Atlanta native Obasi Shaw will be graduating with honors from Harvard University, and had one of the most unique senior thesis projects. Harvard officials say Shaw is the first student in the university’s history to submit a rap album as a senior thesis in the English department.
He describes his album as a moody take on what it means to be black in America. The album draws on Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century classic “The Canterbury Tales” and other literary works. It received the equivalent of an A-minus grade, enough to guarantee Shaw will graduate with honors next week.
The album’s title, “Liminal Minds,” plays on the phrase “criminal minds”. But more than anything, it refers to the in-between state of blacks in this country: free but often marginalized, free yet not equal. “Black people in America are kind of caught between freedom and slavery,” he said. “They’re free, but the effects of slavery still exist in society and in people’s subconscious. Each song is an exploration of black liminality, that state between slavery and freedom.”
In the opening song, “Declaration of Independence,” Shaw sings about the incidents of police violence against black men and finds fault in the whole system.
Composing like Beethoven, to the deaf, or just the hard of hearing —
Complacent faces, vacant breasts, bereft of all the feeling.
A nation due for inspection, this is the audit, herein
Lies the fear in the eyes of our departed dearly —
Cold bodies facing .22, man in blue.
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.
Check him out in the video below:
Obasi Shaw performing Talk To Me at Harvard's Arts First Battle of the Bands, where he won first place.