Since its start in rap and hip-hop lyrics, Rap Genius has branched out to explaining rock songs, poetry, and news. Its broad focus is what led users on subsection "News Genius" to begin annotating Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger's 140-page manifesto and autobiography — an extremely delicate task, given that Rodger killed six and injured over a dozen more over Memorial Day weekend. Now, Rap Genius co-founder Mahbod Moghadam has resigned after posting remarks that company CEO Tom Lehman says displayed "gleeful insensitivity and misogyny."
While many annotations added detail about names and places, and others psychoanalyzed Rodger himself, some of Moghadam's now-deleted comments proved deeply tone-deaf. Archived on Gawker, they include two annotations praising Rodger's work as "beautifully written" and "artful;" in another comment, he speculates that the killer's sister is "smokin hot." After sites called attention to his posts, Moghadam issued an apology. "I got carried away with making the annotations and making any comment about his sister was in horrible taste," he said. "Thankfully the Rap Genius community edits out my poor judgement, I am very sorry for writing it."
"I cannot let him compromise the Rap Genius mission."
A post by Lehman, however, shows that things have gone further: Moghadam has resigned from his position as a company employee and a member of the board of directors. Moghadam "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," says Lehman. "All of which is contrary to everything we're trying to accomplish at Rap Genius."
Moghadam's comments were in reprehensibly bad taste, but Lehman's statement hints that this is also damage control for the site's reputation at large. While a portion of the overall comments on Rodger's manifesto were helpful context — Moghadam, who is personally familiar with the neighborhoods Rodger describes, left some of them — Lehman acknowledges that there's a great deal of noise. Some annotations simply link to pages about movies or TV shows referenced in the document. Others are clear misreadings, like speculation that Rodger's childhood friends "George and David" are actually George Lucas and David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Lehman admits that the current version is "far from great," though "the hope is that the annotations will improve over time." But in contrast to Moghadam's comments, "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." Lehman's closing statement in particular suggests that he doesn't want this to cast a shadow over News Genius' reputation. "Without Mahbod Rap Genius would not exist, and I am grateful for all he has done to help Rap Genius succeed," he says. "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 five years ago."