Genius (website)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Rap Genius)
Jump to: navigation, search
Genius Wordmark Logo.svg
Type of site
Media company
Available in English
Headquarters Brooklyn, New York City, New York[1], U.S.
Area served Worldwide
Owner Genius Media Group Inc.
  • Tom Lehman
  • Ilan Zechory
  • Mahbod Moghadam
President Ilan Zechory
CEO Tom Lehman[2]
Industry Entertainment
Alexa rank Positive decrease 277 (As of January 2018)[3]
Registration Required for editing
Launched October 20, 2009; 8 years ago (2009-10-20)[4] (as Rap Genius)
Written in

Genius (formerly Rap Genius) is a North American digital media company. Originally founded in August 2009 by Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory, and Mahbod Moghadam, the site allows users to provide annotations and interpretation of song lyrics, news stories, sources, poetry, and documents.

Originally launched as Rap Genius with a focus on hip-hop music, the company attracted the attention and support of celebrities, and venture capital enabling further growth.[1] The site expanded in 2014 to cover other forms of media, such as pop, literature, R&B, and added 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,[6] and in 2016 and 2017, the company began producing music-focused original video content and hosting live events and concerts.


Founding and early years (2009–2012)[edit]

(L-R): Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt New York 2013

Genius first started as a crowdsourced hip-hop focused site, and was originally named Rap Exegesis. The site changed its name in December 2009 to Rap Genius because "exegesis" was difficult for users to spell.[7][8] It was created in August 2009 by founders Tom Lehman (who "entered the first line of code" for the website on August 19, 2009),[9] Ilan Zechory, and Mahbod Moghadam, the three of whom met during their undergraduate years at Yale University.[1][10][2] 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.[1][7] After Lehman built the earliest version of the site, he—along with cofounders Moghadam and Zechory—decided to leave their jobs at D.E. Shaw and Google to pursue the idea full-time and bring it to fruition.[11]

Initial funding[edit]

In 2011, with the site "drawing over 1 million unique visitors per month",[7] Rap Genius applied to start-up incubator Y Combinator, and "became the fastest-growing start-up in Y Combinator history",[1] obtaining $1.8 million in seed funding which enabled the founders to occupy offices on Williamsburg, Brooklyn.[1] In 2012, the company received an additional $15 million investment from Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (also known as a16z),[1][2][12] prompted in part by partner Marc Andreessen's own past effort to build a group annotation feature into a web browser.[1] Ben Horowitz described Genius as "one of the most important things we've ever funded".[1] The company's three co-founders were named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in December, 2012.[13]

Establishment of verified accounts[edit]

The popular success of the venture was exemplified by the participation of artists like Queensbridge rapper Nas,[1] 50 Cent,[1] RZA,[7] and A$AP Rocky,[7] prompting the company to create a "Verified Artists" designation.[1][7] Verified accounts are offered to established artists, where they annotate, moderate and edit their own lyrics.[14] Such annotations are highlighted in green, rather than the usual grey. Nas became the first verified artist, using the platform to post numerous explanations of his lyrics and dispel some misinterpretations,[7] as well as to comment on the lyrics of other rappers he admires.[7][15][16] As part of his support for the website, Nas "released the lyrics to his new single "The Don" on Rap Genius the day before putting out the song itself".[7]

Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, members of the American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, also obtained verified accounts on Genius.[17][18][19][20] In late 2012, novelist Bacchus Paine became the first current release prose author to voluntarily annotate part of her own work.[21]

Early controversies (2013–2014)[edit]

In an effort to extend the concept into other genres of culture, Genius launched several new channels in 2013 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.[22] However, the company also experienced some issues familiar to the online content field.

Music publishing dispute[edit]

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".[23] In 2014, Rap Genius entered into a licensing agreement with music publishers covering both past and future publishing of music lyrics.[24]

Google search penalty[edit]

In December 2013, Google penalized Rap Genius for violating their backlinks guidelines,[25] in particular participating in blog networks, by removing them from its top search results.[26][27] 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.[26] 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.[28] 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.[29]

Ten days later, after removing links in violation of Google's Quality Guidelines, Rap Genius partially recovered from their penalty.[30]

Resignation of Mahbod Moghadam[edit]

Fast Company named Rap Genius co-founder Mahbod Moghadam to its list of Most Creative People of 2013 in May of that year.[31] By early 2014, however, Moghadam had reduced his involvement in Genius to a part-time role, due to complications from his surgery for meningioma, a benign brain tumor.[32] In May 2014, Moghadam resigned after annotating the manifesto of Isla Vista spree killer Elliot Rodger in ways that were labeled as being insensitive.[22][1]

Expansion and rebranding (2014–2015)[edit]

New apps and features[edit]

The company rebounded with the release of an iOS app on January 28, 2014, also called "Genius".[33] Genius co-founder Tom Lehman said at launch: "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%".[34]

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.[35] Nas embedded the entire annotated Illmatic album onto his website to promote the release of Illmatic XX.[36]

Re-launch as "Genius" and expanded funding[edit]

On 12 July 2014, reflecting its recent expansions and growth into a platform, Rap Genius re-launched as Genius. The co-founders said that the change was because most internet users fail to "dive into" stories they find in greater detail, and that Genius aimed to "help us all realize the richness and depth in every line of text".[22][37] The company also raised an additional $40 million in series B funding led by investor Dan Gilbert, chairman of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.[1][38] With its operations expanding, Genius relocated from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Gowanus, Brooklyn.[39][40][41][1] Genius also obtained buy-in from artists, including investments by Eminem, Nas, and Pharrell.[42]

At one point, rapper Kanye West, a fan of the site, submitted a mock up of a redesign to investor Ben Horowitz.[43] The redesign was not used although Lehman was impressed, telling Business Insider that future redesigns could use elements from it.[43] In mid-2015, along with its redesigned logo and webpage, Genius released its Android app, which initially allowed users to search for and vote on annotations.[33]

Staff expansion and new partnerships[edit]

Hip-hop journalist Rob Markman was hired by Genius as its manager of artist relations.[44][41] In September 2015, Genius partnered with The Washington Post to annotate the various presidential debates being held at that time.[45] The following month, Genius announced the hiring of Brendan Frederick, formerly of Complex, as director of content.[46]

In 2015, Rick Rubin, A-Trak, The-Dream and Eminem were among those who created verified accounts.[47][48][49][50] Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon has also been verified and has contributed several annotations.[51] 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.[52]

In January 2016, the White House began using Genius to provide annotations for its online postings of President Barack Obama's State of the Union addresses.[53]

Launching content (2016–present)[edit]

Genius began offering original content in 2016,[41] beginning with a "Behind the Lyrics" integration offered in collaboration with Spotify that "pairs pop-up annotations with select tracks from the streaming service as well as exclusive artist content", launching with content from Pusha T, Tinashe, and Diplo.[2] Initially available only on iOS, "Behind the Lyrics" became available on Android in April 2017.[54]

Genius began planning for the creation of original video content, and in June 2016 announced the hiring of Regina Dellea, previously of Mic, as head of video.[55] Planned shows that Dellea was hired to oversee included "Genius Level, an Inside the Actors Studio-style interview series hosted by Rob Markman".[55] In 2016, Genius launched the video series "Verified", "featuring artists like Mac Miller, Ice Cube, and Common decoding their songs on camera",[41] and has since launched various other series, including "Deconstructed (in which producers dissect the tracks they created) and "IRL", a career-spanning interview series initiated with DJ Khaled as the first subject.[41] In September 2016, Genius announced the addition of Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of the brand development and marketing firm Translation, to its board of directors.[56][57] In 2017, Genius collaborated with Logic to produce an episode of "Verified" for every song on his album.[58] Logic had previously name-dropped Genius in his song "Slave II", from the 2016 album Bobby Tarantino, with the line "I'm a Rap Genius like Rob Markman".[59]

