Beyond The Hill

Clemson doctoral student completed dissertation in the form of a rap album

Courtesy A.D. Carson

A.D. Carson, a doctoral candidate in Clemson’s rhetorics, communication and information design program, defended his dissertation that was called “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions,” that has since gone viral.

A doctoral student at Clemson University has challenged the boundaries of what an academic dissertation can be, after he completed his dissertation in the form of a 34-track rap album.

A.D. Carson, a doctoral candidate in Clemson’s rhetorics, communication and information design program, defended his dissertation that was called “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions,” and has since gone viral.

“Rather than writing about those elements, it seemed appropriate to perform them instead,” he said.

Carson was in a program that focused on communication design, and in a Ph.D. program that focused on rhetorical engagement. The songs on the album have received tens of thousands of views on YouTube and over 50,000 streams and downloads on SoundCloud, according to a Clemson University News release.

Using a music album as a dissertation has never happened before at Clemson, per the release. Carson recorded his album in his apartment, where he created a recording studio.

Carson’s dissertation also included a digital archive of rap and poetry: 34 music tracks included in a main playlist, seven other playlists that included songs which didn’t make the cut for the main playlist, a YouTube channel and a blog with essays and videos.

Carson’s dissertation included two years of classwork, extensive reading and preparation and a writing stage, he said.

“There are many, many issues that are brought up in the dissertation,” Carson said. “Critical theoretical things on personhood, being black bodies, historical and contemporary social justice issues that pertain to the embodied and disembodied voice which are all of the voices that we might hear around us all the time and what they signify, and what is being done through the performance of that voice.”

He also said there have been many positive reactions to his dissertation, from both top scholars in his field, and many other scholars that were thinking about ways to present their work creatively.

“Then you know, there were some comments like ‘Why a rap album for a Ph.D. as opposed to a fine arts project?’” he said. “My response to them is that as I’m in the communication program the answer is inherent in the program I’m in, and in the rhetorical appeals hip hop has.”

He also said his response to people who told him he did not do enough writing was that every song was a song that he wrote and, along with the writing of the songs, there were the reflections that went into them from multiple source materials.

He added that there was a 276-page document that he gave to program faculty, detailing how much work, writing and recording he did for the project, and how he created the digital archive online.

A substantial amount of work goes into recording music, he said. Two childhood friends helped Carson record his dissertation, according to the news release.

Jillian Weise, a member of Carson’s dissertation committee, said in an email that Carson had written a superlative dissertation.

“I will be listening to the album for years to come. The written component of the dissertation, all 276 pages of it, is also compelling and nuanced,” she said.

Weise said she is a poet and rap is poetry, so it didn’t strike her at all as unconventional. One of the tracks on Carson’s album was called “Black Love Poem,” and it was in “conversation” with one of Weise’s favorite poets, Amiri Baraka, she said. She also said Carson extended Baraka’s poetics by breaking with tradition to change the conversation.

“It’s an exciting time to be a rapper, a poet and a Ph.D. student in America,” she said.

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