Who are the Peers? with Dr. A.D. Carson
Amplified is an audio blog series about the sounds of scholarship from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network. This month, I’m joined by Dr. A.D. Carson, assistant professor of Hip Hop and the Global South in the Department of Music at the University of Virginia, to talk about bridging the worlds of rap and academic publishing, and their experience in non-traditional peer review, asking ‘who are the peers anyway?’.
Stacey Copeland: [00:00:00] [Intro music plays] Welcome to Amplified. A podcast about the sounds of scholarship from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network. I’m your host, Stacey Copeland. [Intro music fades into “Asterisk”]
Music Clip from A.D. Carson – “Asterisk”: [00:00:15] And when you thought you knew it. & saying who’s to blame is different than asking who is. is it really a win when your team ain’t there? try to get you sleep & your dreams ain’t there. all you want is to make a little something out of nothing you was given, & you know it ain’t enough to just be living, & you feeling like you going through the motions, & it’s hitting you like rowing through an ocean, & though you probably need a little help, you only say that to yourself. though you probably need a little help, you only say that to yourself.
Stacey Copeland: [00:00:41] [“Asterisk” slowly fades down and out] What you’re hearing now is “Asterisk”, a hard to say word, but also my favourite track off Dr. A.D. Carson’s peer reviewed rap album, ‘i used to love to dream’. Released in 2020 by University of Michigan Press, Carson’s mixtap/e/ssay style work made some major waves in the Higher Ed community as the first ever peer reviewed rap album from an academic publisher. The cherry on top? It’s also free and accessible, accompanied by a digital book and a documentary short film. Now working on a second peer reviewed rap album release, A.D. Carson has become a leading voice toward reimagining the future of academic publishing. This month on Amplified, we’re joined by Dr. A.D. Carson to talk about bridging the worlds of rap and academic publishing, and their experience in non-traditional peer review, asking ‘who are the peers anyway?’
Music Clip from A.D. Carson – “Asterisk”: [00:01:40] [“Asterisk fades up] And though you probably need a little help, you only say that to yourself. [sfx: ‘self’ echoes, fades into Intro music]
A.D. Carson: [00:01:52] [Intro music fades out] My name is Dr. A.D. Carson and I am assistant professor of Hip Hop and the Global South in the Department of Music at the University of Virginia. I primarily make rap music, and I’m really interested in thinking about rap as critical, analytical, theoretical intervention. And with that, I don’t mean to say that I’m doing something new with my work. Really what I’m saying is that rappers have for I mean, I guess about 50 years now been doing this kind of work. And the projects that I’m working on now are some of the first that have been recognised within academia’s hierarchy of knowledge production. And I guess what I mean by hierarchy of knowledge production is that University of Michigan peer reviewed and released my album, ‘i used to love to dream’ in 2020 and they have peer reviewed and are in the process of making available a mastered version of my dissertation album, which is called ‘Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions’. But those aren’t the only albums that I’ve released. I actually released three projects in between defending my dissertation and the first album that I did with Michigan – ‘Sleepwalking Vol.I’, ‘Sleepwalking II’. And then I did sound design for this play called ‘The Royale’.
Stacey Copeland: [00:03:32] First off, can you tell us you mentioned the album ‘i used to love to dream’, which is, you know, the one that got doted and toted around the academic community as the first peer reviewed rap album released by a university press back in 2020. [A.D.: Yeah], one of the main questions I wanted to get your perspective on is when I saw the announcement about your album about ‘i used to love to dream’, I immediately thought, Oh no, this is probably going to be a kind of shitty rap album [laughs].
A.D. Carson: [00:04:03] Yeah, yeah, I understand, no offense taken, I understand [laughs].
Stacey Copeland: [00:04:07] Even though I work in academia and I make peer reviewed work and I make media, that was my initial thought. And so I was pleasantly surprised that it’s actually very well produced and very thoughtful and honestly, just an enjoyable listen beyond scholarship in that way. [A.D.: Yeah] It’s provoking people to start to think about particular topics. But how did the peer review process shape or did it shape at all the sound or the content of the album? What was that process like going through peer review with something that is so creative?
