DAMN. He did it.
Kendrick Lamar makes history by being the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize for music with his 2017 album, “DAMN.” His win left the music community stunned because in the past, the Pulitzer board has awarded exclusively classical musicians with this honor; along with the occasional jazz musician after they opened up the prize to the jazz and pop genres a mere 13 years ago.
They named the Pulitzer Prize after the man who created it; Joseph Pulitzer, a pioneer in American journalism. As stated in his will, and according to the Pulitzer’s official website, he wished to set up these awards as an incentive of sorts so journalists will continue to strive for and push the limits of success. They first implemented the awards 101 years ago in 1917 and originally divvied them out as such: four for journalism, four in letters and drama, one for education and five traveling scholarships.
As the decades pass, the Pulitzer board has made changes and expanded the potential winners to fit the times, such as including categories for music. However, the Pulitzer Prize is most commonly associated with the literature and journalism field. If the board awards an author, journalist or photojournalist this coveted prize, he or she is not only granted glory and recognition but also attains admission into an exclusive, prestigious group. As a Pulitzer Prize winner, you not only receive ultimate bragging rights in the form of a certificate, or a gold medal if you are a part of the news organization who wins the Public Service category of the journalism, but also $15,000.
With prestigious awards and groups, there is a tendency to ignore certain parts of the population, whether they intend that or not. The Pulitzer community may not realize, but they have done this with mainstream musicians like Lamar. Just because artists like him make popular music for and that is enjoyed by the masses does not mean there is no story or talent behind it.
Since 1943, the Pulitzer board has awarded artists “for distinguished musical composition” and, also since that time, these distinguished artists have mostly been those of the classical genre. The first winner, composer William Schuman, and the 2017 winner, Du Yun, represent this genre; with a majority of the winners in the between years having classical roots as well. The Pulitzer community is severely lacking in musical diversity – until now.
On the surface, Lamar’s win is an amazing achievement for African-American musicians – more specifically, hip-hop artists. However, was this prize granted to Lamar to simply reward him and, in turn, spread the important societal messages his music evokes, or was it to aid the Pulitzer community itself?
As described by the Pulitzer jurors, Lamar’s album is “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
The jurors accurately illustrate the strong societal impact the tracks on “DAMN.” provide. However, did they completely ignore Lamar’s 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” or, pretty much, his entire rap career? Through music he has preached about the struggles of being “pimped out” by the industry, racial tensions and overall has produced politically charged statements. However, it is better late than never Lamar gets recognized for the way his music manifests a deeper message and thought within the listener.
Honesty, