Joe LaFata
Publish Date
UIS alumnus A.D. Carson
A.D. Carson
Assistant Professor of Hip-Hop
English, M.A.

After earning his MA in English at UIS, A.D. Carson was accepted as a doctoral candidate at Clemson University where he has recently defended his dissertation–a project that is garnering attention and admiration within and outside academia. It also won the Best Dissertation Award at Clemson.

Carson’s doctoral dissertation is going viral due in part to its untraditional format, but more for its pairing of Carson’s academic ingenuity with his impressive creative abilities. With his 34-song rap album titled “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions,” Carson pushes the limits of what rhetoric can be and do. The originally written and personally produced songs are simultaneously achievements of musical talent, exceptional recording and producing abilities, and adept examples of sociopolitical and cultural research that push and question the limits and limitations of performing and presenting research in academia.

“The album . . . uses hip-hop to explore such ideas as identity, justice, economics, citizenship and language,” writes Ken Scar of Clemson University’s The Newsstand in a recent article on Carson’s increasingly popular dissertation.

“The songs have garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube, more than 50,000 streams and downloads on SoundCloud and hundreds of thousands of hits on Facebook.” The attention is impressive; especially considering most of the buzz occurred before Carson even defended the project to his committee.

Each track mixes and remixes media such as types of beats, song styles, and movie quotes that evoke places and pasts that enrich the meaning presented in Carson’s lyrics, making listening to the album an auditory experience with multiple layers that make interpretation a rich and fulfilling process.

The song “Familiar,” for example, is at once a play on the idea of being trapped (the song is set to a trap beat– a beat known for originating in the Atlanta area) and an imitation of a Langston Hughes poem, both forms intentionally invoking specific histories and meanings.

“I think pushing the boundaries is important to help facilitation and provide alternate perspectives for critical conversations about what those forms our work is presented in might say about the work itself, the discussions sparked, the disciplines engaged, as well as the spaces in which it is created. It’s helpful for me to be able to process certain things in ways the traditional essay won’t allow.”

In the Newsstand article, Carson states, “The central thesis of my dissertation is: Are certain voices treated differently? I’m trying to examine how an authentically identifiable black voice might be used of accepted as authentic, or ignored, or could answer academic questions and considered rightly academic. So I have to present a voice rather than writing about a voice.” The music is at once a medium for the presentation of the message as well as a contribution and continuation of historical and sociopolitical research specific to the dissertation.

Carson demonstrates his multitalented nature in every aspect of “Owning My Masters,” and it is through his written, musical, and rhetorical skills that he offers a necessary voice that is heard both in and outside academia at a time increasingly important for such voices to be heard.

The rhetorics of Carson’s project also engage with the history of Clemson University itself. Originally built on a plantation, Carson found that the issues of race he was confronting in his project were deeply embedded within the history of the institution in which he was researching, even in the very buildings themselves, as some of them were named after former slave owners.

“Because hip-hop, at the compositional level, finds part of its effectiveness by engaging the local, it made sense to me to write about the plantation on which the school is built,” said Carson.

Carson also founded the “See the Stripes” campaign, an idea sparked by a poem he wrote (entitled “See the Stripes”), which serves as a roaring chorus behind the campaign itself.

Carson presents on his dissertation/rap album

While turning over the widely known yet simultaneously overlooked truth of Clemson’s history, Carson found a metaphor in the Clemson mascot itself: a tiger. The Clemson mascot’s rally call is to “See the Orange.”

“At that point I realized the metaphor of the stripes was a good one,” Carson explained, “because I’d already considered the strips of land the sharecroppers would have worked in/on and the stripes made by a whip on the backs of enslaved people. The convict labor information conjured the image of striped uniforms. That coupled with the on-campus rallying cry of ‘Solid Orange’ made ‘See The Stripes’ (the poem and its title) a call to action that spoke both to the university’s history as well as its present.”

More information on the “See the Stripes” campaign and the poem itself can be found on the campaign’s website, which was established and is maintained by Carson and others from the Clemson community.

Just as Carson’s poem and the “See the Stripes” campaign raise important awareness of un-confronted histories and contemporary whitewashing, his rap album/dissertation confronts and asks its listeners to confront institutionalized racism.

“’Owning My Masters’ consequently stands as evidence of the policed body, the voice that comes from the body, resisting arrest and surveillance, making itself known as that upon which law is dependent,” Carson states in an excerpt from his dissertation, which is in part presented in web format to display both excerpts of text and the audio of the rap album. The song “Second Amendment [Shoot Back]” particularly embodies this idea via Carson’s powerful lyrics.

Carson has accepted a job as Assistant Professor of Hip Hop and the Global South at Clemson University.

Graduates of our MA in English go on to serve a variety of positions, from doctoral work to copy writing and public relations. As is the case with Carson, our MA in English also prepares students to enter doctoral programs with the tools they need to succeed.

News Categories