Business

Rap Genius cofounder forced out over insensitive comments about Santa Barbara shooting

Image Credit: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Annotation service startup Rap Genius announced today that it has ended its relationship with cofounder Mahbod Moghadam.

Over the weekend, Moghadam participated in annotating a 141-page manifesto from Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old who shot and murdered six people and injured many others earlier this week. As ValleyWag points out, Moghadam’s comments were beyond insensitive, as he called the manifesto “beautifully written” and said Rodger’s sister was likely “smokin’ hot” and part of the reason for the shooting.

Rap Genius cofounder and CEO Tom Lehman said in a statement that Moghadam officially resigned from the company, but I imagine there’s more to the story than that.

Here’s a portion of Lehman’s statement, including the rationale for Moghadam’s departure:

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.

Rap Genius’ service originally started as a way for songwriters to annotate their lyrics for fans but has since expanded into annotating other written works. The group made headlines after obtaining a $15 million funding round from seasoned investment firm Andreessen Horrowitz over a year ago.

This isn’t first time the company’s founders have said something that turned heads. First there was the suggestion that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg fellate one of them — which they apologized for on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt last year. In the same apology, the founders also said a slew of very strange things, which VentureBeat rounded up. (Personally, I’ve always viewed them as a real-life version of wantrepreneur Jean-Ralphio — the sometimes business partner of Parks and Recreation character Tom Haverford.)

VentureBeat has reached out to Rap Genius investors for further comment and will update this post with any new information surrounding Moghadam’s departure.


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8 comments
Karrie Sullivan
Karrie Sullivan

Call me cynical but I smell PR stunt fueled by VC pressure to increase user-base.

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke

This was not an issue of political correctness but wierdness

Andrew Ryan
Andrew Ryan

I think it's taboo. Though it could be something that might offer benefits if explored. Maybe rap genius is not the correct platform. On the other side, his co-founders are well within their rights to protect their interests.

Zach Petersen
Zach Petersen

Erik, that doesn't fit the gun control narrative that is being pushed.