#AnnotateNYC (my first trip to genius.com)

#AnnotateNYC (my first trip to genius.com)

Earlier this month, I had the chance to visit the new genius.com HQ (on 3rd Street between Hoyt & Bond, just a few steps from the Gowanus Canal).

genius.com (aka rapgenius.com) allows users to annotate & interpret song lyrics, news stories, and any other form of text on the web.  It was launched in 2009 with a focus on hip-hop lyrics, and expanded in 2014 to cover other forms of media. This year, they moved to Gowanus, so I went by to check it out.

Although I’m not certainly not a hip-hop connoisseur, I love the idea of a community of people annotating, interpreting, and arguing about text. It’s a lot like an online version of the Talmud. Or a University of Chicago seminar. Or a committee mark-up of a piece of legislation.

So I’ve signed up, and tried my hand at my first two annotations.

For song lyrics, I’ve annotated “An Undoing World,” music by the Klezmatics, lyrics by Tony Kushner. I’ve been humming this haunting refugee’s hymn – which could be about a young Jewish girl fleeing Vienna in 1939, or a young Muslim girl fleeing Raqqa, Syria today – for weeks now. So I decided to sing it (in the annotation, I even linked the video; don’t worry, I’m keeping my day job) at our recent Brooklyn Hannukah menorah-lighting against hatred and Islamophobia. You can think of it as a “downvote” on Trump.

And for news, I marked-up The New York Times Op Ed that Richie Torres and I had published this week, What Would it Take to Integrate Our Schools?, about efforts to confront painful, stubborn persistence of segregation in our public schools … and some concrete steps we can take to do something about it. The annotation adds a bit more context, and a lot more resources. I also wanted to highlight the great work of the District 3 Equity in Education Task Force, a group of parents and advocates fighting for school integration on the Upper West Side (who unfortunately wound up on the editorial cutting-room floor for the original piece).   

You can see that annotation two ways:

-- On the genius.com website here.

-- Or, Genius has a very cool “annotate the web” feature, where you can see the mark-up of the article in its native form, simply by placing “genius.it/” in front of the URL. For that, you need to use the web-browser Chrome, or download the Bookmarklet extension. If you have Chrome or Bookmarklet, paste the following into your web-brower:


The best things I’ve seen on genius.com – by far – is the annotation of the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. If, like me, you are part of the Hamilton craze (seen the musical, bought the soundtrack, read the Chernow biography, etc), then the genius.com annotation is, well, a work of sheer genius. And you’ll see that Lin-Manuel is an active annotator.

Not sure how much annotation I’ll do, but let me know what you think.  And if you’re interested, join me on genius.com, and let’s start to #AnnotateNYC.

If you don’t know, now you know.

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