A.D. Carson: [00:04:43] I mean, so this is the thing that maybe never gets said about the process of making this kind of work. And by the time it got to Michigan, it had already been through so many iterations. There were so many people that I was talking to. So, you know, like I send my homegirl a copy and she’s like, Here’s what I’m thinking about it. I send one of my collaborators a copy, and he’s like, Well, here’s what I think. I send another friend. And, and so, like, there are versions of this album that, you know, like just have, well, really like kind of have lives of their own, you know. And then I’m having this other conversation with the folks at University of Michigan about what kind of thing we might work on. And I should also say that ‘Sleepwalking II’. I was talking with an academic press about doing that project as a peer reviewed album, and the talks just fell apart. I think that they didn’t have a good idea of what was happening with the music, and I just got tired of waiting. So then this trip, this project with two of my colleagues at the University of Virginia, where we’re going to visit a creative art space in South Africa, the Black Power Station, and I’m like, well, since they have a space that’s kind of like our rap lab here, maybe, you know, we’ll see what kind of creative synergies come from that. So I go go over there. You know, there’s some performances for the National Arts Festival that they have there.
A.D. Carson: [00:06:07] And so I ask it for one of the performances that I’m supposed to do. Maybe we could just do like a listening and feedback session on this album that I’m thinking about. And I wanted to play the songs in a room with people and just talk about what was happening, and that really kind of helped me sequence the album. By the time I get back to the States, in Charlottesville, now I’ve got a better idea of what the album is going to sound like. I finished those things up and then continue that conversation with Michigan. So by the time they get the draft of the album that they send out, it’s fairly polished, you know. I mean, it’s had a really long time and a whole lot of feedback and just like all of these different conversations going on around it. And so then we had to tailor the questions that we were asking, not really to the content so much as how we might present it in a space to make it as accessible to academics while maintaining the integrity of the project as I want to present it. ‘Should the interludes between the songs be their own tracks? Or do we make it one really long track so that people have to play it all the way through? Do we do vinyl or do we do any kind of physical release?’ Those were the kinds of questions that we were asking How do we contextualise it so that people who aren’t familiar with any of these traditions in Hip Hop might be able to still come in to the project and it be the first thing that they have, but they’re still able to engage with it in a way that is productive for their own edification or for their teaching.
A.D. Carson: [00:07:40] And I felt that the feedback I got from the readers was really, really helpful. It was really not so much about the album, but about what the interface would look like for the reader. So for instance, I didn’t know that we were going to do the documentary. The reviews, the reviewers asked if there could be something up front that folks might be able to engage with so that they can kind of be eased into the world that shapes the production of the album. One of the things that I would have loved to have that that we couldn’t do was a playlist function. So if you don’t listen to it on Bandcamp or whatever service provider you use, on the Michigan site, there’s no way for you to play the entire album through in a playlist function. And that kind of sucks because I think that the album I hope that the album is listening to from beginning to end. That’s the way that I wrote it. That just means that we have to have better technology and we need to look at what like what Bandcamp does, what Apple Music does, what SoundCloud does, because if we don’t, then it’s not going to be very enticing to an academic who does different kinds of work.
Stacey Copeland: [00:08:55] Mhm yeah. This is a question that I think a lot about in my work around podcasting and audio documentary. How do we engage with our work in ways that make it part of the scholarly academic conversation? And also, what are some of the tensions with that? Like what does it what do we lose with that work in bringing it into the academic world and what do we gain? Have you started to experience the differences in the way that people engage with your work that is peer reviewed versus some of your other also very intellectually and theory driven work that isn’t put through this peer review process?
A.D. Carson: [00:09:36] Yeah, I mean, the question has consistently been who are the peers? [Stacey: Hmm.] While that might seem kind of unfair and dismissive of my colleagues who have taken the time to evaluate the work and then provide reports to the press, I don’t think, I don’t take that question as being dismissive of those folks expertise. [Stacey: Totally.] I take that to be more about what academia traditionally has done with Black cultural production. And listening to it in that way, then it’s I mean, it’s a great question. It’s a question that we really we really need to deal with. I think that there are people who believe that there is something different happening depending on the project. Like if it’s a thing that I just went directly to Bandcamp with as opposed to going through some kind of process. I mean, I guess I should say the the most recent project which is called ‘vi:Talking to Ghosts’, I released on Bandcamp first and then I plan to do the peer review process after because I want the work to kind of circulate first to see if that changes the way that people engage with it. You know, to speak to the question that you’re asking. If someone says it’s a peer reviewed rap album, I can imagine a version of myself that says, Yeah, that just doesn’t sound like a thing that was made for me. [Stacey laughs] And so I don’t need peer reviewed, quote unquote peer review to proceed rap album whenever someone’s talking about my work, because that’s probably going to turn off the people who I really want to engage with it. So from my end, I want to make sure that I sound like me.
