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Check Out The Hip-Hop Twist This Clemson PhD Student Added To His Dissertation

Creative self expression is appreciated at all levels.

Clemson University doctoral candidate A.D. Carson is a known poet, activist, and a rapper so when it came time to write a dissertation for his doctoral program, he knew he wanted to incorporate his creative side somehow.

Carson took his talents to his home studio near campus and produced a 34-track rap album that has already collected tens of thousands of views on YouTube, racked up thousands of streams and downloads on SoundCloud and has the entire Internet buzzing. The album, Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions, uses the art of hip-hop to touch on topics such as identity, economics, citizenship and language. 

Clemson University doctoral candidate A.D. Carson stands in his home studio near campus. Carson used the studio to produce “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions”, a 34-track rap album that also serves as his dissertation. According to Clemson University’s The NewsStand, using a music album for a dissertation has never been done before in Clemson history. Carson told the publication, “I had people ask, ‘Are you doing this just to be provocative? Is this a gimmick?’ My response is ‘absolutely not.’ This is my way of being in the world.” He went on to share, “both my senior and master’s theses were on music that I’d been making, so at this point I figure, you don’t get to the one-yard line--to use a metaphor that Clemson will understand--and then put the ball down.”


Photo: Ken Scar

A.D. Carson recruited his childhood friends Blake E. Wallace and Marcus Fitzgerald to help produce this innovative project. Chenjerai Kumanyika, a Clemson professor and former hip-hop musician of the hip-hop group “The Spooks” took on Carson as a mentee to provide insight and guidance on his dissertation. 

“A.D. Carson’s virtuosic musical performance and composition, his scholarly rigor and his deep literacy with African-American cultural production are all on display in his mostly completed dissertation,” said Kumanyika. “The project, which has already been referenced publicly by such leading scholars in popular music culture as Mark Anthony Neal, explores complicated questions related to the art, criticism and knowledge production in the context of the ongoing problem of global racial and class hierarchies within and beyond the academy. Throughout the process, Carson has been clear and committed to his vision.”

“The central thesis of my dissertation is: Are certain voices treated differently?” said Carson to the NewsStand. “I’m trying to examine how an authentically identifiable black voice might be used or accepted as authentic, or ignored, or could answer academic questions and be considered rightly academic. So I have to present a voice rather than writing about a voice.”

Some of the most straightforward and passionate lyrics to sum up his entire dissertation can be found in the second song on the project, “Dissertation [Part 1: The Introduction]”:

They say History is written by the victors,

so when you see my picture

in the book it’ll be consistent with my memory,

my victories, my tendencies that tempered me and wintered me.

Cold, like those Chi City winds, ‘cause they’re blistering.

It’s in my DNA.

It’s in my bloodline.

What I do is much deeper than a punchline.

Super dope, A.D. Carson! Keep changing the game the best way you know how.

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