Harvard student Obasi Shaw has made headlines for submitting a rap album as his final year thesis and graduating with honors.
An English major, Shaw has become the first Harvard student to create a rap album as a senior thesis, according to the Huffington Post.
Shaw’s 10-track album, entitled “Liminal Minds,” a play on the hit CBS series “Criminal Minds,” received a summa cum laude minus — the second highest grade in the department — with his thesis advisor describing him as a “serious artist and an amazing guy.”
Shaw’s album is inspired by classic English literature, such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” as well as new-school hip-hop heavyweights Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar.
Harvard does not require seniors to submit a thesis, but it is a requirement for those seeking to graduate with honors.
The 20-year-old from Stone Mountain, Georgia, said he never thought a non-conventional thesis like a rap album would be accepted by an ivy league institution, such as Harvard.
Yet, Shaw says his mother encouraged him to submit an album after watching him write rap lyrics and hearing him perform at open mic events.
Raised in a devout Christian household, Shaw listened almost exclusively to Christian rap while growing up, but then he took a liking to the music of the aforementioned secular artists due to their socially conscious lyrics.
Shaw, who will work as a software engineer at Google after graduation, says he hopes his album can help change the public’s perceptions about rap music, “Some people don’t consider rap a high art form. But poetry and rap are very similar. Rhyming poems were very common in old English poetry.”
Shaw sees his album as a sociopolitical commentary on the plight of African Americans, combining elements of Middle English poetry with issues of racial identity in America.
“[African-Americans are] free, but the effects of slavery still exist.
“Each song is an exploration of that state between slavery and freedom,” Shaw says.