A.D. Carson: [00:11:09] I want to make sure that my music, when folks are listening to it, they don’t feel like it’s some like some weird thing that I’ve started doing because I work where I work or my colleagues or who my colleagues are. Because in truth, if I change what I make in order to accommodate those folks, then it’s not doing it’s not the kind of transformative change that I want. I have been changed in ways that I actually want to resist. So hopefully doing my work the way that I do it changes academia. Hopefully it changes academic publishing. Hopefully it changes the questions that people are asking for peer review. It’s changing who gets considered a scholar to submit their work for review and all of those kinds of things, rather than all of us conforming so that we might be able to present ourselves as, quote unquote, academic. Hip Hop has been academic since way before academia ever tried to acknowledge it as such. And so, like the bibliography that that shapes my life includes a whole lot of rap music that ain’t never been peer reviewed in any kind of academic context, even though it’s gone through many rigorous processes of evaluation, analysis, criticism and so forth. But those aren’t the same things that academia honours. And perhaps then we can ask academia or the academic spaces that we’re in to start looking at those processes as what it might be able to provide. But that means that academia has to change. That means that the places where things get published have to change. That means that what gets published has to change.
Stacey Copeland: [00:12:54] Yeah, I love that. What you’re talking about totally resonates with me, especially around rethinking what research looks like and starting to acknowledge the long oral traditions of knowledge sharing that exist in other communities and other spaces outside of the very western white colonial University system, especially here in North America.
A.D. Carson: [00:13:17] Yes, Yes.
Stacey Copeland: [00:13:19] And so to speak to that. I mean, what other work out there is influencing your work and the way that you’re pushing boundaries in what scholarship looks like in the university system?
A.D. Carson: [00:13:31] Yeah, well, there I mean, there are a lot of people who are doing really, really cool things. You know, someone like well, Chenjerai Kumanyika, who’s a podcaster and musician, activist. I appreciate his work and I also talk to him fairly regularly about what’s the next thing. So I also collaborate quite a bit with a producer and emcee from Chicago. His name is Truth and he is not in academia, but just like an incredibly gifted writer and just creative, creative guy. Similarly, there’s a guy in Decatur, Illinois, by the name of Preme who I think is just similarly very creative. Let me also say that Kehinde Thurman is an incredible artist who I’m always talking with as well. There are other academics like the rapper at Brown, Sammus, who I think is incredibly dope. Her work is it’s good on its own merits as Hip hop, but it’s also like the perfect kind of thing that we need to see pushing academia further. Yeah, I think I could probably just keep keep naming people, but.
Stacey Copeland: [00:14:35] No, that’s great. That’s a good, I think, introduction to how you’re approaching your own work and who’s influencing you. You know, looking back, ‘i used to love to dream’ is a few years out now and you’re working on bringing ‘Owning My Master’s’ into the peer review space. [A.D.: Yeah]. What are some of the lessons that you learned from that first process you’re bringing into the second? And what are some of the lessons you would want to share with other rappers or scholars or rap scholars who are interested in bringing their work into the peer review process?
A.D. Carson: [00:15:07] You know, have people who will tell you if the shit is wack. [Stacey laughs] Really. Don’t depend on the academic press or the reviewers for opinions on the quality of your work. Depend on people whose opinions you value about the quality of work like yours. Even if I do believe that it’s dope, and then somebody whose opinion I don’t respect says that it’s dope. That really doesn’t help me. And also it doesn’t help me if they tell me it’s wack because I don’t believe you. I don’t respect your opinion. So you need that for yourself. Somebody who you trust that’s going to tell you if it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. And and I trust them to tell me when I’m not sounding like myself. But if you have a vision for your work, then fight for your vision. And there’s nothing wrong with asking someone to explain to you why they want something changed. If the only reason that they want it changed is because of the way things have always been done. That’s not an adequate reason. If you if you don’t have a vision, then you’ll end up working on somebody else’s. It would be a shame for your work to be rendered in someone else’s vision of it. You know, like somebody watching ‘Boyz n the Hood’ and they’re like, you know, it’s it’s a really great movie, except that I wish it was ‘Gone With the Wind’. And it’s like, Well, ‘Gone With the Wind’ is ‘Gone With the Wind’. [stacey laughs]
A.D. Carson: [00:16:23] So yeah, like, just don’t let somebody turn your album into ‘Gone With the Wind’ because that’s what they want to see or your project, whatever it might be. Work with people who respect your work. Similarly, think about the folks who are in graduate school or who are in undergrad or who are in high school, who are hoping to be able to do this kind of work whenever they get to like this particular place. Think about how you might make that work easier for them, about how there are certain locks that don’t have to be picked, certain hinges that don’t have to be knocked off of the door, you know, like certain burdens that don’t have to be shouldered by them, because we’re doing the work now to make the work of the future much easier for them to walk directly through the door the way that they want it to, to look and sound. And I think maybe that’s probably like the most important consideration so that folks don’t have to sit down and deal with bizarre conversations or people fetishising their work or exoticizing, you know, like them. They’re very body there being their ability to exist in this space. Nobody should have to deal with that and especially nobody should have to deal with it if we’ve already dealt with it. Now, I’m not advocating that we become the gatekeepers. I’m advocating that we demolish the gates. [A.D. laughs]
Stacey Copeland: [00:17:42] Mhm, yeah. I think that’s a great place to end. Thank you so much for taking the time.
A.D. Carson: [00:17:46] It’s my pleasure.
[00:17:46] I loved the – I think that’s a great line you can use in your next rap is ‘don’t let them turn you into Gone with the Wind’.
A.D. Carson: [00:17:54] Yes! [both laugh] Yeah. Yeah. [Outro music fades in]
Stacey Copeland: [00:18:00] You can find out more from Dr. A.D. Carson at aydeethegreat.com And on Twitter at @aydeethegreat. Links in the show notes. A big thanks to Dr. A.D. Carson for joining us here on Amplified this month. As per usual, we only really hit the tip of the iceberg on this month’s topic in the conversations around peer review, race, and communities of practice in the university. So if you have comments or want to take this conversation further, please do reach out. We’re always interested in hearing from other folks engaged in scholarly podcasting, open science and other alternative modes and approaches to academic publishing. Thanks for listening to Amplified, a podcast about the sounds of scholarship coming to you each month from our team here at the Amplify Podcast Network. [Music out]
A.D. Carson is an award-winning rapper, performance artist, and educator from Decatur, Illinois. He received a Ph.D. from Clemson University in Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design. His most recent album is iv: talking to ghosts, and his academically peer-reviewed album, i used to love to dream, was published by University of Michigan Press in 2020. Dr. Carson is currently assistant professor of Hip-Hop & the Global South in the Department of Music at the University of Virginia. [social: @aydeethegreat]
Links and Resources
Words and Stuff by A.D. Carson – https://aydeethegreat.com/
A.D. Carson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/aydeethegreat
Carson, A. D. (2020). I used to love to dream. University of Michigan Press. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.11738372
Carson, A. D. (2017). Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions. A Dissertation for the Graduate School at Clemson University [OTR]. https://phd.aydeethegreat.com/
Carson, A. D. (2022). iv: Talking to ghosts. A.D. Carson. https://aydeethegreat.bandcamp.com/album/iv-talking-to-ghosts
The Black Power Station – https://theblackpowerstation.art/
Chenjerai Kumanyika | Do Over | Moth Mainstage (2019) – https://youtu.be/8B86IHGGKTk
“A.D. Carson: 80s [feat. Truth]” (2018) – https://youtu.be/OwdkfoF73Cg
“Word” [Produced by Preme] from Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes & Revolutions by A.D. Carson (2017) – https://aydeethegreat.bandcamp.com/track/word-produced-by-preme
Sammus – https://sammusmusic.net/
E. Kehinde Thurman https://kehindethurman.com/
Song featured in the intro by A.D. Carson – “Asterisk”. (2020). I used to love to dream. University of Michigan Press. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.11738372.cmp.12
Amplified Intro + Outro Music: Pxl Cray – Blue Dot Studios (2016)
Written and produced by: Stacey Copeland