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RapGenius Builds Web Community For Rap Lyrics

Rapgenius Rap Genius has been getting a new wave of press coverage lately and, though I'm not sure what kicked it off, it's easy to see why the site gets attention. The basic concept is to offer informed explanations of rap lyrics defined and refined by volunteers but it clearly is more than that with even more potential.

I spoke with Rap Genius cofounders Mahbod Moghadam and Tom Lehman who, along with Ilan Zechory, launched as Rap Exegesis in late 2009. The site has since received bursts of media attention and, in some respects, hasn't quite gotten out of hobby mode though it's quite a serious hobby!

Rap Genius features rap lyrics with explanations of the lyrics that are developed and maintained by what Moghadam termed "handpicked editors" along with a bunch of other participants. These folks are rewarded with Rap IQ points for their contributions which are displayed wherever they are identified on the site, from explanation credits to forum discussions to profile pages.

I haven't spent a huge amount of time on the site but I'm generally impressed by the quality of the lyrics and explanations. I might quibble with some details or writing styles but I appreciate encountering a popular hip hop site in which the lyrics to Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci" aren't dismissed out of hand based on web rumors and incorrect assumptions though I should point out that Marin is the county north of San Francisco as opposed to a suburb of that great city!

Other features of the site include Video Breakdowns, inspired by VH1's Pop Up Videos except that they're a lot cooler cause they don't make that annoying pop up sound and the info is to the side of the video rather than obscuring it. Also worth noting are a very active forum, the Rap Map and a well-done blog that supports the overall concept of the site.

It's easy to see how this combination of elements leads to what Moghadam considers two key metrics for the site, traffic from search engines and deep user engagement.  They also have a variety of ideas for expanding the site including involving more artists and expanding into other texts.

Tom Lehman built the site and has been the only programmer. One of his inspirations has been the programming site Stack Overflow which, for example, employs a user rating system in which they acquire Karma points as opposed to Rap IQ.

Lehman also informed me that he'd like to bring in some talented, enthusiastic programmers who would enjoy getting involved with the site. If that's you, you can contact him at: tom(at)rapgenius(dot)com.

Hypebot contributor Clyde Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. He is currently relaunching Flux Research to pursue his long-standing obsession with web business models. To suggest music services and related topics for review at Hypebot, please contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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