A new home for hip-hop at U.Va.

Asst. Prof. A.D. Carson discusses background, plans for the year


Asst. Prof. of Hip-Hop and the Global South A.D. Carson

Courtesy AD Carson | Cavalier Daily

The University’s McIntire Department of Music recently added a new professor to the faculty — rapper A.D. Carson. As Asst. Prof. of Hip-Hop and the Global South, Carson’s classes will be more like ciphers — informal rap sessions that give students the opportunity to freestyle and write original raps. The Cavalier Daily spoke with Carson about his background in music, including his doctoral dissertation in the form of a rap album, and his plans for his time at the University.

Arts and Entertainment: For our readers who don’t know you, can you describe your background in academia and music, and the intersection of the two?

A.D. Carson: Yeah, I started recording music and writing poetry really early, probably in elementary school back in fourth grade or something, and from there I was always really interested in literature and writing, and at some point I started to become more interested in rapping.

I imagine that being a rapper is a more…an easier way to explain one’s aspirations, you know, as a middle schooler, as a high schooler, than wanting to be a poet, but I didn’t really see much of a distinction between the two. But then going off to undergrad, I just wanted to be the best rapper that I could be, better than anybody, so I was always down for a battle, or if I saw a cipher then I’d jump in. I’d always carry a notebook, and I was always willing and ready to rap on the spot. So I studied English literature and education as an undergrad, then I did a master’s degree in English composition, intending to write a book or an album — to continue to record but also to write literature that reflected hip-hop in some way.
And then I talked for a while and was working at a literary journal back in Illinois as writer-in-residence. I was really thinking about the way that hip-hop looks on the page, but also the way that poetry functions out loud, and then I saw this program down at Clemson called Rhetorics, Communication and Information Design. They talked about “knowing, making and doing,” and that’s kind of what I was doing in the community where I was, trying to exemplify the knowing, making and doing all together. So I started a correspondence with them, went down to Clemson, and started working on my dissertation project, which was a 34-track rap album.

AE: And then you got the offer to come teach here at U.Va.’s music department?

ADC: Yeah, that’s pretty much it! I can’t believe that I actually went through my whole bio in a minute and 30 seconds!

AE: So now that you’re here at U.Va. you’re going to be teaching a class called “Writing Rap” in the music department. Can you talk a bit about what you’re planning for that class and what students can expect from you as a professor?

ADC: Well, the students are going to be writing raps, that’s number one. Number two, we will have weekly cipher sessions and listening lab, and those will be relatively open. So in order to come to the lab, a student doesn’t necessarily have to be in the class, but priority will go to people in the class. There’s the rap lab that’s in New Cabell, and that’s going to be a space where people who are interested in hip-hop and recording and writing raps should be able to find a home.

And we’re also going to be reading and engaging with some histories of hip-hop, as well as looking at the ways that writers have historically engaged with rap, and then students are expected to compose their own original raps and they’ll be doing some recording as well. For me, I’ll be continuing to write and record and engage and produce in the ways that I always have. The class will be like a cipher. What is dope will rise to the top, and the rest of us will be learning from that. So I’m going to be facilitating the cipher more than I’m going to be doing what people might traditionally believe goes on in the college classroom.

AE: It sounds like you have a more open structure in mind for the class, but you also touched on studying the history of rap, which is something that doesn’t receive a whole lot of attention in academia. Can you speak to the value of studying rap as an academic subject?

ADC: I think the context is very important. So [for example] we can’t take the lyrics of “The Message” by Melle Mel and the Furious Five without understanding the circumstances that created it. The history of hip-hop, or the histories of hip-hop, are also occurring alongside that and are also essentially histories of America, histories of the places where it’s existed and is produced. And I very intentionally say histories as opposed to history, because I believe that there are many lines of inquiry that we will engage.
So with those histories, we can talk about what’s going on with hip-hop in Virginia at a particular point in history, as well as what’s going on in the national scene. We’ll be able to understand these histories through the expressions of those people from those places, and hopefully, we’ll be able to have guest appearances from some of those artists in the classroom this semester as well.

AE: In the past you’ve been outspoken about race issues, and have used rap as your voice and a form of activism. Especially in light of the events in Charlottesville this summer, that seems very relevant now. Do you plan to continue to use your rap as this sort of activist voice?

ADC: Yeah, and I don’t even call it activism, I just call it living. I think it’s impossible to be disconnected from the community that you live in, and what it means to work to create a more just world wherever you are. And so I do plan to continue to live the way that I’ve lived wherever I’ve been, and it just so happens that I am here, and I do accept the challenge that comes with being a person who’s a part of this community, whatever that might be.
So I’m going to continue to write and record, and I was out here in Charlottesville this past weekend. I plan to continue to be out here for the duration of the time that I’m here in Charlottesville.

AE: Is there anything else you’d want to say to the U.Va. community as you get ready for the semester?

ADC: Just that I’m excited to be here and I look forward to whatever may come.

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