Rap Genius cofounder Mahbod Moghadam resigned from both the company and its board of directors, effective immediately, after leaving inappropriate annotations on the manifesto by Elliot Rodgers, the alleged Santa Barbara shooter.
In response to questions from Valleywag yesterday, Moghadam apologized about the bizarre and disturbing commentary he left on Rodger's horrifying manifesto. Rap Genius allows anyone to annotate a snippet to text. In his explanations, Moghadam applauded Rodger's writing and commented on the attractiveness of Rodger's sister. Before it was removed, one annotation said: "MY GUESS: his sister is smokin hot"
I was fascinated by the fact that a text was associated with such a heartbreaking crime, especially since Elliot is talking about my neighborhood growing up
I got carried away with making the annotations and making any comment about his sister was in horrible taste, thankfully the rap genius community edits out my poor judgement, I am very sorry for writing it
Re/code has the full statement from CEO and cofounder Tom Lehman. Moghadam, Lehman, and a third cofounder, Ilan Zechory, were all classmates at Yale University. They raised $16 million from Andreessen Horowitz, the storied Silicon Valley venture capital firm, to expand their website annotating hip hop lyrics into the "Internet Talmud" by crowd-sourcing explanations for poetry, music, legal documents, classic literature, and the news.
When I first met the cofounders in the fall of 2012 at their Williamsburg penthouse, Moghadam told me that Rap Genius planned to make money through advertising and merchandise. But since raising $16 million, the startup has mostly made trouble for its benefactor Ben Horowitz, who also sits on the company's board.
Horowitz is known for starting his blog posts about leadership and finance with rap lyrics and brought the company to Marc Andreessen's attention. The firm managed to stay silent on Moghadam's antics in the past, including tweeting "I'mma rape you in your mouth cuz" to a music critic at Spin magazine.
Moghadam also told Mark Zuckerberg to "Suck his dick" after the Facebook CEO objected to Instagram photos of an evening at Horowitz's house. The rapper Nas, a friend of Horowitz, was also present that night.) After these regularly recurring outburst, Moghadam tends to issue an effusive apology. Last October, he blamed the last of impulse control on a brain tumor which has since been removed.
Moghadam's departure from the board is strong signal that Rap Genius and its investors want to distance themselves from that kind of behavior, which they have previously brushed off as some kind of swaggy performance art. But Moghadam hasn't been the only source of bad press. Around Christmas, Google severely punished Rap Genius for using spammy SEO tactics to get its content at the top of the search engine.
In that case, however, it was an email from Moghadam that spilled the startup's SEO secret. Moghadam promised a fellow Y Combinator alum "MASSIVE traffic," if he embedded Rap Genius links about Justin Bieber's new album in the bottom of a post. Google began its investigation into Rap Genius shortly after Moghadam's solicitous email was published.
Yesterday the Rap Genius community annotated Elliot Rodger's manifesto on News Genius. Because this tragedy is still so raw, there was internal debate as to whether this document belonged on the site at all. Ultimately we decided that it was worthy of close reading – understanding the psychology of people who do horrible things can help us to better understand our society and ourselves.
The current version of the annotated document is far from great, but the hope is that the annotations will improve over time as the story unfolds and it will eventually be a good resource for people looking to understand this tragedy.
Almost all the annotations were at least attempting a close reading – they were genuinely, though imperfectly, trying to add context to the text and make it easier to understand.
However, Mahbod Moghadam, one of my co-founders, annotated the piece with annotations that not only didn't attempt to enhance anyone's understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny. All of which is contrary to everything we're trying to accomplish at Rap Genius.
Were Mahbod's annotations posted by a new Rap Genius user, it would be up to our community leaders, who set the tone of the site and our approach to annotation, to delete them and explain to the new user why they were unacceptable.
Were Mahbod's annotations posted by a Rap Genius moderator, that person would cease to be an effective community leader and would have to step down.
And Mahbod, our original community leader, is no exception. In light of this, Mahbod has resigned – both in his capacity as an employee of the company, and as a member of our board of directors, effective immediately.
Mahbod is my friend. He's a brilliant, creative, complicated person with a ton of love in his heart. Without Mahbod Rap Genius would not exist, and I am grateful for all he has done to help Rap Genius succeed. But I cannot let him compromise the Rap Genius mission – a mission that remains almost as delicate and inchoate as it was when we three founders decided to devote our lives to it almost 5 years ago.
Co-Founder & CEO
After the news broke, Moghadam seemed contrite:
I want to apologize to everyone. I need to hear these criticisms, reflect for real, and work on becoming a better person
— Mabode (@mahbodmoghadam) May 26, 2014
— bhorowitz (@bhorowitz) May 26, 2014
This post has been updated to include more information and to note Moghadam's role in the SEO investigation. To contact the author, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Image via Getty]