People might not connect Old English to rap music, but that’s what this 22-year-old did – and it earned him the second highest honor in the English department of Harvard University.

Instead of writing a screenplay or a collection of memoirs typical of the English department for his senior thesis, Obasi Shaw submitted a 10-track rap album on the dynamics of living as a black man in America – a first for Harvard. Awarded the summa cum laude minus grade, the Liminal Minds album has been hailed as a historic achievement at the Ivy League school.

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“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.”

Shaw, who exclusively listened to Christian rap while growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, was never fond of the explicit nature of more commonly acclaimed hip hop. The student has since stayed very close with his Christian upbringing, working as the managing editor at Harvard’s Christian undergrad journal, as well as a member of the school’s faith group.

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Shaw was given the idea for the album by his mother. Since he first started rapping at a Christian summer camp in Tennessee as a child, she saw his potential as artist. When the time came to submit his thesis topic, his mother suggested he harness his love of rap music and make an album.

“Obasi’s album is very interesting because it uses Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ as an intellectual overlay,” said Shaw’s thesis advisor Josh 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.”

(LISTEN to the tracks below)


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