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The Rap Lab is the space for aspiring rappers

Prof. A.D Carson's classroom encourages students to develop their musical creativity through collaboration

<p>Professor Carson sits with students at the Rap Lab of U.Va</p>

Professor Carson sits with students at the Rap Lab of U.Va

A few months after he had been hired in 2017, the University asked Asst. Music Prof. A.D. Carson if there was anything that could be done to give students the best opportunity for success academically and musically. He imagined a space where students were free to engage in the genre of rap from learning the history of hip-hop to recording music, and a project was created that same year. Funded by U.Va. Arts, the Rap Lab at U.Va. soon became a collaborative hip-hop space where all are welcome.

The lab offers several iMac computers, large monitors, microphones, keyboards and a soundproof recording booth. A mural in the space was painted by local graffiti artists Saeoh and Nak. A bookshelf houses rap history books and vinyl records of various genres. 

Collaboration is encouraged as four tables form a square in the center of the room. Students bounce musical ideas and share raps. Most importantly, these tables seat students for Carson’s fall courses, “Writing Rap'' and “The Black Voice.” The professor is the only faculty member who uses the lab for teaching.

"Writing Rap" delves into the fundamentals of songwriting, particularly rap lyrics. Students also examine rap music and various works of literature in order to improve their own songwriting structure and techniques. In “The Black Voice,” students examine various artists and explore the notion of Blackness through music.

Carson's most popular class, “Composing Mixtapes,” is also held in the lab during the spring semester. The class offers a hands-on approach to composing and producing music. Throughout the semester, students prepare for their final exam — the production of a mixtape by the entire class. Students in the class have produced four mixtapes since its creation. The most recent was “1-800-MIXTAPE” by ST*R67 — a group of 15 students — in the spring of 2022. The album presented a variety of pop/alternative hip-hop tracks, which are available on SoundCloud

Fourth-year College student Ti’Asia Parker was one of the artists who worked on “1-800-MIXTAPE.” Prior to taking specific classes at the University, Parker primarily saw herself as just a singer. After taking a poetry class and taking a class with Carson, however, she began to write raps. 

“It was heartwarming to create with other people because you're bringing a piece of you and being vulnerable,” Parker said. “I feel like intimate experiences do help bring people closer together, so I thought making the mixtape was really lovely.”

Carson’s hands-off teaching method encourages students to explore with their imagination. Instead of walking students through every step, he believes that students can learn more by experimenting or conversing with peers. He also teaches independent studies with budding student artists and has mentored artists at the University, including alumni 4C Wayve. Currently, he is assisting third-year College student CF Bolton with upcoming singles and how to market herself as an artist.

“Music is not created in a vacuum,” Carson said. “There's a huge music community in Charlottesville. I don't want students who come to feel as if what we're doing here is separate from that larger community.” 

The Rab Lab proudly welcomes everyone from the community. 

“Ask[ing] for permission is a very weird cap to have on your creativity,” Carson said. “My job primarily here is to facilitate the space so that folks get all of the things that they can get out of it.”

Different from other workspaces, the lab encourages collaboration rather than students isolating themselves in their work. Laughter and conversation can be heard from outside the classroom. As structured and formal as the word laboratory sounds, the lab’s location in New Cabell 398 is a lively student area.

“It makes the University feel very open and creative as opposed to being strictly academic,” Bolton said.

Carson wants to create areas on Grounds for everyone in the community, with the lab sparking a change like this.

“What happens when we actually create spaces where folks are welcome all the time and we don't even distinguish who is from the University and who is not in the space of making music and we just do s— together?” Carson said. “That is the question I have, and so [the Rap Lab] might be one response to that.”

For the fall 2022 semester, the lab is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 am to 1:30 pm.


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