The following is a first-person account about Rap Genius in the classroom, by 11th-grader Louis Lafair of Austin, Texas.
I’m a high school student in one of the first English courses in the country to use Rap Genius. We’ve already worked on several different novels, from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and poems, from Williams’ “The Yachts” to Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.”
When I first heard that we were using Rap Genius, I was somewhat perplexed. I didn’t know much about rap, and yet there we were, annotating The Great Gatsby on a hip hop site. Soon, though, I became thoroughly intrigued. We weren’t actually discussing hip hop, but instead using Rap Genius’s collaborative annotation platform to explain works of literature.
In the most general sense, the site has taken me beyond the classroom. While my English teacher alone used to read my papers, my work’s now available to a much larger community. A single set of eyes has transformed into hundreds of views from Facebook and Twitter. Ideas that used to sit, forgotten, in Times New Roman, 12 point font, double spaced papers, are now part of a permanent database of knowledge.
Bringing English class into the 21st century, Rap Genius has allowed me to explore visual rhetoric; I can use images and videos to enhance my annotations. For example, I annotated Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” using a variety of multimedia, which illustrated my arguments far more effectively than mere text.
Even for traditional papers, my posts on Rap Genius serve as “pre-writing” exercises to test ideas and formulate larger, intertextual arguments. For instance, I used excerpts from my posts on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when writing about the choice between two forms of insanity: disillusionment, on the one hand, and awareness of a haunting truth, on the other.
All in all, Rap Genius has made English a more engaging, dynamic experience. What’s normally just a class (albeit an important one) is now an opportunity for me, and other students, to actively contribute to something much larger.
When Mahbod, one of the founders of Rap Genius, noticed some of my posts (e.g., Could Gatsby be Black? and The Invisible Servants), he promoted me to editor status on the site. (In addition to myself—Louis Lafair, AKA LeFlair—several of my classmates were promoted as well, including AlyDaBoss and NotoriousMER.) I’ve remained actively involved in the site, helping draft the Poetry Brain Editing Guidelines and contributing to some of the ideas in Rap Genius for Educators.
Already, there’s tangible, digital proof of students on Rap Genius making a difference. And there’s much more to come.