He was the first African-American to get a PhD in philosophy at Princeton.
He went on to write more than 20 books, receive more than 20 honourary degrees, to teach at Harvard and Yale, and hold classes at universities from Paris to Addis Abeba.
With his latest hip hop CD he was named "MTV's artist of the week", and he has provided futuristic philosophical commentary on all three Matrix movies.
In a famous spat with the then president of Harvard University he called Lawrence Summers "the Ariel Sharon of higher education."
Avi Lewis talks to Cornel West, a professor of African American Studies at Princeton, hip hop artist, and one of the most controversial academics in the US, about the state of democracy for African-Americans today, the Obama administration, and his dispute with Lawrence Summers.
He also shares his views on US foreign policy, the war in Afghanistan, global recession, and the growing pressure on Barack Obama.
This episode of Fault Lines airs from Thursday, March 11, at the following times GMT: Thursday: 0600, 1630; Friday: 0130, 0830; Saturday: 1130, 2330; Sunday: 0630, 2030; Monday: 1430; Tuesday: 1230, 1930; Wednesday: 0300.
Source: Al Jazeera