Live events[edit]

Genius began hosting live events at their Brooklyn headquarters in 2017. On April 26, 2017, Genius hosted a listening party with rapper Wale for the release of Wale's album, SHiNE.[60] The first Genius Level live interview was in May 2017, with The-Dream.[61] On September 7, 2017, Rob Markman interviewed Issa Rae before a live audience.[62] Genius held its first live concert event on September 9, 2017, with the IQ/BBQ festival at the Genius headquarters. The event featured performances by artists including Pusha T, Dej Loaf, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, and was produced in partnership with Adidas and Atari.[63]


Genius began selling branded merchandise in mid-2016, and engaged in "a t-shirt collaboration with rapper Pusha T's Play Cloths line for Art Basel" in December 2016. In 2017, Genius expanded its merchandise offerings with the launch of its "1997" collection, with a set of styles and themes inspired by cultural events of 1997.[64]


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.[65]

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.[66]

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.


Spotify includes the ability to display lyrics from Genius for some of its tracks,[67] allowing users to "watch annotated lyrics for songs as you listen to them".[68] Bringing up the album art while playing a track reveals a black tab behind the art that says "Behind the Lyrics", which gives users access to the feature.[68]

Key people[edit]

As of 2017, key staff members and contributors to Genius include founders Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory; additional board members Ben Horowitz, Dan Gilbert, and Steve Stoute;[57][56] chief content officer Brendan Frederick;[46] and Head of Artist Relations Rob Markman.[44]

