The City Never Sleeps and apparently neither does A.D. Carson. With his second book in as many years, Carson delivers a text even more inclusive, transparent and raw than his first book, COLD, A Novel by A.D. Carson. If COLD was illustrative of Carson’s attempt to bridge the gap between his academic and artistic worlds, The City: [un] poems, thoughts, rhymes & miscellany is a declaration that in bridging the gap, he has no desire to merge these worlds. Carson makes clear that poetry, rap, and prose are all separate and distinct forms of expression. The City is a Hip-Hop cornucopia. It’s all there, the language, the resistance, the misogyny, the wordplay, the storytelling, the homage to those who came before him and a bit of braggadocio. What might surprise those outside of Hip-Hop culture is that each of the aforementioned art forms (rap, poetry, prose) are utilized within the culture.
Within The City, Carson makes both indirect and direct nods to his influences and inspirations. If you’re familiar with his work, you know the influence of Gwendolyn Brooks is never far away. In that regard, Carson does not disappoint as he stays true with a sampling of “We Real Cool.” A remix of sorts comes in the form of “The Revolution 2.0 (for Gil Scott Heron).” Here, Carson brings both figures to a generation that remains a Google search away from the work of both figures.
The heart of The City is in the storytelling. Yes, the reader gets stories from the poems and the rap lyrics but here Carson offers several short stories that are nothing short of literary genius. One is left to wonder if Carson invokes alter egos in a sense that what the reader gets from an audio track is significantly different from what that same reader comes away with after reading the short stories, some of which have an effect so tranquil and serene they appear to be the antithesis of various audio tracks.
Like COLD, The City is a multi-medium work with an accompanying audio CD of the same title. Carson goes old school with the number of tracks on the CD (you just don’t get 17 tracks from anyone these days) and lengthy tracks. Both of which are refreshing in a world of 10 track albums with songs averaging 2 minutes.
The CD offers variety in tone, beat and subject matter. Admittedly, my Chicago roots have a slight bias for tracks with a faster cadence (“Deebo: Mind Control” is one of my favorites). It’s that same track that highlights my love/hate relationship with Hip-Hop as the insults proffered to his male cohorts regularly consisted of terms typically reserved for women. Still, it remains the most played of the disc on my playlist.
There is a juxtaposition in this work that refuses to be reconciled and therein lies the beauty of The City: [un] poems, thoughts, rhymes & miscellany. The text is much like Hip-Hop culture in that it is not trying to fit in or assimilate. Rather, it simply wants the ability to speak in its own language and be both heard and recognized. With The City, A.D. Carson definitely makes you want to listen.