Bret Carroll, who teaches in the history department at California State University, Stanislaus, said he supposes all professors know that half of what they do is performance. Have to engage those students.
The presenter he’s helping bring to the Turlock campus next week just takes that performance to a higher level. He may not keep the youth in their seats, but it’s more likely because they’ll be up on their feet, moving to the beat, not walking out the door.
A.D. Carson, professor of hip-hop at the University of Virginia, will be at Snider Recital Hall on Monday with his program “This is the Next Time: Reflections on Resistance Through Rhymes and Revolutions.” A flier for the free event calls it “a unique and high energy mix of rap and scholarship.”
Carroll, whose specialty fields include the history of slavery and the Antebellum South, first heard about Carson a couple of years back when for his doctoral dissertation, the Clemson University student wrote and recorded a 34-track rap album. Carson’s work, “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes & Revolutions,” was recognized by the Clemson graduate student government as the 2017 outstanding dissertation.
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An article in a University of Virginia publication said his tracks attracted tens of thousands of YouTube viewers and SoundCloud listeners and ultimately caught the attention of UVA music faculty. Carson was hired as an assistant professor of hip-hop and the global South in spring 2017.
The lyrics of his work address a broad spectrum of issues, from gun rights to black-on-black violence to his alma mater’s “Solid Orange” tradition.
In “Second Amendment (Shoot Back)“, he raps: “I’m Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman is after me/ He’s got a pistol. And all I got is snacks on me/ He proceeds to chase, eventually’s attacking me/ A lot of people will probably see it as blasphemy/ But if I had a pistol on me, then I could blast for me.”
A couple of lines from “Grand Wizard” are from a klansman’s perspective: “We used to have fun killin’ n-----, but y’all n----- do it the best/ Y’all doing it better than me and my crew could have ever imagined.” Carson later raps in the song, “I’ve never been to a Klan rally/ But I’ve seen a man stand in an alley/ Fire red hot lead shots at a man who was a spittin’ image of himself.”
And in “See the Stripes,” he takes Clemson University, home of the Tigers and one-time home of a plantation, to task for promoting Solid Orange while barely acknowledging the black stripes. “Slavery was big business/ and being black meant/ you made profits to keep your master in the black/ and if the master went into the red/ he’d see red and you’d be likely to wear/ red stripes across your back — fact/ And if that/ is an uncomfortable truth for the institution, so be it/ These are the stripes we bear, so see them.”
In the UVA article, Carson said he occasionally has been asked to restate his rap lyrics “in plain English.” His response: “Rap music in America, for the most part, is already written in the language that most of us speak. Maybe, instead of asking for a translation, the best response is to reread it, try to listen more intently and try to empathize and understand where the artist is coming from.”
Carson’s presentation Monday at Stanislaus State should be entertaining and inspiring, said Carroll, who’s been trying to bring him to Turlock for some time. The rapping professor was in Sacramento last year, and it was disappointing not to get him then. “Boy, he was that close.”
Carroll anticipates that his students and, more broadly, students who simply are interested in hip-hop, will be eager to hear Carson. But he hopes that what the UVA professor does — weaving together history, current events, literature and pop culture to examine the complex realities of the present — will draw a wide swath from the community.
Expecting a large turnout, Carroll has Carson appearing in the campus’s largest venue, Snider Recital Hall, which seats 312 people. Admission is first come, first seated.