No more are the days of handing out mixtapes from the trunk of your car. Welcome are the days of finessing Ivy league faculty members into listening to your rap album for a grade. Obasi Shaw has done the unthinkable – unless you’re him. He turned in a 10-track rap album entitled “Liminal Minds” for his thesis at Harvard University. Shaw, an English major, used his love of the art form to merge classic literature and poetry with influences from Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar.
“Some people don’t consider rap a high art form,” Shaw told the Harvard Gazette. “But poetry and rap are very similar. Rhyming poems were very common in old English poetry.”
The idea to submit a rap album apparently came from his mother of all people. He was definitely doing something different than his classmates who traditionally submit screenplays or manuscripts for their senior thesis.
Obasi Shaw '17 submitted Harvard's first rap thesis, "Liminal Minds," which combines elements of Middle English poetry with issues of racial identity in America. “[African-Americans are] free, but the effects of slavery still exist," says Shaw. "Each song is an exploration of that state between slavery and freedom.”⠀ ⠀ After graduation, Shaw will move to Seattle for a one-year internship in software engineering. As for rap, he’ll keep it as a treasured hobby. “Rap is a genre in which I can say everything I want to say,” Shaw said. “I’ve been writing in different capacities, but I never felt that I found my art form until I started rapping.”⠀ ⠀ #Harvard #Harvard17
Shaw’s gamble worked out for the better as he received a grade of summa cum laude minus and praise from members of the faculty, including his advisor, Josh Bell, Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in English.
“Obasi’s album is very interesting because it uses Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ as an intellectual overlay,” said Bell. Shaw “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.”
Shaw’s journey to rap started two years ago when he was attending bible camp. While he isn’t a fan of much of today’s popular rap music for a variety of reasons, he was able to take when he needed from it to craft an album of his own.
“Rap is a genre in which I can say everything I want to say,” Shaw said. “I’ve been writing in different capacities, but I never felt that I found my art form until I started rapping. Next year he’ll head to Seattle for an internship in software engineering ad leave rapping as a hobby.