This is the first time in Harvard University’s history that an Ivy League student submitted a rap album as his final thesis.
Obasi Shaw, 20, from Stone Mountain, Georgia, was awarded a summa cum laude minus, the second-highest grade possible, for his 10-track rap thesis for the English Department. The project, “Liminal Minds,” guarantees Shaw graduates with one of the highest accolades.
The 20-year-old student was surprised by his success, stating, “I never thought it would be accepted by Harvard. I didn’t think they would respect rap as an art form enough for me to do it.”
Shaw’s project is not just an ordinary rap album. The unique thesis was inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century classic “The Canterbury Tales” and the works of writer James Baldwin, and focuses on black identity in America, police brutality and slavery. Understandably, the 10-track album is dark and moody.
According to Shaw, his mother Michelle came up with the idea. During winter break of 2015, Shaw, who had just started writing his own rap music and performing it during events on campus, was struggling to find a topic for his thesis. Rather than write an essay or a collection of poems, his mother suggested he record an album for his thesis.
It took Shaw more than a year to compose the songs and record them at a studio at Harvard — but it paid off.
Shaw’s thesis adviser, Josh Bell, said his student was a “serious artist and he’s an amazing guy.
“He was able to turn around an album that people in the English Department would like very much but also that people who like rap music might like,” he said.
The album is available online for free for those who wish to listen to it.
Harvard’s love of hip-hop is well documented. The Ivy League school has invited a number of rap artists, including Chance the Rapper, DJ Khaled and Pusha T. In 2015, rapper Nas also received the school’s W.E.B. DuBois medal for significant contribution to black identity in America.