A Genius Idea

I blame Star Trek Beyond. I feel like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” is haunting and taunting me! I went to see Star Trek with my husband last weekend, and when the song came on,  I was reminded of a really cool lesson on illustrating the “scholarship as conversation” frame.

As I was reading ACRL’s Instruction Section’s Spring 2016 Newsletter this past May, and I came across an intriguing lesson idea submitted by Tim Miller, a librarian at Humboldt State University, “Citations & Hip-Hop: Using Genius to Illustrate Scholarship as Conversation.” You can find the article at the link above on page 2, but I also have included it below.

This semester I’ve been participating in a book circle on Emery Petchauer’s Hip-Hop Culture in College Students’ Lives. Our first discussion coincided with an upcoming workshop that I facilitate on citations & plagiarism that I was also in the process of revamping. While discussing the symbolism behind Boogie Down Productions’ 1990 album, Edutainment, I was struck by the similarities between the asynchronous conversations within hip-hop and academic writing. I’m not a huge hip-hop fan, but I decided to delve in and put this idea to practice using another song from that era: Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

Hip-hop music incorporates sampling (using audio snippets) and is filled with references to other songs, lyrics and imagery. Genius, the online song lyric knowledge base and annotation tool, provides a visual representation of these references by incorporating interactive features that allow users to create annotations alongside the text of the lyrics. These annotations provide explanations and context in the form of comments, hyperlinks and images. I purposely chose “Fight the Power” because it is particularly rich with samples, references and imagery that not only provide a background to the meaning behind the song but also point listeners to artists and individuals who inspired the song.

The imagery within Genius helps demonstrate that references in hip-hop create a conversation akin to scholarship: a conversation that is ongoing and unfinished. Just within the intro and first verse there is a variety of examples, including: a link to the music video (with its own visual references), an image of the single for James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” a link to The Soul Children’s “I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To,” and a movie poster to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, for which the song was written. Genius makes these references come to life by incorporating comments, images and sound – all added by the various Genius users participating in the conversation. (Miller, 2016, p.2).

I would actually really love to do this as a workshop. I think it’s because of my history background; I did a lot of classes related to slavery and Civil Rights, and my interest in social justice. I will definitely keep this idea on my radar. I emailed Tim to let him know how much I enjoyed reading his piece in the newsletter. He let me know that he also uses Genius “to annotate an online article for my workshop on reading academic articles. It is a very easy way to add instructive elements into a webpage. I may explore using it with [LibGuides] to create virtual tours for our online programs” (T. Miller, personal communication, May 9, 2016).

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