“We’ve had stuff go viral, but I think it’s going to be the most viral thing of all time,” says Rap Genius cofounder Mahbod Moghadam. “In the 12 hours its been up, it’s gotten more social attention than ASAP Rocky’s ‘Fuckin’ Problems‘”–lyrics to the New York rapper’s hit song have been on Rap Genius for weeks.
It was Rap Genius super user Houston Barnett-Gearhart, 21, who took to the Andreessen Horowitz-backed site–it launched originally as an interactive tool to explain rap lyrics references–to try and makes sense of a screed left by Dorner. The ex-Los Angeles Police Department officer killed an LAPD officer and two other people on Feb. 7 (one was the daughter of a former police captain). A fourth person, a sheriff’s deputy, was killed during a shootout with Dorner on Tuesday when police surrounded a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains in California, where he was holed up.
Now comes the Rap Genius part.
Moghadam, his cofounders, and his backers have always envisioned the site as a tool for use for not only all kinds of lyrics but as guide to the world. And Barnett-Gearhart had a knack for explaining out-of-the-box subjects on Rap Genius. He first contacted the service to ask about annotating the transcript of presidential debates, Barnett-Gearhart says. He uploaded two of them. “It got popular very quick.” So he started uploading historic founding U.S. documents. “The Mayflower Compact was the obvious first choice.” Later he saw web scholar (and Rap Genius verified user) Clay Shirky talking about Rap Genius–he referenced Barnett-Gearhart’s Mayflower Compact explanation. “That’s when he reached out to us,” Moghadam says. He hired Barnett-Gearhart, who’s interested in Bible Study along with historical documents, to help start Bible Genius. “It was a sign from God,” Moghadam says. Bible Genius is one of several channels or offshoots Rap Genius is pursuing, along with law, poetry, rock music lyrics and more.
Moghadam calls a manifesto the “illest fit” for Rap Genius. But he says Barnett-Gearhart was the only person who could make sense–or speculate intelligently, at least–on a murderer’s manifesto. “Interestingly enough, the Dorner manifesto references religion a handful of times. But that’s not surprising. If you look at the thing (11,000 words long), it has references to everything–pop culture, political policy, philosophy, etc.” The reason it took off on Rap Genius, he says, has to do with the fact that it’s fresh in everyone’s minds. “It’s as current as a current event can get. I think that plus the fact it’s a text that works extremely well with the core function of Rap Genius–crowdsourced explanations–has lead to how popular it’s become.”
The Rap Genius entry for Dorner’s manifesto also proves the site’s scale. At the time of this post, ASAP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problems” lyrics has 112 Tweets, 735 Likes on Facebook, 30 G+ shares. Dorner’s manifesto has 146 Tweets, 1,000 Likes (and no G+’s yet).
“I’d like to look into other manifestos and compare ’em to Dorner’s and each other,” Barnett-Gearhart says. “But at the end of the day I’m getting Biblical.”