Obasi Shaw is still on a euphoric high from the pomp and circumstance of graduation. But the English major is also floating on cloud nine from another accolade. Shaw became the first student in Harvard’s history to submit a rap album for a senior thesis. And to his surprise, it was accepted and earned him an A, a good enough grade to drape him in honors for graduation.
Shaw’s album titled “Liminal Minds” is a diverse array of stories about the Black experience in America, inspired by the English literary classic, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
“As I was crafting the stories of black people as on a pilgrimage, that these are ordinary people from different walks of life just kind of telling their stories.”
Shaw describes the tile of the album as a descriptor for the Black experience- being caught between the desire to overcome oppression while being weighted by its lingering effects from the past.
“The thesis itself is a series of stories of different people speaking about the liminality of their experience.”
From the first song “Declaration of Independence,” to “Swing Low” and “Open Your Eyes,” Shaw alludes the order of songs to also follow a narrative of pilgrimage from dark tyranny to a more promising and equitable future.
The inception of ‘Liminal Minds’ began as a suggestion from his mother as he found himself pressed against an application deadline for a creative writing thesis.
Doubtful at first, Shaw was shocked to hear that his application was approved and how supportive his thesis advisor was of his proposal.
The Harvard grad says in addition to all the attention from the media, record label executives have reached out.
So, is Shaw on his way to signing a record deal? Well, not anytime soon. He'll keep it as a hobby, he says. The Georgia native is heading to Seattle to work for Google next year. He's also getting married this coming August.
Click the audio link above to listen to the entire piece, self-narrated by Obasi Shaw.