Shaw says he was surprised by the positive response from Harvard. The project, "Liminal Minds", guarantees Shaw graduates with one of the highest accolades.
Shaw has now made the album available online for free. His album is dedicated to the plight of black Americans and takes inspiration from both classic literature like Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and sociopolitical commentary from Chance and Kendrick.
It took Shaw a year to create, write, and mix his thesis rap album.
Per Harvard's official Instagram account, Shaw's rap thesis, titled "Liminal Minds", combines elements of Middle English poetry with issues of racial identity in America. "I've been writing in different capacities, but I never felt that I found my art form until I started rapping".
The album's theme sway between the concept of slavery and freedom as Shaw talks about modern day police brutality as well the centuries of institutional racism that continue to foster it. He had recently started writing his own raps and performing them at open-microphone nights on campus.
His thesis advisor, Harvard English Lecturer Josh Bell, praised Shaw's work. His friends supplied numerous beats, while he taught himself how to mix the tracks into a polished product.
This achievement is a step forward for hip-hop heads who want to see rap lyrics appreciated as a real and socially relevant art form, and it's also a pleasure for fans of A Tribe Called Quest, because musically, Liminal Minds is very much inspired by the legendary group's jazz-influenced sound.
Rap and hip-hop have drawn growing interest from academia in recent years.
This is not the first moment of recognition that Harvard has bestowed upon the hip-hop genre.
Clemson University announced in February that a doctoral student submitted a 34-track rap album as his dissertation, a first for the SC university.
Mr Shaw is not pursuing a career in music, and after graduating plans to intern for at a software engineering firm in Seattle.