Kendrick Lamar Stays HUMBLE. After Winning Pultizer Prize

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Lamar expresses himself through his music, allowing audiences to connect with him. 

Tristan Niskanen, Maroon-News Staff

For the first time in the history of the Pulitzer Prize in Music, the award has been awarded to a hip-hop artist: Kendrick Lamar for his 2017 album, Damn. The Pulitzer Prize in Music was created in 1943 and is one of the seven Pulitzer Prizes, but this marks the first time that the award has been given to a non-classical or non-jazz musician. In 2004, the award criteria was modified “for a distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.” 

Like most awards, there has been some controversy with this one. Only seven women have won out of the 75 recipients, it was not until 1996 that the first award was given to an African-American man (George Walker) and most other minorities have not been awarded. This is largely due to the award committee’s historical preferences and classical music genre bias. Even jazz was not recognized until 1996. Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis won the award in 1997. 

Lamar has a history of being shorted at award shows. Lamar’s last three album releases have all been nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. Critically, all three albums have received almost unanimous praise and acclaim. good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp a Butterfly and Damn. have all been certified Platinum by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA). Despite all of this, Lamar has lost Album of the Year each time. 

“The time was right. We are very proud of this selection. It means the jury and the board judging system worked as it’s supposed to – the best work was awarded a Pulitzer Prize,” the administrator of the Pulitzer Prize in Music Dana Canedy said.

 Canedy added that the decision was almost unanimous once Lamar’s Damn. was considered. 

Most people were surprised and excited to hear about Lamar’s win. Few people have spoken against the choice but some have criticized the Pulitzer Prize committee for different reasons. 

“I can’t help thinking that the Pulitzer Prize committee missed a trick in their award to the rapper Kendrick Lamar this week. If they had given him the Pulitzer for literature rather than for music it would have elevated his artform and sent a message that would have resonated around the world: that rap is a legitimate form of poetry and should be put on a par with, and treated with the same deference as, Shakespeare and Wordsworth,” writer and British radio presenter said Dotun Adebayo said.

There is already precedent for giving awards for literature to musicians. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016. It’s true that Lamar is one of the most lyrical writers in music and literature. It’s also true that Lamar is one of the most respected and followed icons in the world today. On Spotify, as of April 22, 2018, he is the seventh most played artist and has a monthly listener count of 39,590,739 streams. Nonetheless, award committees are often late with their recognition of certain artists and art forms. 

As they were with their recognition of jazz, the Pulitzer Prize was delayed in acknowledging hip-hop. Hip-hop is almost half a century old. While 1997 was the first win in jazz, it would have even been late for hip-hop. Countless albums in many genres should have been at least considered for the award far earlier than 2018.

“I would argue that the award is a bigger event for the Pulitzers than it is for Lamar, or for hip-hop’s morale,” Doree St. Félix, a writer for the New Yorker said.

The award makes the Pulitzer Prize look more inclusive. Even if their intentions were good, it seems like the Pulitzer might be trying to prove its relevance and give Lamar credit before they’re too late again. If the Pulitzer Prize was so progressive and open, they would have given Lamar the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in music for his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly

Whatever the reason, the Pulitzer Prize is making progress by widening the scope of artists and musical genres they consider for the Pulitzer Prize. By recognizing Lamar in music, the prize may be on track to changing its very nature as a prize. No matter how you read this Pulitzer Prize selection, Lamar has received some of the overdue credit and recognition that he deserves.

Contact Tristan Niskanen at [email protected]