All respect due to both Drs. Dre, but hip-hop finally has its first real doctor in A.D. Carson, who received his Ph.D. in rhetorics, communication and information design from Clemson University in May. Carson’s album, Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes & Revolutions, doubled as his dissertation, despite his concern that it wouldn’t be accepted by the committee overseeing his work.
Carson told NPR his reasoning behind the unconventional approach, saying, “The more that I found myself speaking up and speaking out about the ways that history and current circumstances were intertwined there — in the layout of the place and the ways that people interact with one another there — the more I felt that people were not listening to my voice.”
“People dress up as the historic characters who made Clemson possible, but then ignore the fact that there were enslaved people who helped to build the buildings that were there,” he points out, “Much of what is going on currently — if we think about exploited labor, if we think about amateur athletes — like, these things seem to resonate in some way that we’re not acknowledging at all.”
This fall, Carson will teach a composition class for music students at the University of Virginia called “Writing Rap,” teaching students how to write their own rhymes and teaching them about hip-hop history.
This is intriguing stuff, and while some parents, faculty, and even students may not necessarily understand why hip-hop deserves to considered on the same cultural tier as serious literature, Carson sees little difference between the words of William Shakespeare and MC Shan. “You can imagine a composition-of-rap course being similar to a composition course where you’re learning to write an argumentative essay,” he expands, “The reason that we read and engage with the literature that we engage with is, hopefully, for empathy — so that we have ways into worlds that we don’t fully understand.”
It’s a noble and impressive goal and hopefully one that he succeeds in to some degree (no pun intended). Hip-hop has always been a far more literary genre than it sometimes gets credit for; it’s nice to see academia taking steps to further legitimize the culture and the art form.
You can check out the album below: