A Rap Genius Interview
Mahbod Moghadam is one of the three guys behind Rap Genius, the “Wikipedia-like” site for rap lyrics that recently got $15 million of investment money. I met Mahbod (on the left) through the internet the other day, and emailed him these questions (all at once, or I’d have responded more appropriately).
Mahbod, it was nice to meet you, and thanks for the wine and guacamole.
Guac it out homie! Thank you for chillin’ with me.
Yesterday when I came over to the Rap Genius HQ because of a joke someone else made on Twitter, you were doing yoga to YouTube videos, I think. Do you do a lot of yoga? Do you regularly invite people over from Twitter??
I’m trying to get into yoga. I’m trying to invite people from Twitter…
Can profiting off other people’s rap ever feel as good as making good rap yourself? I feel that way sometimes — that there’s never enough money, page views, RTs, or “creative new takes” to erase that inherently parasitic dynamic. Creator/observer. I’d rather create the thing than create a thing about the thing, but maybe that’s selfish or pathetic.
I dunno, we built an entire edifice, also I have a lot of my OWN raps explained on the site (poems too): rapgenius.com/artists/maboo.
Besides, commentary is the deuxieme degree of rap. These days I barely do any commentary, either, I just try to motivate my young geniuses.
I like Rap Genius, because it’s at a very basic level helpful, and in theory it encourages people to think and argue, although I guess the arguments and thought processes can get ugly, and that’s a problem. (More here.) But I don’t know. The more I talked to people about it, the more riled up they got. People have a lot of feelings about music! But I see RG as like a book about a painting. Or like if there were a painting where you could press on parts of it (the ship, a red blob), and those parts would flip around or light up to say information about the artist, the name of the paint color, the brush they used, any relevant historic context, etc. But if you didn’t touch it, it would still just be the whole painting.
Rap Genius is the couple with the boy’s hand slowly going up the girl’s skirt at the museum. It’s not *really* even about the painting, it’s about sex.
I used Rap Genius the other day to figure out a word in a song I like, and it meant a blanket that people ejaculate into.
You mean “combat jack”? (A “combat jack” is when a fighter masturbates just before a fight to get pumped.) We were just on his show too! (The dude named after the cum-blanket.)
Funny you should bring this up because I was remembering to myself today that when I was younger, I thought cum was so dirty, like feces (now I don’t mind it). I would NEVER cum into a blanket, however.
[Note: It was ‘skeet blanket.’] Plus the people getting bent out of shape over you profiting from other people’s work (among other things) … again, I don’t know. This is what’s hardest for me to articulate, but I feel like the artists who aren’t financially secure could be frustrated by your success, but it would always be from a higher-up vantage point, since they know what it feels like to be the creator. Like patting or bopping you on your heads, or being like “aw, those fighting puppies are cute.” Because at the end of the day they made that music, and the people who use RG are like the chickens scurrying around fighting over the kernels that they threw down. In a good way. That’s like three messy metaphors, I know. And maybe all three are stupid, because I don’t understand enough. The only “problem” being that you’re making more money — IT SEEMS! are you? and I know it’s complicated — than some of them. Or so I’ve read / been told. I’m not an expert on this. What do you think? And maybe that’s fair! You know? Because you came up with this idea. I don’t know!
I FEEL YOU!!!! I dunno, we worked hard and built an entire edifice. We don’t get to be considered as “cool” as them. Also what about Twitter? Heems [of Das Racist] is Tweeting all day, and they don’t give him shit, at least I offered him free weed and stuff…
How do you feel about Das Racist breaking up?
Das Racist did something nobody else did in hip-hop. We have beef with them, but whatever, I respect their originality, I am honored that they were the first to diss us on wax! I just wish they’d hit the gym and get their shit together!
But also: Would you consider donating money to, say, Kool Herc, or to hip-hop pioneers who didn’t make a lot of money off it the way you have, and have been publicly strapped for cash (like when he needed but couldn’t afford medical attention)?
Sure! I would do ANYTHING to meet Kool Herc.
DO you have a lot of money to throw around?
I have enough to take you to sushi all the time, Edith. But the $15M is to build Law Genius, Country Genius, etc. — also Kool Herc doesn’t even have a Rap Genius account yet.
We didn’t build the site to make money … we built it for therapy, to meet Cam’ron, and for fun. So it’s hard to mull over these things, but I’m not going to give some dude sugar out of nowhere, I’d love to give him an honorarium for rapping at the RG holiday party, tho…
Does money make you happy?
I don’t even care about it that much. I got some Prada shoes but whatever, I had expensive Italian shoes before we ever started Rap Genius (now I have more, that’s all).
What do you like to do most?
I like to work out.
What do you think you’re best at?
I have some good “jeu de mots” and I’ve been told that I kiss with passion and “jouissance.”
You’re fascinating and a little inscrutable. What percentage of your diss tracks are jokes? For instance, this one.
That particular freestyle is 0% joke — NYTimes is Carlos Slim’s ho.
What’s your favorite drink?
I like Laphroaig because the name reminds me of “Le Frog” — it makes me ribbit.
I’m also a big fan of Evian, it tastes like a cum-blanket, but I’m convinced it makes you glow…
I was asking a friend who knows more about rap than I do over IM about what questions to ask you, and he said to see if you’d ever “prostrate [yourself] before KRS ONE and ask forgiveness.” Would you?
I would def love to chill with him and have fun! I don’t think KRS would want me to get all prostration with him, though.
I also just looked it up to make sure I was thinking of the right definition, and it could either be in submission or adoration. So I guess it could also be a sexual thing, depending on your preferences.
I don’t think any rapper wants me to do a whole prostate situation — but if I could, I would cut off a thumb to meet KILLA Cam’ron, since he is my favorite rapper of all time. We started the site to meet him. (I already met Gucci Mane, who is my other favorite rapper of all time.) Gucci Mane was all like “why did you appropriate meeee!!” (JK, he loved the site and was honored that we are parsing his charming, if cryptic, poetic language.)
UPDATE: [Rap Genius co-founder] Ilan [Zechory] met Cam yesterday!!! Game over.
Rap Genius is also on Twitter.