The Space Program Presents Curriculum of the Mind Stevie "Dr. View" Johnson
Stevie "Dr. View" Johnson, Producer Oklahoma City, OK: TSP Records, 2019, $16.19 (audio download) http://www.tspalbum.com
In Race Matters, Cornell West (2017) wrote:
The distinctive benchmark of Black music is soulful kenosis—the courageous and compassionate styles of genuine selfemptying that give all one is and has to empower, enable, and ennoble others. In this metaphoric way, the greatest Black musicians and Black freedom fighters are the truth, in that they embody and enact a radical love (especially for an unloved people) by freely giving all they are and have to inspire and encourage others. The conditions of truth is to allow suffering to speak, and the condition of being the truth is to transform your suffering with great creativity and compassion into forms and deeds that empower others to do likewise in their own ways. (p. xxi)
Johnson's hip-hop album, The Space Program Presents Curriculum of the Mind, embodies and enacts West's words regarding radical love and the condition of truth to transform suffering as he and his Black male college student colleagues create their spaces and reflect on the intersections of race, gender, and class in primarily White institutions (PWIs).
This critical action research study resulting in a published album has evolved over time. It transitioned from a qualitative research course paper to a dissertation prospectus to a written dissertation (Johnson, 2019), and an album available for sale—all the while engaging with (not "on") Black men within and around a PWI. The study has deepened since its origination and the complexities of a racist, imperialistic, colonialist, classist academy are interwoven throughout the narratives and beat. The lyrics weave between college life as a Black man on campus, the lack of value faculty have for Black men and their knowledge production, the fear of living in a society where Black bodies are killed regularly simply for existing, the physical manifestations of racism on a Black man's body, the draw to go home and make more money, the cost of college—the complexities of the themes seem endless.
An album is not a traditional result of dissertation research; however, a "defining feature of critical advocacy inquiry is methodological rigor" (Pasque & Carducci, 2015, p. 276), and Johnson has captured this with his hip-hop album—a project that has wide ranging and serious implications for the field. It is important to note, in the humanities critical advocacy inquiry often results in only the publication of an album created through the formation of a student group of men who live, breathe, journey, and create together, where their "focus group" conversations about the challenges of college life to and through college became the foundation for the lyrical interplay. It is in this interplay that the thematic analysis of true stories and lived experiences in every song and the relationships between the men are evoked.
There is an array of genres—from hip-hop, rap, Motown, classical influences, old school, and beyond. Curriculum of the Mind is lyrically, [End Page 129] politically, and musically complicated—the songs are intentionally placed to take the listener on a journey to define and extend space on college campuses. It includes themes interwoven with historical and contemporary references and lyrical nods to legends such as scholar W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk, activist and singer Nina Simone's Feeling Good, poet Maya Angelou's Still I Rise, film director Spike Lee's Higher Learning (two different scenes), and more. The inclusion of these few words, lyrics, and excerpts are genius in that they elicit the racial complexities and depth of social critique offered throughout the works of well-known scholars and artists.
For example, a few words from Academy Award-winner Spike Lee's movie Higher Learning evoke the entire movie for a listener as s/he layers the individual, institutional, and societal oppressions of the movie with the existing album in a matter of seconds. As Denzin (2003) pointed out in his reflections on performance ethnography: "This esthetic enables social criticism that engenders resistance. It helps persons imagine how things could be different. It imagines new forms of human transformation and emancipation and enacts these transformations through dialogue" (p. 113). In this case, listeners dialogue with Johnson's album as they are called to imagine social criticism, in turn, evoking resistance to the White supremacist capitalistic academy. Listeners may be called to social action and to create "space" within their own PWI.
Further, Johnson has brilliantly connected theory to practice through the opening song and interludes, going as far as to explicitly point out to faculty and practitioners how one might use a dissertation like this on college campuses. For example, in "Mentor 2 Mentee (interlude)," Dr. View talks with Day'Quann Ervin about Ervin's struggle to stay in college. Dr. View asks the student to listen to the album and then come back to discuss it in more detail. In this way, the student can intuit the music, relate to the lyrics and stories, and feel connected to a community larger than himself—understanding he is not alone.
The album becomes a text to share with students individually or with a student group to listen, to talk about how the album relates to what students are feeling, and possibly to take action—such as staying in school or forming a group such as TSP. To be sure, it is a vital tenant of (a) critical advocacy inquiry (Pasque & Carducci, 2015) and (b) the field of student affairs commitment to theory to practice (http://myacpa.org) that research not stay on the shelf or in a dissertation where quotes from participants and analyses go unutilized. The published album is offered in a medium students relate to, experience, talk about, grow from, and utilize as impetus to create space on their home campuses. The album can and will be utilized off the shelf of and in the digital collections of a library.
With his hip-hop album, The Space Program Presents Curriculum of the Mind, Johnson seeks to reflect truth and transform space on college campuses—and in production—accomplishes and exceeds this goal. In this way, it reflects West's words and hopes for the future of Black men on campus. [End Page 130]