Harvard Senior Writes Rap Album for Thesis

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Not your typical academic project: Harvard senior Obasi R. Shaw ’17 is the first student at the Ivy League school to have submitted a rap album for his senior thesis in the English department, Billboard reports. And it’s so good, it was marked as an A-, effectively securing Shaw’s honors degree.

Obasis’s art is purposeful — a moody take on being black in the United States — and meant to illuminate how modern race issues are connected to the past, The Harvard Crimson reports.

“I feel like we compartmentalize our understanding of race relations in America into five distinct categories,” Obasi told the Crimson. “There’s slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights, and now. And I think that because we make these sharp categorical distinctions, it’s hard for us to see how . . . violence now is influenced by housing policies in the ’60s, and how different times intersect and how nothing’s really distinct.”

The album pulls from The Canterbury Tales and other esteemed literature. Obasi was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., even quoting his “I Have a Dream” speech in a track, “Understand.” According to The Harvard Gazette, his music also touches on the Black Lives Matter movement, slavery, segregation, and former president Barack Obama.

Speaking on the nature of the music genre, Obasi feels hip-hop is the most ideal art form for his voice.

“Rap is a historically black form of art, and if I want to tell a story of black people, the most appropriate art form is to use their art form — to use our art form,” he said to the Crimson. “I feel like a rapped project kind of conveys the black culture more than a set of poetry would or a even, like, a movie . . . This is one of the very few forms of art that black people can claim as their own.”

And even though the songs are typical length, only three to four minutes long, Obasi works to convey a meaningful message.

“When I speak about somebody’s life, I can only talk about a few key moments and try to paint a broader picture from that,” Obasi told the Crimson. “I have to try to balance getting as much exposition into those few words as possible while also trying to tell a very interesting and engaging story.”

Related: College Student Mark Phillips Re-created Iconic Hip-Hop Album Covers in His Graduation Photos



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