Genius invades iPhones

By Luke Nozicka

IPhone users can now carry their own handheld rapper in their pockets.

Rap Genius is a website launched in October 2009 allows users to upload, annotate and better understand hip-hop/rap lyrics, poetry and other texts. The company unveiled its new iOS application on Jan. 28. Shawn Setaro, Rap Genius executive editor, said hip-hop lyrics are sometimes stereotyped.

“(You’ll hear) stereotypes like, ‘oh it’s just people bragging’ or ‘oh it’s just materialism’ or whatever,” he said.


The idea for Rap Genius originated while founders Tom Lehman, Mahbod Moghadam and Ilan Zechory were arguing about Cam’ron lyrics.

“And they thought, ‘well, wouldn’t it be cool to have a way of sharing this information with people and built kind of proto type version of it that night,’” Setaro said. “It was sort of just a handful of friends annotating stuff and grew very, very quickly.”

Setaro said Genius is a way for fans to look deeper into their favorite songs. The app searches a user’s iTunes, finds song lyrics provided on the site and displays them while listening, along with several other features.

“It has a Shazam style recognition technology as well where if there’s a song playing you can find it on Rap Genius,” he said.

As a user clicks on annotated lyrics, a note pops up with different users’ feedback as to what the lyrics may mean. On the annotations, transcribers can share the annotation, view the author of the edits, leave a suggestion and rate the annotation good or bad.

As users post frequent interesting and meaningful annotations, they earn what the site calls ‘Rap IQ.’ Many big name artists such as A$AP Rocky, Nas and Wale use verified accounts on Genius to annotate their own work.

Setaro said the iOS application has been under development for more than a year and has received positive feedback.


“We really wanted to get it right, we took a long time,” he said. “The response has been amazing.”

The application has five stars with 1,150 reviews, meaning more than 95% of the ratings were five stars.

“We have other people on our tech team who oversee the release of other apps and they said they’ve never seen anything like this in terms of the kind of reception it was getting,” he said.

The site provides applications like Rap Stats, a graph that allows users to search for a word used in songs. The app then shows how frequently that word has been used in lyrics throughout history.

Another feature is the Rap Map, which is run through Google Earth and allows users to view specific places that are important or referred to in rap lyrics.

Setaro said one of the highest searched songs is “Mercy” by Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz.

The site receives tens of millions of views per month and people around the world use it, he said.

“People were using it in southeast Asia, in Africa…all over the world,” Setaro said.

Genius has three other channels besides Rap Genius — Rock Genius, Poetry Genius and News Genius. The poetry channel also features literature and news also features historical texts, Setaro said.

Luke Nozicka can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter at @LukeNozicka, or 536-3311 ext. 268.