Top artists contributing to Genius include Lorde, Frank Ocean, Lin-Manuel Miranda,[52] Selena Gomez, DJ Khaled, Nas,[7] Eminem,[47] Rivers Cuomo, and Rick Rubin.[47]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Wiedeman, Reeves (4 January 2015). "Genius Idea". New York Magazine. Archived from the original on 5 July 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d Connor, Jackson (12 January 2016). "Genius: The Annotation Will Not Be Televised". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. 
  3. ^ " – Traffic Details from Alexa". Alexa Internet, Inc. Archived from the original on 19 January 2017. Retrieved 19 January 2017. 
  4. ^ " WHOIS, DNS, & Domain Info - DomainTools". WHOIS. Retrieved 15 February 2017. 
  5. ^ a b "What languages and frameworks does Rap Genius use?". Quora. Retrieved 15 December 2015. 
  6. ^ "XDA Picks: Best Apps of the Week (Aug 1 – Aug 8)". 8 August 2015. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j O'Malley Greenburg, Zack (31 May 2012). "How Nas Became A True Rap Genius". Forbes. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017. 
  8. ^ " becomes | Rap Genius Blog". 8 December 2009. Archived from the original on 16 June 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2012. 
  9. ^ "Rap Genius Explains Why Worse is Better". Archived from the original on 17 September 2017. 
  10. ^ "Rap Genius Founder Opens Up About Google Ban and IPO Plans". Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
  11. ^ "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". Archived from the original on 10 May 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2012. 
  12. ^ Constine, Josh (3 October 2012). "Ben Horowitz And The Founders Explain Why a16z Put $15M Into Rap Genius: "Knowledge About Knowledge"". TechCrunch. Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. 
  13. ^ O'Malley Greenburg, Zack (17 December 2012). "30 Under 30: Music". Forbes. Archived from the original on 15 May 2017. 
  14. ^ List of verified artists Archived 28 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine. on Genius
  15. ^ Nas verified account on Rap Genius Archived 12 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed: 16 March 2012
  16. ^ NAS INTERVIEW: why Nas wants to annotate his own lyrics on Rap Genius Accessed: 16 March 2012
  17. ^ RZA verified account on Rap Genius Archived 18 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed: 16 March 2012
  18. ^ GZA verified account on Rap Genius Archived 21 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed: 24 October 2014
  19. ^ Raekwon verified account on Rap Genius Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed: 24 October 2014
  20. ^ "Ghostface Killah". Genius. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  21. ^ No Church Wild Archived 29 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed: 16 January 2013
  22. ^ a b c "The Inside Story Of How Rap Genius Fired A Cofounder — And Just Raised $40 Million (Annotated!)". Business Insider. 12 July 2014. Archived from the original on 11 July 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  23. ^ "NMPA Targets Unlicensed Lyric Sites, Rap Genius Among 50 Sent Take-Down Notices". Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  24. ^ Sisario, Ben (6 May 2014). "Rap Genius Website Agrees to License With Music Publishers". Archived from the original on 29 December 2016 – via 
  25. ^ Lehman, Tom; Zechory, Ilan; Moghadam, Mahbod. "Rap Genius is Back on Google". Genius. Archived from the original on 20 May 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2016. 
  26. ^ a b "Google Has Officially Penalized Rap Genius For Link Schemes". Search Engine Land. 25 December 2013. Archived from the original on 25 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013. 
  27. ^ "Rap Genius Apologizes For Not-So-Genius SEO Spam Tactics". TechCrunch. 24 December 2013. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013. 
  28. ^ Marbach, John (23 December 2013). "RapGenius Growth Hack Exposed". Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013. 
  29. ^ "Open Letter to Google About Rap Genius SEO". Rap Genius. 24 December 2013. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013. 
  30. ^ "Rap Genius Back In Google After 10 Day Penalty, Ranks For Its Name But What About Lyrics?". Search Engine Land. 4 January 2014. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  31. ^ Gray, Tyler (13 May 2013). "91. Mahbod Moghadam: Cofounder, Rap Genius". Fast Company. Archived from the original on 18 January 2018. 
  32. ^ "The Genius out in the cold". The Yale Herald. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  33. ^ a b Plaugic, Lizzie (4 August 2015). "Genius finally launches an Android app, redesigns its website and iOS app". The Verge. Archived from the original on 24 December 2016. 
  34. ^ "Genius for iPhone is here!". Rap Genius. Archived from the original on 26 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  35. ^ Salmon, Felix. "Janet Yellen's first FOMC statement, annotated". Reuters. Archived from the original on 24 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  36. ^ "Rap Genius & Nas Breakdown "Illmatic" in its Entirety". Nas. 18 April 2014. Archived from the original on 4 May 2014. 
