Audience member: You mentioned the word subversion and that word kind of like impacted me and sort of kind of gave like a thematic coherence to everything that there's a sort of subversion of the rhyming couplets, there's this subversion of idiomatic expressions where you're getting this earworm and then using it to communicate something completely different than you would expect and especially in "Kill Whitey" you have this subversion of this derogatory offensive word that when people hear it, especially a lot of white people, they'll like shut down and like, oh I don't wanna listen to this I don't wanna, you know. And it's sort of like you're missing the point that there's so many other things to be offended by, so it's sort of like using this kind of message and, yeah, so I thought that subversion was really thematically coherent across like lyrics, content, music, like all of it, yeah.
A.D. Carson: I appreciate that. Also, it felt like it wasn't overkill to say like to literally say that song is like you're hearing something else when you listen to this because it is so potentially offensive that folks will just hear the thing that they're offended by and then go with that, even if you're telling them, "But it's not that, I promise."
Audience member: So, I wanted to pick up on this last conversation you and Truth were having about the idea that there are these certain types of human actions that are seems like free, you have no idea what's gonna, how they're gonna end before we start them. That's really cool form of human relationships. I think it's really neat that we can do these sort of things that don't have structure come into being as you start to talk to each other. What I'm wondering is like whether, so I gotta just like a thing that I'm super interested in. I wonder whether the fact that there's social matters there or where there's the like when you're just writing tracks on your own whether there's that same sort of lack of an end point.
Marcus Fitzgerald: For me, it's always, it starts off as just a feeling and a title, but at the end my goal is always to make sense of the end of the verse. I don't wanna just put out something that doesn't have a middle and an end, so I feel like I, me personally I feel like told a beginning, middle and an end and that it's not just ambiguous and that it is an escape point from my stand point, I feel like I captured it from that standpoint. I extract the same thing from A.D.'s verse but it does start off as just a feeling and that's the funness of creating hip-hop tracks is that you can just start with a vibe and then as you writing it, it kind of increases as you write the verse and then you go back and you start to read the beginning again and say, "Ok, let me make this and make sure that this verse makes sense." And sometimes it comes organically, you don't really have to work to do that, you know, if you're a pretty good writer.
A.D. Carson: I think sometimes things age differently, you know? Like there's thing that I intended and I wanted it to do a particular thing and so then time passes and the world has changed but the piece hasn't and so the piece means something different because of how we get along with each other since the piece came into existence and I've had that happen. I remember writing a thing down in Clemson. It was a song called "Willie Revisited," which is like essentially about or at least a response to the so-called "Willie Lynch letter" and at one point I thought this song is about like the world of rap.
A.D. Carson: It's about all of these rappers who are doing this terrible thing and one day as I'm walking across campus, if you know Clemson is a plantation too. As I'm walking across campus I started feeling like, "This song is about you!" Like I feel convicted by these words that I wrote that I thought I was writing about other people as a critique of this thing and it's like "Dude, you are not outside the thing. Actually, you embody the thing!" And then it started being about me and I'm like "Yo, I came for myself."
And I felt like really done in by it and sort of embarrassed like that this song was like that I thought, that like—
Guthrie Ramseay: It's sort of like what you were talking about—
Lanice Avery: Thank you very much.
A.D. Carson: So yeah, that happens a lot when I think, yeah, I'm doing this thing that I'm able to speak but some kind of, like, that I can speak from the outside of and then I realize that, "You keep thinking that there's an outside."
Lanice Avery: Listen.
Audience member: Yeah, I think, to that point I think it relates to something that you had mentioned earlier as well in the roundtable discussion about kind of being within and without some sort of larger body that we may not understand who is being harmed by the actions of liberation or what have you. So I think, by virtue of being a student of yours as well, just kind of listening to the work, the thing that resonates with me the most is that, you know, we are all agents of these institutions that we claim to be subverting and simultaneously we embody what it is that the institution wants us to carry along because the purpose of the institution is to, I guess what is the word? Perpetuate, to stay alive so as we are going through it, even as students at UVA, we're taught so many different things, you know? "This is how you can resist these norms, and you know, what have you," and yet a lot of us are punished for doing these things that are subversive actions. And I think it's kind of interesting to think about, you know, personally my role as a student and my role as an individual trying to resist the very thing that I'm being inculcated to do.
Guthrie Ramsey: Reproduce.
Audience member: Yes.
A.D. Carson: Yeah. Well, it's real. I'm glad you were paying attention in class.
Njelle Hamilton: Got time for one more question.
