Some know A.D. Carson ’04 as an academic athletic coach and English teacher for Springfield (Ill.)Public Schools. But Carson is also known as performance artist “Aydee the Great,” a self-described rapper, educator and poet. That persona has released the multi-media novel “Cold,” a combination of hip-hop, poetry and prose. It has been released alongside two audio editions: “Cold” and “Cold World,” volumes one and two.
The art of the novel comes through in the manner with which Carson combines the different genres, layering them upon each other on physical and rhetorical levels.
“I knew I wanted this to be more than an album, a book or a collection of poetry,” says Carson, “and when I had all these things sitting out in front of me, I realized they are all interdependent and had to work together.”
The story is told through the eyes of Dr. Nicole Campbell, a fictional young African-American professor newly arrived at a university strikingly similar to Millikin.
The fictional college’s coffee shop is called Common Grounds, the words inscribed by the entrance of the main building are “Who Am I? How Can I Know? What Should I Do?” and Carson makes a note of the cobbled street connecting campus to the historical downtown district.
While visiting Common Grounds, Campbell is moved by a student’s poetry. This student is “Aydee the Great.”
“Hip-hop relies on traditional literary techniques,” says Carson. “One is the idea of the everyman. The ‘I’ in hip-hop represents the individual listening to this song. People feel these rappers are speaking to them at that specific moment in their lives.”
Carson uses the idea of the “I” as a vehicle to connect the rhetoric of hip-hop with that of literature and blur the line between the two.
“I thought if I could insert myself into the story and make an everyman character, the reader would be forced to take the ‘I’ and embody it as well,” says Carson.
Rather than a combination of these separate art forms and his life, Carson views “Cold” as a singular evolution of each.
“It’s a natural progression for me,” he says, “because my life has been so informed by hip-hop culture. When I hear personification or conceit, I think Common Sense, the rapper. When someone speaks of storytelling, I think Slick Rick.”
Carson, a Decatur native, dropped out of Eastern Illinois University before finishing his undergraduate degree at the Big Blue, majoring in education and creative writing.
At Millikin, Carson found the avenue of creativity he had been seeking. “At Millikin,” he says, “I was embraced as a multi-faceted individual who strived to be creative.”
Carson’s book and CDs are available from Amazon.com. MP3s of the audio content are also available from iTunes.
Carson began giving serious thought to some of the issues approached in “Cold” with fellow students and faculty. “What does it mean to be educated, to get a degree?” he asks. “Do you lose credibility in the hood because you have letters behind your name now?”
Carson says his time at Millikin was vital to the creation of “Cold,” and he cites Gwendolyn Brooks, Pulitzer Prize recipient and poet laureate of Illinois, as his writing inspiration.
“I met Gwendolyn Brooks when I was a kid of 15,” Carson says. “I told her I wanted to be a poet and she said, ‘You’re already a poet. Now your obligation is to write.’ I believe that was one of the moments when I began to consider myself a serious writer,” he says.
“Before I wrote this book, I visited the Gwendolyn Brooks State Library and someone said to me, ‘It won’t be long before you’ll be reading your own book here.’ I feel it’s really great to get that encouragement.”