Until a short time ago, I was sure that the line from Notorious B.I.G.’s 1995 rap classic “Big Poppa” was “Living better now/Gucci sweater now.”
I was not alone in this assumption. But when I recently had to write something about Ready to Die for EW, I pulled up the song’s entry on Rap Genius — the popular Wiki-style site that not only lists hip-hop lyrics but also explains them — and was stunned to learn that after all these years, Biggie was actually wearing a “Coogi sweater.”
And while a number of lyrics sites could’ve corrected me here, only one provided an annotation telling me that Coogi was the Australian clothing brand responsible for the “expensive multi-colored sweaters” that were “first popularized in the U.S. by Bill Cosby in the ‘80s.”
Rap Genius wants to offer its brand of CliffsNotes to more than just hip-hop, though. The site’s new mission is to archive and explain everything from indie rock to poetry to Biblical verses. And now they have the money to do it: earlier this month, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced a whopping $15 million investment in the project.
As Marc Andreessen wrote, the funding will help Rap Genius “generalize out to many other categories of text … annotate the world … be the knowledge about the knowledge … create the Internet Talmud.” A tall order, yes, but the site’s founders — college friends Mahbod Moghadam, Tom Lehman, and Ilan Zechory — are confident that they can pull it off.
Very confident. “Five years from now, we’ll have 5,000 employees, we’ll have gone public, and we’ll be the biggest site in the world,” Moghadam tells me when I visit the Williamsburg penthouse-apartment that currently serves as Rap Genius HQ. Moghadam isn’t afraid to make grand pronouncements (sample quotes include “It’s the reinvention of the printing press” and “I have this thing that is going to be the future of the written word”), speaking as though it was always obvious that the Internet’s future would come in the form of a rap-lyrics site.
“It’s changed the face of human knowledge,” he says of Rap Genius, before dialing it back just a notch: “I mean, so far it’s hip-hop knowledge. But no question, soon it’s going to be all of knowledge.”