“Owning My Masters” Review

Athena Pajer

Hip-Hop finds its roots in societal criticism. Rap should send a message.

With this in mind, Dr. A. D. Carson creates a fascinating album that grows more profound with each listen. Even the title, “Owning my Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions,” has connotations associated with both slavery and academia—a connection that foreshadows the entire album.

“Owning my Masters” is actually Carson’s doctoral dissertation. Carson tackles societal issues with some songs containing layered musical elements and others that rely heavily on the prose of spoken-word poetry.

“See the Stripes” on track #13 on the album is about his time at Clemson. The George Zimmerman verdict occurred shortly after he arrived at the university. Racial issues would continue to be formative experiences, impacting his work. He actually started a campaign called “See the Stripes,” which challenges the Clemson Tigers’ “solid orange” motto and uses “stripes” to represent various aspects of Clemson’s racist past.

“The tiger cannot survive without its stripes,” Carson says in his song, connecting the “tiger” to Clemson and urging that the university must see its history for the “stripes,” or the dark parts of its past characterized by slavery, indentured servitude and convict labor.

Carson promotes seeing the past for all of its positive and negative aspects. He discourages “color blindness.”

Track #7, “Black Love Poem,” also calls for seeing the world through a racial lens instead of ignoring history, but this poem is broader and does not refer to a specific institution. It stands out from the rest of the tracks as a spoken word poem with no accompaniment whatsoever. It is more reminiscent of the time Carson spent at Millikin, where he graduated with a B.A. in English in 2004.

Carson begins “Black Love Poem” with the line, “In the spirit of Imamu Amiri, Malcolm, Martin, and Mandela, this is a Black poem. This is a love poem. This is a Black love poem…”

This track is characteristic of Carson’s academic style and his respect for civil rights leaders. He also features voice-overs of other black leaders such as the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, a long-standing leader of the Nation of Islam.

Carson references historical figures and events often in “Owning my Masters.” He also argues that we can learn from the history of Hip-Hop. He even wrote an essay titled, “What We Can Learn From ‘Rap History’—Other Than ‘My Generation Was the Best Ever,’” which is set against the backdrop of strong interest—or concern—in the path and culture of Hip-Hop in Black culture.

“Rap History” is a concept considered to be progressive at many institutions, including the University of Virginia, where Carson currently teaches courses in Hip-Hop. He contemplates not only political issues, the state of the rap industry, but also the limitations academic institutions might place on Hip-Hop, constraining it instead of moving it forward.

“How does one more effectively approach Hip-Hop academically in a manner that speaks through [one of[ its form[s] and doesn’t reinscribe the “oppression” the form seeks to subvert?” Carson said in a passage on the “Conjecture” page of his website.

If a listener thinks about this, they can understand his album on a deeper level.

Carson is clearly a strong pioneer in this subject. He is bringing something new to the university because he hopes to change the institution. This is an idea Carson describes as “fugitivity.”

“Owning my Masters” might be Carson’s first “fugitive” success since its rhetorical power was both unique and unified enough to spur change at Clemson. The album, most likely, will also create a more lasting change among his students and his audience.

Carson accomplishes an incredible thing by teaching how academic study and Hip-Hop combine by providing both video interviews and essays on his website. A viewer can watch and read all of his content besides his album in about thirty minutes to an hour.