A.D. Carson: Warms my heart.
Deborah McDowell: I'm trying to figure out how I'm gonna ask this question, you know? It comes from a point you were making and it had to do with understanding what the listener's expectations might be and that you don't want to fulfill those expectations. That you know what they are. So, there are these conventions or these sonic conventions that you don't want to satisfy, so again, without suggesting that you go to music or literature or any other art form as if it's like a medicine cabinet, what are you, do you see yourself as re-educating the listener? Are you attempting in that process to make some comment on how people listen? That's the best way I can ask this question.
A.D. Carson: Yeah, I think that part of it is that, like, I realized how I've been tricked into, like how I've been lured—
Deborah McDowell: Uh-huh.
A.D. Carson: ...into listening more attentively.
Deborah McDowell: Uh-huh.
A.D. Carson: And then it's like a tool.
Deborah McDowell: Uh-huh.
A.D. Carson: Like if I wanna bring folks along, there's a way that, I think that there's a way that you kind of lay out the track and then folks like, you know, they see the tracks before them and, like, then they can close their eyes and they know they'll end up there. Or they feel they'll end up there or I can give them that and then there's like there're these ways where they're being pulled along and perhaps the track gave them the false sense that was where they were going.
Deborah McDowell: So, are you, do you want to avert sleepwalking?
A.D. Carson: Well no, I think it's like it's to, maybe. Because I'm also like never, I don't think, I've never made the claim that I'm not myself the sleepwalker, you know. And I think that there's, you know, ample evidence within that text um, you know, the speaker, like they may also be asleep. So—
Deborah McDowell: Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. Ah... So, there is no Archimedean point, there's no point outside. That was the question you were making earlier.
A.D. Carson: Yeah.
Deborah McDowell: There's no place you can stay that's free of all of these—
A.D. Carson: Yeah. And so, when I'm writing, like, those expectations that exist it's like, to me, it's less interesting to fulfill them unless it is being fulfilled for a very specific point. And so, like "Kill Whitey" is the best example of that, is that it's fulfilling these expectations in sort of a way that is, to me kind of funny, but probably not as funny to anybody else [laughter] because it's like, I mean, it's really to say, "I'm going to do it now. Like these are the terms on which I'm going to give you that fulfillment. So if you're going to sing the hook—I know there was a friend who was like, "So you, like I don't know what to say to you because I wanna play this song loudly in my car, [laughter] but if I do then I'll be playing this song loudly in my car and then people are going to wonder what's going on." And I'm like—
Deborah McDowell: ...so why would I play this song loudly in my car.
A.D. Carson: Yeah, and I'm like—
Deborah McDowell: ...since I can get shot for so doing.
A.D. Carson: Yes. And I'm like but it thumps hard enough that maybe people aren't listening. Maybe people aren't listening to the hook, they don't hear the words. If they do, then yeah, you've got some explaining to do, but that's between you and them and not necessarily my thing, which is also awful because like somebody could literally get shot for that. I think, you know, it stops being a joke when we bring Jordan Davis into the picture.
Deborah McDowell: You're right. Exactly. Exactly.
A.D. Carson: And think about what the repercussions are for something like that. So, it's like, there's this absurdity to it all that like gets really, really, really serious in the midst of our laughing. So, to sort of be somewhere within that mess and know that, like, it seems merely aesthetic until we start to give these concrete examples of where, like, those aesthetics are a matter of life and death. You know, when you're interaction in the world.
Deborah McDowell: Yeah. Yeah. One small thing?
Njelle Hamilton: Small.
Deborah McDowell: Unless somebody else has, small, small. Well we were supposed to go 'til 7:30, but we don't have to.
But I wanted to take up from Lanice. I think I'm remembering the question, because— I don't wanna try to remember it because I want you to reproduce that delicious eloquent,
Guthrie Ramsey: That was 16 bars!
Deborah McDowell: That point, I just want you to make that point again because it is itself so musical. From that come from Audre Lorde, the violence not so much begetting violence, I don't.
Guthrie Ramsey: Black women as collateral damage of the liberation quest. Yeah.
Deborah McDowell: Yeah. Exactly. And then A.D.'s response was equally delicious, it was the thing and the antidote, the violence and the antidote—
Jack Hamilton: The poison and the antidote.
Deborah McDowell: The poison in the antidote, which is kind of, that's a form of definition of homeopathy, right?
That's what happens in homeopathic medicine, am I remembering this right? Somebody help me.
