Goodbye theses, hello rap album.
For the first time ever, a student of Harvard University, Obasi Shaw, submitted his thesis in an unusual form – a ten-track rap album. His professors were obviously quite pleased – not only did he graduate with honours, he also received “summa cum laude minus”, the second-highest grade in his department at the Ivy League college.
Shaw’s album, Liminal Minds – a play on the television show title Criminal Minds – is inspired by no less than Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century The Canterbury Tales. The album focuses on race and black identity in America and each song is told from a different character’s perspective, just like the original work.
Explaining the title of the album, Shaw told XXL magazine: “It’s the idea that we can understand Black minds not as criminal minds but as liminal minds and as minds that are under all these different kinds of pressures that cause them to be the way they are and do the things that they do. Like, this is the way Black people experience America.”
The album starts with Shaw rapping:
Behold, what we hold is three-fold –
Body and spirit to be thrones for free souls.
Self is the evidence, please close the freak shows,
And depose the evils, our peoples are equals.
It took the 20-year-old a little longer than a year to complete the album. He’d been rapping for a few months, and believes it is a genre that gives him the freedom to express himself. Though he will be working at Google as a software engineer after his graduation, he intends to continue rapping.
He says he was influenced by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, as well as Nas, who have portrayed several social and racial subjects in their music. “I want to explore the complex nature of what it means to be black and to be human. My goal is to get people to empathise with these people and to realise they are dealing with so many difficulties in life,” he told CNN, adding, “Nobody is less human than anybody else.”
Liminal Minds is available free on SoundCloud.