Mahbod Moghadam of Rap Genius

F. Scott Fitzgerald once opined that there were “no second acts in American lives.” Similarly, Biz Markie once opined “’cause we all pick our boogers sometime every day.” If you’re already lost, allow me to explain. This is the story of a former Biglaw attorney and his second act. He and his friends started a website devoted to rap lyrics. The website annotates rap lyrics, and it’s this system of annotation that the founders of the website hope will take over the web (including legal research). The website was recently funded by venture capitalists, and the resulting hype has ping-ponged across the web at a pace so rapid that you’d be excused if you made like Steinski and wondered, “What does it all mean?” (affiliate link).

The interviews that have fed the myriad profiles of the site’s founders have been nothing short of entertaining. Just last week, Gawker was prompted to write a guide to the site, rapgenius.com, which managed to sound both condescending and wildly equivocating and which did nothing but illuminate the author’s squeamishness. This promises to not be like that. I don’t know if Rap Genius is going to be Wikipedia or Pets.com.

What I do know is that a Biglaw dropout just ganked $15 million from Marc Andreessen and wants to edge out Westlaw and Lexis (good luck with that).

Keep reading to find out where he went to law school and what firm he worked at. And if you want to see his shirtless YouTube diss track (no homo)….

Mahbod Moghadam is the Biglaw alumnus’s name. He’s a Stanford law grad who got deferred at the powerhouse law firm of former Dewey & LeBoeuf. He was profiled on ATL by Kashmir Hill a few years ago, when Rap Genius was merely a fledgling web concern, and that profile now stands as a sort of ridiculously hilarious beacon for the hilariously ridiculous performance art to come.

Each profile carries with it a sort of unhinged, manic quality that seems designed to alienate. From the hip-hop-ese (“you feel me?”) to the boasts and name-drops (Nas, 50 Cent, Snoop… Cat Power?), Moghadam strikes me as an overcaffeinated parody of everything that is grating about… well, everything. And it’s clear that Moghadam and his site have rubbed quite a few people the wrong way. Gawker’s post last week takes the cake for sounding serious and coming off sillier than all hell. Here are some stupid excerpts:

But if Rap Genius is as successful as it hopes to be, it will effectively re-write rap history, including songs and lyrics that have a secret meaning, or even no meaning at all. The site has begun to bring in rappers to annotate their own lyrics, but this would be an effective whitewashing of decades of art without the input of its creators or intended audience.

Another big issue with Rap Genius is that it trades on a particular noxious brand of humor that has infected the internet for years: white people “translating” rap lyrics in arch, academic prose.

Rap Genius nurtures a young, white-leaning user base that desperately wishes to do things like say the N-word. I once got an email from a RapGenius.com intern asking me why I don’t think it’s okay for white people to use that word.

A lot of the originators of rap music — many of whose lyrics provide part of the content that RapGenius’ business model is based on — are far from rich. Kool Herc, who maybe more than any one person can be said to have invented hip-hop, can’t afford required surgery, and when these kids are parading around in suits and fresh kicks it leaves a bad taste in a lot peoples’ mouths.

A quick riposte, if I may: Rap Genius won’t whitewash decades of art, and they aren’t responsible for stuff other people do. I think that about covers it.

But this isn’t about all the ways in which Rap Genius threatens to destroy rap music. It’s also about the ways in which Moghadam seeks to destroy Westlaw and Lexis. Moghadam explains his plans as follows:

“We are gonna do the dopest ads of all time,” Mr. Moghadam declared, but they have other potential revenue streams in mind as well. “Law firms will pay 100K a year for Law Genius Premium,” he insisted over email. “Lexis and Westlaw are jank—you go from one case to another and it’s sloppy and wack … Law Genius will be legal footnotes on crack! Also it can include ANYTHING … video, audio … instead of simply citing a Supreme Court case, you can embed the oral arguments!”

I’ve been kind to Moghadam and his crew so far. The more I read about him, the more I liked the anarchic quality and trollish way in which he went about things. But this thing? This beating the “jank” Lexis and Westlaw? Sure, Westlaw and Lexis aren’t perfect (although they’re pretty awesome and they advertise on ATL), but the chances that a crowd-sourced annotation site will supplant the two lodestars of legal research — and make a ton of fee-based money doing so — are nil. I don’t know if information wants to be free. It’s possible it just wants to be thinner. But I do know the potential information that Moghadam foresees amassing, whether by free contributors or paid ones, is not the type which will knock Westlaw and Lexis out of their current perches atop the legal research market. This nascent idea for the Rap Genius site has a Facebook page right now that features a Venn Diagram with Law Genius occupying the intersection of Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, and “Legal Texts.” One helluva VC pitch, maybe. But not the kind of proprietary powerhouse that will rake in premium fees.

And now we get to the shirtless diss track. Moghadam recorded a YouTube video dissing Das Racist. Is this something you might be interested in? Cool. After this colon:

One more note before I stop typing. I swore I’d fit the words “Talmudic” and “exegesis” into this post. I didn’t just fail you guys. I failed myself.

In the comments, freestyle.

Your Guide to RapGenius.com, the Controversial Rap Lyrics Site That Just Landed a $15 Million Investment [Gawker]
Mo’ Money for Rap Genius: Impish Ivy Leaguers Raise Millions for Internet Decoder Ring [BetaBeat]

Earlier: A ‘Genius’ Use of Deferral Time [Above The Law]


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