Wednesday, December 19, 2012

RapGenius as a space for sharing expertise

By Simone Savannah

It is important to give people the language to participate in a particular discourse. What I found most valuable in working as the Graduate Assistant for the Survivor Advocacy Program at Ohio University was giving students the language to talk about sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking. Just as the Survivor Advocacy Program empowered students, RapGenius is a space in which many people are able to share their expertise through accessible language.

RapGenius allows people to break down song lyrics and share those annotations with an audience. The annotations serve as excellent tools for those who would like to learn more or speak about particular songs. Furthermore, the site is a gateway for gaining rap literacy. Professors, including Howard Rambsy, find the site useful for guiding students in rap lyric explications in poetry courses.

Moreover, the site provides a space for talking about and studying African American poetry. Having poetry on the site, I believe, is a constant reminder of the relationship between rap and poetry. Visitors may find themselves invested in the line enjambments in Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” or the geological and historical references in Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Trippin (There May Be a Reason Why)” after reading the interpretation of Nas’ personal and political song, “Daughters.”

I find that language is particularly valuable to studying African American poetry. There are particular ways of addressing African American poetry. For example, the tone in Langston Hughes’ “Po’ Boy Blues” should be viewed and explicated through a blues lens. Some may be hesitant to study this type of literature because they do not have the language or are afraid that they are not able to acquire the language. The annotations provided for the rap lyrics and poems on RapGenius serve as tools for access, for using, and for acquiring a particular language.

Furthermore, explicating a poem that one has not discussed in class or with others may be a nerve-racking experience. However, having annotations that provide the meaning of lines, stanzas, and phrases in African American poetry on hand may give readers the confidence to interpret a poem as well as talk about its significance, especially as it may relate to rap music. Additionally, because of this accessibility, the site allows and encourages visitors to participate in the literary side of poetry. RapGenius pushes visitors of all types to perform close readings, or think critically about poetry. Moreover, having various readings prompts an ongoing conversation on an often neglected field. As a Hip Hop Wikipedia, people are able to constantly add to the conversation and challenge each other’s’ thinking about particular pieces. The site allows people to think differently or develop new ideas about African American poetry and its relationship to our everyday (rap) music choices.

Additionally, my goal is to make my critical writing accessible to academics as well as people “outside of academia” who are interested in black writing. For example, when writing blog posts on poetry for the Project on the History of Black Writing, I sometimes find myself looking to submissions on RapGenius to help guide my writing. Additionally, RapGenius helps me figure out lines that I find hard to decipher.

The site provides a real space for “students” to provide and receive knowledge on both rap and poetry that can be used in multiple spaces, including the classroom and blogs dedicated to rap and poetry scholarship. It makes the discourse on African American poetry accessible for those interested in presenting/discussing African American poetry as well as those who simply desire the knowledge. People who never thought they could participate in an explication of African American poetry may find that they actually can by providing pictures and words as annotations. By including African American poetry on the site, visitors/explicators may find that they are not only able to add to a rap conversation, but may have something to offer to conversations on African American poetry as well.

Simone Savannah is a graduate student in the English department at the University of Kansas, where she works with the Project on the History of Black Writing.  

A Notebook on RapGenius

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