A doctorate degree is often associated with years of rigorous academic pursuit. Yet, there are honorary doctorate degrees, too, which are awarded to recognize a person's significant achievements in fields beyond academia. Such fields can range from arts to humanitarian work, politics to business, and more. In the world of hip-hop, several artists have transcended the stage and the mic to make exceptional contributions to society, earning them honorary doctorates from esteemed institutions. Here's a list of ten rappers who have been honored in this way. Each person on this list has used their influence in music to effect changes in the world, challenging the stereotype of what it means to be a 'doctor.'
19 Musicians with Honorary Doctorate Degrees
School: Grambling State University
Since the beginning of his career, E-40 has made it clear that he’s a jack of all trades. The West coast legend has produced hit songs, introduced iconic lingo, cosigned the next generation and has even served up his own tequila. An ultimate hustler, E-40 can now be known as Dr. Dr. 40 attended Louisiana’s Grambling State University in the 1980s and as recently as this year has donated 100k to the HBCU. So it’s only right that he’s an honorary doctorate recipient.
18. Taylor Swift
School: New York University
Taylor Swift became a recipient of an honorary degree thanks to New York University. She even delivered the commencement speech in the most Taylor Swift-way possible.
16. Grandmaster Flash
Year: 2022 & 2023
Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five crew are forefathers of hip-hop. Always representing for the Boogie Down Bronx, the DJ, who was one of the first hip-hop artists inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, received his higher education props on two separate occasions.
School: Georgia State University
Ludacris had the 2000s on smash with his energetic delivery, distinctive flows and lyrical prowess. He delivered countless popular songs and several chart-topping albums. All of the Grammy Award-winner’s hard work over the years has paid off and in a few ways. Aside from being one of the most revered rap stars to come out of the ATL, the Fast & Furious movie star is also a recipient of an honorary doctorate.
14. Jermaine Dupri
13. Master P
School: Lincoln University
Master P let us know from the get go what he was about. He told us he was bout it, bout it and that there were no limits. The OG rap mogul has been one of the most respected bosses in hip-hop. He even earned the respect of Lincoln University. The historically Black university located in Pennsylvania honored P in 2021.
12. Waka Flocka Flame
School: Bible Institute of American Theological Seminary
Dr. Waka! Yes, Waka Flocka Flame is an honorary doctorate degree recipient. After delivering one of the most fire debut albums of the 2010s, the “Hard in da Paint” rapper put in the work to live a healthy lifestyle and to help support families impacted by suicide, among others things.
11. Missy Elliott
School: Berklee College of Music & Norfolk State University
Year: 2019 & 2023
Hip-hop legend Missy Elliott was awarded an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 2019 and then in 2023 from Norfolk State University. She was recognized for her innovative contributions to music, her status as a female trailblazer in a male-dominated genre, and her efforts in advocating mental health.
10. Queen Latifah
School: Rutgers University
All hail the Queen! The trailblazing Queen Latifah received an honorary doctorate from Rutgers University in 2018 for her groundbreaking work in hip-hop and her tireless efforts to champion equality and representation in the entertainment industry. She's used her platform to uplift women, minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community.
9. Pharrell Williams
Year: 2017 & 2021
Pharrell Williams is a cultural icon who has had a massive impact on music, fashion and popular culture. He has gone from superproducer for the biggest musicians in history to Louis Vuitton’s creative director to 2x doctorate recipient.
8. Lionel Richie
School: Berklee College of Music
The incomparable Lionel Richie has been awarded with Grammys, an Oscar and a legacy that has inspired many. He also is a recipient of an honorary doctorate degree from Berklee College of Music. The 2022 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee received the honorary honor as a result of his, “contributions to contemporary culture, his humanitarian efforts, and the joy his music brings to so many.”
7. Kanye West
School: School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Rapper and fashion mogul Kanye West was awarded an honorary doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015. This honor recognized his contributions to music, fashion, and pop culture, as well as his initiatives in mental health advocacy.
School: Winston-Salem State University
Rapper, actor, and activist, Common received an honorary doctorate from Winston-Salem State University in 2019. The university acknowledged his artistic achievements and his commitment to promoting social justice and advocating for educational funding.
School: Doral College
Armando Christian Pérez, better known as Pitbull, was recognized for his global humanitarian efforts with an honorary doctorate from Doral College in Miami in 2014. Known for his chart-topping hits, Pitbull has also utilized his platform to advance education, entrepreneurship, and community engagement in his home city and beyond. He even took memorable pic for the occasion.
4. LL Cool J
School: Northeastern University
In 2014, LL Cool J, along with his daughter, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Northeastern University in recognition of his influential contributions to the hip-hop genre and his significant efforts in community service. Despite his early success in rap, LL Cool J also successfully transitioned into acting, becoming a familiar face in television and film.
3. Sean 'Diddy' Combs
School: Howard University
In 2014, Howard University bestowed an honorary doctorate degree upon Sean 'Diddy' Combs, acknowledging his massive influence in the music industry, his successful entrepreneurship, and his significant philanthropic endeavors. Combs is a Howard alumnus, and his story is an inspiring example of turning a college dream into a worldwide enterprise.
2. John Legend
School: University of Pennsylvania
What can’t John Legend do? The multifaceted singer-songwriter has accomplished a lot throughout his 20-year career. The EGOT club member has brought home everything from an Emmy Award to a diamond plaque. In 1999, the U. Penn grad completed a degree in English and a concentration in African-American literature and culture.
1. Chuck D (Public Enemy)
School: Adelphi University
The legendary Chuck D was blessed up with an honorary doctorate degree from Adelphi University in 2013. The Public Enemy frontman was recognized for his impactful contributions to hip-hop culture and his advocacy for political and social causes. Chuck D has been a strong critic of social injustices, consistently utilizing his platform to promote dialogue and understanding.
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