Hip-Hop as Academic Scholarship
University of Virginia professor A.D. Carson has become the first person ever to have a rap album published by an official university press. This entails going through a formal process of academic peer-review and meeting a plethora of rigorous pre-requisites. This is a groundbreaking moment for both hip-hop and the world of academia. For two fields that have commonly been at odds with each other, this moment represents a unification–an acknowledgment of respect and legitimacy on behalf of both parties. In an era that is marked by its divisiveness, unity is more important than ever.
A.D. Carson’s project, titled i used to love to dream, is an exploration into the professor’s upbringing and worldview: “‘i used to love to dream’ names Decatur, Illinois—the author’s hometown—as a reference point for place- and time-specific rapped ruminations about the ideas of growing up, moving away, and pondering one’s life choices. At the same time, the tracks attempt to account for moral, philosophical, and ethical dimensions undergirding unease about authenticity, or staying true to oneself and to one’s city or neighborhood, as well as the external factors that contribute to such feelings. Using the local to ask questions about the global, “i used to love to dream” highlights outlooks on Black life generally, and Black manhood in particular, in the United States”. Along with the music itself, i used to love to dream is also accompanied by linear notes and a documentary detailing the creation of the work. These elements are said to provide more context for the scope of the project.
Previous intersections with rap music and the world of academia have historically been controversial. Former Harvard professor Cornel West released a hip-hop/spoken word album in 2001 titled Sketches of My Culture. The president of Harvard at that time, Lawrence Summers, called the album an embarrassment. When asked in a recent interview about the possibility of his project stirring controversy, A.D. Carson did not seem overly concerned: “My energy is focused on people who are really interested in what this conversation looks like moving forward—and really interested in engaging with the music”. Considering hip-hop has become much more mainstream since the early 2000s, any controversy that arises may be a little bit more surprising this time around.
A.D. Carson’s academic career has been defined by his intertwining love of hip-hop and academics. Nothing highlights this sentiment more than his current position as a professor of hip-hop at the University of Virginia. Back in August of 2020, Carson submitted a dissertation at Clemson University in the form of the 34-track album Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes & Revolutions. This garnered all sorts of media attention and even saw the professor being featured in a news article from popular media site NPR Music. With his most recent effort i used to love to dream making history, look for Carson to continue to make ripples with his unique intersection of hip-hop and academia. With hip-hop becoming a more respected artform, there are sure to be more captivating voices like A.D. Carson to arise in due time.