulate Google search results by offering Tweets or Facebook shares in exchange for linking to Rap Genius with keyword rich texts.[12] Rap Genius posted an apology, promising to stop and reverse the practice. Rap Genius also pointed out that its competitors were doing similar or worse practices, and asked Google to look at "the whole lyrics search landscape" and improve its lyric search results.[13]

Ten days later, after removing links in violation of Google's Quality Guidelines, Rap Genius partially recovered from their penalty.[14] Some believe the penalty may have benefited Rap Genius, as the result of news coverage, providing incoming links from online magazines and a consequent rise in people searching for Rap Genius via Google.[15]

Expansion, resignation of Mahbod Moghadam[edit]

In an effort to extend the concept into other genres of media works, Rap Genius launched several new channels including News Genius, Rock Genius, and Poetry Genius. The service also added the ability for outside publishers to integrate Rap Genius's platform into other websites to create annotated articles.[16] At one point, rapper Kanye West, a fan of the site, submitted a mock up of a redesign to Ben Horowitz, an investor in the site.[17] The redesign was not used although Lehman was impressed, telling Business Insider that future redesigns could use elements from it.[17]

In May 2014, Rap Genius co-founder Mahbod Moghadam resigned after annotating the manifesto of Isla Vista spree killer Elliot Rodger. Many of Moghadm's annotations were labeled as being insensitive, particularly his comment "MY GUESS: his sister is smokin hot".[16]

However, Moghadam had already reduced his involvement in the company to a part-time role 3 months before his resignation, due to complications from his surgery for meningioma, a benign brain tumor.[18]

In August 2014, Russell Farhang was hired as Director of Operations.


On July 12, 2014, reflecting its recent expansions and growth into a platform, Rap Genius re-launched as simply Genius. Speaking about the changes, the co-founders explained that most internet users fail to "dive into" stories they find in greater deal, and that Genius aimed to "help us all realize the richness and depth in every line of text."[16][19] The company also raised an additional $40 million in series B funding led by investor Dan Gilbert.[20]


Works and articles on Genius are presented with various lines highlighted in grey; by clicking on these lines, pop-up annotations are displayed which provide additional details and context for the section in question. Users can provide their own annotations by highlighting fragments of text. Texts on Genius are sorted into various topic channels, including rap, rock, and pop music, literature, news, historical texts (History Genius), sports, television and film (Screen Genius), and "X"—any other subject not covered by other categories. The site also offers the "Rap Map", a Google Maps display featuring profiles and placemarks for geographical locations related to rap culture or mentioned in rap songs.[21]

Registered users can upload, correct, and annotate texts. They can also offer suggestions to improve already published texts and annotations. Editors and Moderators help to generate and monitor content to ensure quality writing. Users earn "IQ" with every published annotation. Points are rewarded on the basis of not only the quantity of text that is annotated, but also the quality of the annotations. Users are rewarded with greater editorial and moderating privileges as more IQ points are awarded.[22]

Contributors to Genius receive points, "IQ", for annotations and suggestions on each channel. The IQ system employs both direct points, for example a 10 IQ point increase for an annotation, and a voting system. Especially insightful and popular annotations gain positive reviews, increasing the IQ value of an annotation. As of now, IQ has no redemption purpose, but serves as measure of a contributor's impact and work on the site. Editors and Moderators gain additional means of obtaining IQ, including publishing completed texts and reviewing the work of others.

On January 28, 2014, Genius released an app for the iPhone, called "Genius". Genius co-founder Tom Lehman said at launch:[23]

This is the true launch of Rap Genius. Right now, more than half of our traffic comes from mobile devices. Soon, it will be 100% – In 1,000 years, when the aliens land, ‘Rap Genius’ will literally mean ‘that dope iPhone app’. This app has long been our users’ most-requested feature, and we’re pumped to finally deliver.

In March 2014, Genius launched a feature allowing users to "embed" annotated texts on other websites. Felix Salmon of Reuters was a noted early user, using the platform to create an annotated breakdown of Janet Yellen's first FOMC statement.[24] Nas embedded the entire annotated Illmatic album onto his website to promote the release of Illmatic XX.[25]

Verified accounts[edit]

Genius offers verified accounts to established artists where they annotate, moderate and correct their own lyrics.[26] Such annotations are highlighted in green, rather than the usual grey. The Queensbridge rapper Nas was the first rapper to get a verified Rap Genius account where he has annotated his own lyrics and commented on the lyrics of other rappers he admires.[27][28] RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, members of the American hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan, also have verified accounts on Genius.[29][30][31][32]

In late 2012, novelist Bacchus Paine became the first current release author to voluntarily annotate part of her own work, a semi-fictional mixture of philosophy and pornography, on the site, including supplementing the narrative with photos taken at events like Folsom Street Fair featured in the novel.[33]

In 2015, Rick Rubin, A-Trak, The-Dream and Eminem were among those who created verified accounts.[34][35][36][37] Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon has also been verified and has contributed several annotations.[38] Composer and Lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda also has a verified account with which he frequently joins discussions on the lyrics of his two musicals, In the Heights and Hamilton.

