Hip-hop star Nas is one of several notable Black people who has been awarded Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Medal. According to Boston magazine, the award is Harvard’s highest honor in African-American studies given to people who have made outstanding contributions to Black life. The award was presented Wednesday followed by a panel discussion.
Other people honored with the W.E.B Du Bois Medal are former Attorney General Eric Holder, former world champion boxer Muhammad Ali, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and chairman of the board of Ariel Investment Trust, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first Black woman to enroll in the University of Georgia and artist Carrie Mae Weems. Ali took part in the ceremony through a video link, since he was too ill to attend the event.
The W.E.B Du Bois Medal is not the first time Nas (real name Nasir Jones) has been honored by Harvard. In 2013, Harvard’s W.E.B Du Bois Institute and Hiphop Archive partnered to create the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship to honors Nas’ long career and outstanding lyrical content.
“Nas is more than an MC. He’s my favorite writer, and it’s to their credit that highbrow institutions like Harvard are already recognizing hip-hop luminaries like him while they’re still actively making remarkable music,” said DigBoston news and features editor Chris Faraone in an interview with Boston magazine. “Furthermore, if there’s one region outside of New York on which Nas has left an indelible stylistic mark, it’s New England, where traces of his unique brand of lyrical urban journalism can be heard in rappers ranging from Reks to Slaine.”
Nas is widely known for his critically-acclaimed debut album Illmatic. He said the award was an important message to young people.
“These are the things the kids need to see. The real things,” the rapper said, according to The Harvard Crimson. “This is a light I want on me. I hope that I can be a great role model for those kids…you can be more than the typical image of rap.”
Holder joked that his coolness points had gone up by “1,000 percent” by having his picture taken with Nas.