Augustine Collective Alum Obasi Shaw ’17 Awarded Honors for Rap Thesis at Harvard

Augustine Collective alumnus Obasi Shaw ’17 will be graduating from Harvard University with honors for his thesis – a 10-track rap album entitled “Liminal Minds.” The album combines such influences as Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and Geoffrey Chaucer to portray contemporary black life in America. Shaw is the first in Harvard’s history to submit a rap album for the senior thesis project.

“I want to explore the complex nature of what it means to be black and to be human,” Shaw told CNN. “My goal is to get people to empathize with these people and to realize that they are dealing with so many difficulties in life. Nobody is less human than anybody else.”

The Harvard Gazette featured several of Shaw’s songs, which are free to stream online:

In the opening song, “Declaration of Independence,” Shaw sings, with a haunting beat in the background, 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.

In the closing song, “Open Your Eyes,” Shaw strikes a more optimistic tone when he focuses on the progress gained by African-Americans with resilience, courage, and hope in their struggle for rights.

Just watch the thrones, our people are known
For making history of the impossible.
From rap to White House, we unstoppable.
Jumping Jim Crow to playing Oscar roles.

“Black people in America are kind of caught between freedom and slavery,” said Shaw, in an interview for the Harvard Gazette. “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.”

During his time at Harvard, Shaw was managing editor of the Harvard Ichthus, a student journal of Christian thought and expression. His 2015 article titled Why Do We Suffer? discusses the complexities of reconciling the problem of evil with the Christian idea of a loving God.

“Ivan, one of the brothers in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov … could not imagine himself entering heaven and living happily for all of eternity with a God who would allow an innocent child to experience such evil,” Shaw writes. “Ivan’s dilemma is desperately real, and it can often seem as though Christians do their very best to ignore it.”


Shaw has received coverage from CNN, the Huffington Post, the Veritas Forumthe Black Youth Project, Nerdist, and the Independent for Liminal Minds. After graduation, he will be working as a software engineer at Google.

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