In January 2016, the U.S. government began using Genius to provide annotations for its online postings of President Barack Obama's State of the Union addresses.[39]


Spotify includes the ability to display lyrics from Genius for most tracks.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ " – Traffic Details from Alexa". Alexa Internet, Inc. Retrieved 30 July 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "What languages and frameworks does Rap Genius use?". Quora. Retrieved 15 December 2015. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Rap Genius Founder Opens Up About Google Ban and IPO Plans". Retrieved 2014-03-26. 
  5. ^ "A 'Genius' Use of Deferral Time « Above the Law: A Legal Web Site – News, Commentary, and Opinions on Law Firms, Lawyers, Law School, Law Suits, Judges and Courts". Retrieved 2012-06-23. 
  6. ^ " becomes | Rap Genius Blog". 2009-12-08. Retrieved 2012-06-23. 
  7. ^ "NMPA Targets Unlicensed Lyric Sites, Rap Genius Among 50 Sent Take-Down Notices". Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Rap Genius Website Agrees to License With Music Publishers
  9. ^ Lehman, Tom; Zechory, Ilan; Moghadam, Mahbod. "Rap Genius is Back on Google". Genius. Retrieved 14 June 2016. 
  10. ^ a b "Google Has Officially Penalized Rap Genius For Link Schemes". Search Engine Land. 2013-12-25. Retrieved 2013-12-25. 
  11. ^ "Rap Genius Apologizes For Not-So-Genius SEO Spam Tactics". TechCrunch. 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2013-12-25. 
  12. ^ Marbach, John (2013-12-23). "RapGenius Growth Hack Exposed". Retrieved 2013-12-25. 
  13. ^ "Open Letter to Google About Rap Genius SEO". Rap Genius. 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2013-12-25. 
  14. ^ "Rap Genius Back In Google After 10 Day Penalty, Ranks For Its Name But What About Lyrics?". Search Engine Land. 2014-01-04. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  15. ^ Vilner, Yoav (January 5, 2014). "RapGenius' Google Penalty Is The World's Best GROWTH-HACK". Ranky. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c "The Inside Story Of How Rap Genius Fired A Cofounder — And Just Raised $40 Million (Annotated!)". Business Insider. 12 July 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  17. ^ a b D'ONFRO, Jillian. "Kanye West Tried To Redesign Rap Genius". Business Insider. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  18. ^ The Yale Herald. "The Genius out in the cold - The Yale Herald". Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  19. ^ "Rap Genius rebrands itself 'Genius' as part of mission to 'annotate the world'". The Verge. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  20. ^ Constine, Josh (July 11, 2014). "Rap Genius Raises $40M, Changes Name To Genius, Launches Embeddable Annotations". Tech Crunch. Retrieved September 12, 2014. 
  21. ^ "The Rap Map — Mapping the Gangsta Terrain of the Planet". Rap Genius. 1965-02-21. Retrieved 2012-06-23. 
  22. ^ "About". Rap Genius. 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2012-06-23. 
  23. ^ "Genius for iPhone is here!". Rap Genius. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Salmon, Felix. "Janet Yellen's first FOMC statement, annotated". Reuters. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Rap Genius & Nas Breakdown "Illmatic" in its Entirety". Nas. April 18, 2014. 
  26. ^ List of verified artists on Genius
  27. ^ Nas verified account on Rap Genius Accessed: 16/03/2012
  28. ^ NAS INTERVIEW: why Nas wants to annotate his own lyrics on Rap Genius Accessed: 16/03/2012
  29. ^ RZA verified account on Rap Genius Accessed: 16/03/2012
  30. ^ GZA verified account on Rap Genius Accessed: 24/10/2014
  31. ^ Raekwon verified account on Rap Genius Accessed: 24/10/2014
  32. ^ "Ghostface Killah". Genius. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  33. ^ No Church Wild Accessed: 16/01/2013
  34. ^ "Rick Rubin Annotates Kanye West, Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash Songs on Genius". Pitchfork. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  35. ^ "A-Trak Reveals Process Behind Kanye West Songs "Gold Digger", "Stronger", "Robocop" on Genius". Pitchfork. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  36. ^ Larry Fitzmaurice. "The-Dream Annotated Songs From Kanye West And Jay Z, Beyoncé, And More On Genius". The FADER. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  37. ^ "Eminem Annotates Lyrics for Genius: His 10 Best". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  38. ^ Michael Chabon verified account on Rap Genius Accessed: 14/05/2015
  39. ^ "The White House is Joining With Genius to Annonate History". Wired. Retrieved 12 January 2016. 
  40. ^ Fortune,

External links[edit]