When you think of the Ivy League institution of Harvard University hip hop music doesn’t immediately come to mind.
But one creative student submitted a rap album for his final thesis.
Not only did Obasi Shaw pass, but is graduating with one of the University’s highest accolades.
His work is the first submission of its kind in the University’s history.
Shaw produced his album Liminal Minds while other classmates wrote novels, poems, and short stories.
The 10-track album is inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and also highlights the current racial climate.
Shaw was awarded a summa cum laude minus mark for his album – the second highest grade a student can receive in the department.
“[African-Americans are] free, but the effects of slavery still exist,” Shaw told the Harvard Gazette. “Each song is an exploration of that state between slavery and freedom.”
The 20-year-old student from Atlanta was home-schooled by both of his Harvard graduate parents, and credits his mother for giving him the idea for creating a rap thesis.
Shaw grew up listening to Christian rap, and started to listen to popular rappers such as Kendrick Lemar and Chance the Rapper only two years ago. He was inspired by the rappers’ lyrics on race, black identity and religion.
On one of his tracks, Open Your Eyes, Mr Shaw raps: “Just watch the thrones, our people are known. For making history of the impossible.’
‘From rap to White House, we unstoppable. Jumping Jim Crow to playing Oscar roles.’
Shaw said: “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.”
Obasi’s thesis adviser, Josh Bell, was extremely impressed by his student’s unorthodox thesis.
He told the Harvard Gazette: “[Obasi] is telling stories in each song from different points of view, and it’s critical of American society and racial politics. But above all that, it’s a fun and interesting album.”
Y'all, cop my album at https://t.co/JAXuOUTRQ4
The mixing is still a work in progress, but hey, it's free
— Obasi Shaw (@ObasiShaw) May 21, 2017
“Rap is a genre in which I can say everything I want to say,” he said. “I’ve been writing in different capacities, but I never felt that I found my art form until I started rapping.”