Investment in annotating the internet

Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz. Photo by Reuters.
Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz. Photo by Reuters.
If you have ever wondered what some vague rap lyric means, there there could be a site coming your way soon.

My memory of a Christmas in Auckland was driving my son's vehicle down Queen St to pick him up from work with some rapper MP3 playing very loudly. The day was hot, the windows were open and I could not find the volume control. At a very busy intersection, I was greeted with quite strange looks as I rapped away waiting for the lights to change.

Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz is famous for starting his blog posts with rap lyrics. Now, he will be putting his money into the mix.

His firm, Andreessen Horowitz, announced last week a $US15 million ($NZ18.3 million) investment in Rap Genius, a website using crowdsourcing to dig into and explain arcane details of rap lyrics.

Think of Rap Genius as the Talmud, Horowitz said in a phone interview, referring to the Jewish text that interprets the Old Testament.

As an example, Horowitz cited a Lil Wayne lyric, "real G's move in silence like lasagna". Click on it, and Rap Genius explains the singer is referring to gangsters and the silent g in lasagne.

"If you don't get it, don't be ashamed," reads the Rap Genius note accompanying the line.

"Questlove from The Roots didn't either."

Embedded in the note is a Tweet from the musician known as Questlove citing the lyric with the question #AmIGettinold?

The company is slowly spreading to other categories, such as literature, political speeches, and science papers.

"We think the community will continue to expand beyond rap into all culture," wrote Horowitz's colleague, Marc Andreessen, in a blog post announcing the investment.

It would be interesting to see some analysis of political speeches both in New Zealand and elsewhere to find out exactly what politicians actually meant when they delivered a speech - or a denial. Given the furore around whether Act New Zealand leader John Banks did or did not remember receiving donations for his mayoral campaign from Kim Dotcom, and whether Prime Minister John Key did or did not get briefed about a spying campaign on Dotcom, it would be handy to have Rap Genius providing an interpretation.

Horowitz first met Rap Genius' co-founders Mahbod Moghadam, Ilan Zechory and Tom Lehman last year when he visited business mentoring programme Y Combinator which they were attending. The three had met as undergraduates at Yale University.

It is not immediately clear how Rap Genius will make money; Horowitz called the company's business model "TBD" (or To Be Determined).

"If they succeed in the mission, and they end up annotating the internet, there's a huge audience for that," Horowitz said.

At that point, a path to revenue would emerge, he added.

Andreessen Horowitz, founded three years ago, announced in January it had raised a $US1.5 billion fund, its third. It has invested in some of the country's hottest start-ups, including online bulletin board Pinterest and social-networking site Facebook.