Kendrick Lamar may have lost album of the year to Bruno Mars at the Grammys, but the Compton-born rapper won an award that may even be more prestigious: the Pulitzer Prize for music. Lamar’s critically acclaimed album “DAMN.” was awarded the Pulitzer on April 16 at New York City’s Columbia University.
The Pulitzer Prize is an award that celebrates the best work of journalism, literature and musical compositions. Lamar is not only the first rapper to win this award, but also the first winner who is not a classical or jazz artist.
When announcing the award, Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy called the album, “a virtuosic song collection unified by his vernacular, authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
Canedy also said in her interview that the decision was unanimous among the board.
“The time was right. We are very proud of this selection,” Canedy said in an interview with the New York Times. “It means that the jury and the board judging system worked as it’s supposed to–the best was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.”
Du Yun, who won the music Pulitzer last year for her opera “Angel Bones,” announced that she was also thrilled about Lamar’s success.
“‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ got my blood pumping and the video for ‘DNA.’ made me want to make the music I’m making now,” Yun wrote in a statement. “Freedom of expression is the height of art, and Kendrick Lamar is the embodiment of that freedom.”
The R&B album, which was released on April 14, 2017, features music artists Rihanna and U2 and synthetic production from Sounwave and Mike WiLL Made-It. With these talents combined, the album topped the Billboard 200 chart and was among the most-streamed albums of last year. “DAMN.” also tackled intense personal and political issues such as police brutality, race and religion.
Work about these powerful topics aren’t new from Lamar. At the 2015 BET awards, Lamar rapped on top of a police car with an American flag fashioned behind him. During his show stopping performance at the 2016 Grammys, Lamar appeared to be beaten with bruises on his eyes while handcuffed as he delivered his riveting lyrics to those in attendance. Overall, Lamar has been acclaimed for combining his interpersonal lyrics with sections of spoken word, poetry, soul, jazz and funk.
So far “DAMN.” has been extremely accoladed prior to earning the Pulitzer Prize. The album won five Grammys, including best rap album. It has also received raving reviews from critics from NPR, Rolling Stone, Complex and Vulture.
Lamar has so far accumulated 11 Grammy awards throughout the production of his four albums, despite three of his major-labeled albums have lost the main award–Album of the Year. These losses have been criticized by the music community, igniting the discussion of how the Recording Academy may be out of touch. Most recently, Lamar was handpicked by “Black Panther” Director Ryan Coogler to produce work for the later successful film’s soundtrack. This gave Lamar another No. 1 album and high praises.
Lamar has yet to comment publicly on the groundbreaking win but his label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), took to Twitter.
“Pulitzer Prize winner Kdot from Compton,” Punch TDE tweeted. “I [better] not ever hear one of you n***** speaks with anything less than respect in your mouth for Kendrick Lamar. #TDE.”
Among those judging nominations for the Pulitzer Prize for music was David Hajdu, a critic for The Nation. Hajdu told the New York Times that the jurors considered more than 100 compositions. Many of these pieces were classical music that used hip-hop as an inspiration, according to Hajdu.
“That led us to put on the table the fact that this sphere of work has value on its own terms and not just as a resource for use in a field that is more broadly recognized by the institutional establishment as serious or legitimate,” Hajdu said.
This great feat is more than just an accomplishment for Lamar but perhaps an even bigger one for hip-hop. The Pulitzer Prize recognizes the skills exemplified in the genre since the beginning and can now finally be understood.