  37. ^ "Rap Genius rebrands itself 'Genius' as part of mission to 'annotate the world'". The Verge. Archived from the original on 12 July 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  38. ^ Constine, Josh (11 July 2014). "Rap Genius Raises $40M, Changes Name To Genius, Launches Embeddable Annotations". Tech Crunch. Archived from the original on 12 September 2014. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  39. ^ Kusisto, Laura (29 July 2014). "Gowanus Passes Sniff Test for Some Startups". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 30 July 2016. 
  40. ^ Clarke, Katherine (9 March 2015). "Creative office tenant snags big space at formerly abandoned Gowanus building". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 22 March 2017. 
  41. ^ a b c d e Lynch, John; Johnson, Hollis (24 October 2016). "A day in the life of Genius' Rob Markman, whose job working with artists may be one of the coolest gigs in music right now". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 26 October 2017. 
  42. ^ Platon, Adelle (4 November 2015). "Eminem To Invest In Genius: Exclusive". Billboard. Archived from the original on 25 June 2017. 
  43. ^ a b D'ONFRO, Jillian. "Kanye West Tried To Redesign Rap Genius". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 17 July 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  44. ^ a b Brandle, Lars (14 August 2015). "Genius Recruits Hip-Hop Journalist and Editor Rob Markman to Head Artist Relations". Billboard. Archived from the original on 17 July 2017. 
  45. ^ "Genius and The Post reunite to annotate the second Republican Presidential Debate". The Washington Post. 16 September 2015. Archived from the original on 29 July 2016. 
  46. ^ a b Westhoff, Ben (14 October 2015). "Is Genius and the art of annotation starting to come of age?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 July 2017. 
  47. ^ a b c Minsker, Evan. "Rick Rubin Annotates Kanye West, Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash Songs on Genius". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 24 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  48. ^ "A-Trak Reveals Process Behind Kanye West Songs "Gold Digger", "Stronger", "Robocop" on Genius". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 26 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  49. ^ Larry Fitzmaurice. "The-Dream Annotated Songs From Kanye West And Jay Z, Beyoncé, And More On Genius". The FADER. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  50. ^ "Eminem Annotates Lyrics for Genius: His 10 Best". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 21 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  51. ^ Michael Chabon verified account on Rap Genius Archived 22 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed: 14 May 2015
  52. ^ a b Beggs, Alex (2 November 2015). "Read Lin-Manuel Miranda's Genius Annotations for Hamilton". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on 8 June 2017. 
  53. ^ "The White House is Joining With Genius to Annotate History". Wired. Archived from the original on 11 January 2016. Retrieved 12 January 2016. 
  54. ^ Perez, Sarah (25 April 2017). "Spotify brings "Behind the Lyrics" to Android". TechCrunch. Archived from the original on 25 April 2017. 
  55. ^ a b Horgan, Richard (20 June 2016). "Mic's Regina Dellea Rejoins Colleague at Genius". Adweek. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017. 
  56. ^ a b "Genius Appoints Translation Founder Steve Stoute to Board of Directors". Billboard. 27 September 2016. Archived from the original on 22 November 2017. 
  57. ^ a b Etienne, Stefan (27 September 2016). "Translation CEO Steve Stoute joins Genius' board of directors". TechCrunch. Archived from the original on 17 September 2017. 
  58. ^ Butler, Bethonie (28 August 2016). "The story behind Logic's powerful suicide prevention anthem '1-800-273-8255'". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 21 September 2017. 
  59. ^ Centeno, Tony (1 July 2016). "Logic Shocks The Masses With His Surprise Mixtape 'Bobby Tarantino'". Vibe. Archived from the original on 17 September 2017. 
  60. ^ Chandler, D.L. (27 April 2017). "Wale Will Bless Fans With Releasing Shine Album One Week Early". Hip Hop Wired. Archived from the original on 16 May 2017. 
  61. ^ Lamarre, Carl (4 May 2017). "Genius to Kick Off 'Genius Level' Interview Series with The-Dream". Billboard. Archived from the original on 11 June 2017. 
  62. ^ Kwateng-Clark, Danielle (8 September 2017). "Issa Rae Is A Bit Surprised That Fans Love Her Hot Takes". Essence. Archived from the original on 9 September 2017. 
  63. ^ Penrose, Nerisha (29 August 2017). "Pusha T, Dej Loaf & More Headlining Genius' Debut IQ/BBQ Mini Festival". Billboard. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. 
  64. ^ Schiffer, Jessica (11 May 2017). "Genius makes a play for fashion with its debut of a namesake clothing line". Digiday. Archived from the original on 12 July 2017. 
  65. ^ "The Rap Map — Mapping the Gangsta Terrain of the Planet". Rap Genius. 21 February 1965. Archived from the original on 14 June 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2012. 
  66. ^ "About". Rap Genius. 9 August 2011. Archived from the original on 13 July 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2012. 
  67. ^ "Now You Can Get the Backstory on Your Favorite Spotify Songs". Archived from the original on 29 May 2016. 
  68. ^ a b McGauley, Joe (17 June 2016). "The Hidden Spotify Feature We're Obsessed With Right Now". Thrillist. Archived from the original on 25 October 2017. 

External links[edit]