Shalom Life | September 18, 2014

Breakthrough Jew - Ilan Zechory

Zechory is one of the co-founders of popular annotation site, Rap Genius.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: September 19th, 2013 in Culture » Society » News

Hot, hip, and heady, the next wave of Jewish artists and influencers has already arrived. This is Breakthrough Jew, your weekly showcase of those on the verge of discovery and ready to be a regular figure in pop culture; setting trends, redefining genres, and simply getting it done-whatever ‘it’ is. These days, it’s not enough to know what’s hot now; you need to catch someone when they’re just starting to simmer.

Featuring those in film, fashion, food, and beyond, we’ll find the story before substance is obscured by style, before hype meets backlash, and before talent and purpose gets lost in a maze of Internet chatter. See an artist in the cozy bar before they hit the amphitheater, dine at a chef’s new restaurant before the line begins, and catch a young writer’s work before the demands of ratings and longevity encroach.

Follow our lead and we’ll follow yours – send us tips or suggestions via email, comment below or tweet us @ShalomLife, as we explore the Jewish landscape for pop culture pioneers.

Name: Ilan Zechory

Age: 29

Hometown: Detroit, Michigan

Breakthrough Cred: One of the co-founders of annotation website, Rap Genius

Ilan Zechory, at least by conventional standards, could be characterized as an “odd egg”. He attended Yale University with a focus on religious studies, graduating in 2006. For his senior thesis, Zechory chose to discuss a hermit who created his own religion in the ‘80’s.

Ivy league diploma in hand, Google came calling, where he worked as a project manager. Fast forward to July 2009, where Zechory found himself in an East Village apartment with two Yale pals, Mahbod Moghadam and Tom Lehman. The former was attempting to explain to the uninitiated latter, the complexities and metaphor of rapper Cam’ron’s lyrics. What spawned from that evening’s discourse, was the concept for Rap Genius.

“Rap Genius is... a lot of things. It's a Wikipedia of annotated texts that started out as a side project for annotating rap lyrics. It was just a few friends talking about rap lyrics and throwing out interpretations, interesting historical information, and poetic analysis. It quickly grew and expanded to music beyond rap, music in other languages, non-musical texts like poetry. Before we had 15 songs on the site, there was a Bob Dylan song. Before there were 50 songs, there was an Emily Dickenson poem. We started noticing that people interested in annotating rap were really interested in annotating lots of different stuff, not just rap. Rap was obviously a fruitful place to start for annotation because it is so dense - there's a lot of wordplay and reference and whatnot. So Rap Genius has grown and expanded into a platform for annotating all sorts of texts,” Zechory explained to Education Week.

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