Kendrick Lamar becomes first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize
Kendrick Lamar can now add Pulitzer winner to his impressive list of career accolades as he was awarded the prize in music for his Grammy-nominated album DAMN.
The Pulitzer Prize was given to Lamar’s album for being a “virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life,” according to the official website.
Lamar is both the first rapper and the first non-jazz/classical artist to win the prize in music. This contrasts with the honors bestowed by the Grammy awarding committee, which is supposed to award outstanding contributions to the musical fabric of American society, which still refuses to Lamar the award for Album of the Year, instead choosing to award what many consider are lesser works.
As Ira Madison notes for The Daily Beast, “Lamar has been at the top of his game for years and his own industry refused to award him, so it was certainly a shock that the Pulitzer board would.” Perhaps this is even more of a shock given the history the Pulitzer board has with Black artists, and how in 1965 the board opted not to give an award that year instead of honoring Duke Ellington’s jazz album.
It was not until 1996 that the board would award George Walker a Pulitzer for his album Lilacs, making him the first to receive the award for music.
Dwandalyn Reece, curator of music and performing arts at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, says Lamar’s win functions as a “recognition of the cultural, musical influence of hip-hop and rap” and also “a recognition of African American music traditions.”
Reese also notes that the win represents a challenge to the longstanding tradition of the Pulitzer Prize in Music’s value system privileging Western classical or jazz albums.
“People don’t make music to have awards, but they want their music to be recognized and valued,” Reece said. “Awards [can be] an acknowledgement of the artistry and influence and presence of African American artists and the musical traditions they celebrate, in a world that has really silenced them historically in so many areas.”