Music. An academic take on Hip-Hop. A.D. Carson teaches you to rap, rhyme and question institutional limitations. A variety of releases shows what Hip-Hop can do and inspires students to dream big.
Everyone knows since at least the 2010s, no other genre of music comes close to Hip Hop in regard to popularity and influence on listeners and the industry in general. Since its inception in the 70s and beginning commercialization in the late 80s many things have changed, many artists and trends have come and gone, and since at least the 90s it has started to gain a foothold in academia. Many scholars have researched the genre, its roots and impact on youth culture, language and political attitudes. In 2017, a wholly new approach to discussing the music was taken by educator and performance artist A. D. Carson when he wrote his dissertation as a 34-track Hip Hop album. But, as Carson himself said in a livestream interview with fellow Black scholar Dr. Julius Bailey: “Ain’t nobody listening to a 34-Track album”. So in 2020, Carson did what could be considered the logical next step: He wrote, recorded and released or rather published another album, once more not as a commercial project but this time even as a peer reviewed academic publication. “I used to love to dream” was published by the University of Michigan Press and is what Carson calls a “mixtape/e/ssay”, has 8 tracks and is available for free on the open source publishing platform fulcrum.org as well as on Bandcamp on a Name your Price basis. It is the third mixtap/e/ssay in Carsons “sleepwalking” series, which he started to produce after his dissertation.
One of the main focuses of “I used to love to dream” is the path that Carson has chosen for his life, and how he has arrived where he is now. His hometown of Decatur, Illinois plays a central role in the narratives of the album. It is always the place that he has come from and stands in contrast to the place he is now. On the track “ampersand”, the lyrical subject reflects on his relationship with Decatur, and how he has changed since living there. On “Crack, USA” the US crack epidemic of the 80s, how it was used and partially manufactured to target urban Black youths, and the currently ongoing opioid epidemic is discussed, leading into “just in case”, which deals with police violence against Black people. Here, the lyrical subject gives instructions to the listener on what they should do, if – for example – the subject should ever be reported to have died in police custody. He asks the listener to question the narratives provided by the police and media, mirroring the ever-repeating cycles of justification and framing the Black victims of police violence as deserving of their punishment – even death. “Stage fright” seems to draw comparisons between Carson’s career as an educator and his music performances, while “nword gem” tells of the lessons the subject has learned by living life as a Black man, and how he teaches the next generation those same lessons. The penultimate track, “ready” deals with topics surrounding the writing and production of music, and thus in Carson’s case also academic writing, which the last song further elaborates on. This last song, “asterisk”, works as a conclusion. It takes all of the threads of the album, and connects them, thus forming a statement about academia, systemic racism, growing up etc. and how all of those factors lead to where the subject is now, and how it got there. A fascinating approach to academic writing, “I used to love to dream” might just be the radical move that inspires a conversation about what counts as academic writing, and how the ideas within are presented and taught.