A Harvard student has taken an inventive approach to writing his university thesis. While his classmates were in the library researching theirs, Obasi Shaw was in the studio recording a rap album.

The 20-year-old student got an A for his 10-track album Liminal Minds which was inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and combines rap music with spoken word poetry.

Each song is told from a different character's perspective, mimicking the narrative style of Chaucer's work. The album also draws on the work of American novelist James Baldwin and explores issues of race and civil unrest.

"[African-Americans are] free, but the effects of slavery still exist," Obasi told the Harvard Gazette. "Each song is an exploration of that state between slavery and freedom."

Shaw's rap thesis is the first of its kind in the university's 400-year history.

He said he was surprised the university allowed him to submit the album as his thesis.

"I didn't think they would respect rap as an art form enough for me to do it," he told Atlanta's WSB TV channel.

His thesis supervisor, English lecturer Josh Bell, described Shaw as "an amazing guy" and said he was very impressed with the final result.

"He was able to turn around an album that people in the English Department would like very much but also that people who like rap music might like," he said.

Shaw will graduate with honours from the prestigious university next week. He has an internship as a software engineer at Google lined up after graduation, but says he will carry on recording music.

"Rap is a genre in which I can say everything I want to say," Shaw told the Harvard Gazette. "I've been writing in different capacities, but I never felt that I found my art form until I started rapping."