October 8th, 2012 | University

Yale entrepreneurs translate rap lyrics

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Photo by Marek Ramilo.

Have you ever struggled to wrap your mind around one of the many metaphors in Lupe Fiasco’s lyrically-dense “Form Follows Function”? What about trying to understand what Kanye West means when he says “Lamborghini Mercy”?

So have we.

A website created by three Yale alums aims to alleviate those headaches. Rapgenius.com — which was made in 2009 by Mahbod Moghadam ’04, Tom Lehman ’06 and Ilan Zechory ’06 — provides hip-hop and music fans a way to explore the more nuanced side of their favorite songs’ lyrics. The website has already garnered significant attention, and recently attracted a $15 million investment from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

The site features annotated song lyrics that hope to clarify the artist’s ideas and explain any allusions, metaphors or special terminology. It is also known for its use of bright fonts on a black page as well as users and artists — including Nas, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar — with verified accounts.

In an interview with the News, Zechory said the content is entirely “100 percent user-generated,” adding that some artists may send their thoughts on the lyrics, but that the majority of content comes from users posting their own interpretations.

The founders added that they hope to expand their online annotation concept to legal briefs, lecture notes and all forms of literary art, including music, poetry and prose.

“Right now, we’ve got great explanations, but they’re more at the high school level and we’re trying to get to the college or even Ph.D. level,” said Moghadam. “We’ve got to get [Yale Professor of Comparative Literature] Peter Brooks to explain Great Expectations. We think of ourselves as the Talmud of the Internet.”

Thus far, the website seems to show promise — it has already released explanations of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Plato’s cave allegory.