Guthrie Ramsey: It sounds like, to me, Grimm's Fairy Tales, where the apple was the gift and the poison.
Lanice Avery: It's building up a resilience to it. Without curing it, right? Certainly not restoring it. Certainly not getting your mind back, and has nothing to do with what it does to lots of folks who die with exposure.
Njelle Hamilton: ...to get to the antidote, the dosage, somebody has to test it so people might actually die in the process of making the antidote.
Lanice Avery: Yes, often do. Often Black folks.
Guthrie Ramsey: Often Black women.
Deborah McDowell: Yeah.
Lanice Avery: Historically always us. Often Black women, to be specific.
Deborah McDowell: And I was thinking of two things as you were speaking, you know, it's been going around the last month, this exchange from the seventies between Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin.
Lanice Avery: James Baldw—yasssss.
Deborah McDowell: Like where she's basically giving him a version of the same. But then I also thought because, I see you're wearing Invisible Man and it's a book stack and all and it's not in Invisible Man that Ellison is saying this but it's in one of the essays in Shadow and Act where he's really trying to explain corporal punishment and the resilience to corporal punishment in Black communities, in other words, why people beat their children, you know?
Lanice Avery: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Deborah McDowell: And obviously, I mean, it's so theoretically sophisticated and intricate but as near as I can tell, it's like, I am beating you up to keep you from being, to keep you alive, you know? This is my version, corporal punishment is the way what was that?
Guthrie Ramsey: Whew, whew... It's great.
Deborah McDowell: Yeah, but it's Ellison explaining this thing. Do you remember that woman in Baltimore after the—and everybody is, you know, let's give this woman an Academy Award, she sees this child out here and just goes upside his head and so, you know, I'm on my high horse, what? We cannot be condoning this.
Njelle Hamilton: On TV. On TV. [laughter]
Deborah McDowell: All the while, I'm mindful of the fact that not only was I subjected to corporal punishment, but in the era you were told to go outside and bring me a switch.
Lanice Avery: Get a switch. You're a part of it, you bring it about yourself.
Deborah McDowell: Yeah. Yeah. So, it's this—
Guthrie Ramsey: Wow.
Deborah McDowell: Yeah. This violence to prevent violence which is completely wack, but he's basically, and his own articulation, he wants to see it as an expression of love, right? I gotta remember the essay.
Jack Hamilton: I think it's the "Richard Wright's Blues" essay. I think it's the end of the, yeah. Which is really amazing.
Deborah McDowell: Yes, that would've been it! Because I was writing about Richard Wright. Exactly, it is in "Richard Wright's Blues."
Guthrie Ramsey: Alright, Jack! [laughter]
Deborah McDowell: It's the one about corporal punishment as homeopathy and I don't know why I'm on this tangent but let me stop.
Lanice Avery: I mean, also though that you're saying, "Beat you up to save you," and A.D. said, "I don't wanna be up, I wanna be down." And so that's interesting to say, like, "Sure. And also, that's never the goal, we don't wanna survive oppression, like we don't wanna survive violence, we want to not be violated, period."
Deborah McDowell: Right.
Lanice Avery: So then how do we think about a strategy that has not to do with complicity or resilience to it to fine-tune our ability to withstand, like how is it to not engage it? Right? Even if it means killing Whitey, enacting a violence harder on you so that I'm not, like is that freedom? Can you even get free? We know you can't that way.
Deborah McDowell: Right.
Njelle Hamilton: So, kind of what you know I was joking that's like my favorite song, right? It's a legitimate banger, right? Then every line undercuts what you think the previous line meant, right? Like, so, one of my favorite lines is, "the soundtrack to end white supremacy," and like if we actually do the thing that the words do, which is end white supremacy, don't they also hopefully, ideally, right? That kind of dismantle the systems that kind of—
Lanice Avery: We know better.
Njelle Hamilton: Right, this is kind of exactly, right, that the system is dismantled, right—
Lanice Avery: Then you just take over the system and do the same thing again, if that was the way you wanted. You go to war to take them over then to enact war. Like occupation and dominance is the language, so you can't get it. You get it how you live [laughter] and you will never live another way if you only got it that way. And so—
Deborah McDowell: The violence is always generative.
Lanice Avery: Right, right, which is my question about Audre Lorde and thinking about the intrapersonal languages that we get, like what do we really adopt that engenders a possibility of freedom. Often it is not if that is the language and if we take it up without scrutiny.
Deborah McDowell: This really. [laughter] I, anybody else? Yeah, this is, see, this is what, A.D.