Monday, March 25, 2013

Rap Genius and Black Literature

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Rap Genius is not just for rap fans. The website, made popular for its explanations of rap music, has now ventured into providing detailed explanations for literary texts. Using the same crowd-sourced annotation platform, Rap Genius allows for its users to break down literary texts and help clarify the importance of language usage, historical context, and thematic content in poems, speeches, essays, and novels.

My interests reside in the growing number of African American texts and the collaborative efforts of users describing literature. In many respects, Rap Genius’s social media network encourages its editors to become active producers of knowledge instead of just recipients of literary criticism/explanations.

Actually, Rap Genius also aids in raising the online visibility of black literature by providing a central database where users can access and engage texts through explanations. The multimedia annotations ranging from images, videos, sound bites, and text provide numerous avenues to connect to black texts.

For instance, browsing the Rap Genius’s database I stumbled upon a number of Langston Hughes’s poetry. My senior year of college, I took a seminar on Langston Hughes, and I wonder how a website like Rap Genius would have aided in my understanding and engagement of Hughes poetry as my classmates and I could have used the site as an entry point to analyzing specific lines in his poems as well as actively annotating selections we discussed in class.  

Below, I have provided links to some popular Hughes poems to show how users have been active in explaining the work of a notable black writer:


  1. Thanks for drawing attention to the pedagogical and interpretive promises of Rap Genius. This democratic space builds on the pioneering work of George Landow with hypertext. It promotes an expansive form of cultural literacy, because the accuracy and limits of some annotations are subject to scrutiny. Some users will assume Rap Genius provides THE ANSWER. Others will recognize that Rap Genius provides an occasion for research and skepticism. The most enterprising among us will use Rap Genius as a starting point for constructing individual sites. Whether Rap Genius will be able to deal with long forms --novels and plays--remains an open question.

  2. you've also got to check out "Harlem Sweeties" on Rap Genius!