OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Stevie “Dr. View” Johnson wants to elevate the lives of young people of color, one beat, one rhyme and one doctorate degree at a time.
A 29-year-old music producer from Longview, Texas, who put roots down in Oklahoma City with his wife and young son, Johnson recently earned his doctorate in adult and higher education administration from the University of Oklahoma.
His 250-page dissertation explores black experiences at historically white colleges.
“It’s for educators to get away from just interpreting data and start listening to the voices of students,” he told The Oklahoman.
Listening is a key principle in Johnson’s work.
He is a former assistant director for diversity and retention programs at the University of Central Oklahoma, and a longtime DJ who has woven together academia and hip-hop culture through a 25-track rap album titled “Curriculum of The Mind,” a gritty echo of his written work.
The album is a project by The Space Program, a black hip-hop collective featuring artists and entrepreneurs who have attended colleges and universities throughout the Sooner State.
Johnson heads the collective, which formed in 2017 and took its name from a song by A Tribe Called Quest in which the legendary rap group laments what it sees as the marginalization of black people in America.
“We’re trying to re-imagine space for black and brown people to thrive in America,” Johnson said. “We just want to be a voice, a beacon of hope for people across the world.”
Typical of “Curriculum of the Mind,” a song with the same title uses the college campus as a launching pad to discuss a wide range of black issues, from identity and racism to poverty and familial expectations.
Among the artists who rhyme over the song’s thick, slow-dripping beat, rapper Jacobi Ryan delivers a bar laced with admonishments and exhortations, declaring “solutions to a problem can be found where it begins.”
Johnson produced the album in Oklahoma City with Gage Baker and Logan Sirbaugh at Wrong House Records, with Myles Adams engineering. Sonically, the album draws on West African rhythms, funk and soul, with splashes of trap. Sharp lyrics thread the record, which at times evokes the boom bap era of rap, with rugged beats and haunting atmospheres.
“It’s really genius,” said Christopher Emdin, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University. “It’s golden era hip-hop with a contemporary sensibility.”
Author of the book “Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation,” Emdin said Johnson stands at the intersection of pop culture and rigorous academic work.
“It’s hard to create hip-hop music that is palatable to the masses and has academic heft,” Emdin said. “You have those in the ivory tower and those in the hip-hop culture. This kid comes along and shows those worlds don’t have to be separate.”
Johnson is working to place the album in the hands of educators, as a tool to help them understand and better teach black students in college.
“It was just something where we were creating content, but we built a connection, a camaraderie, a brotherhood where now you can put a face with the names, and even try to check our own privileges within the group,” Johnson said. “We’re supporting our dreams and aspirations.”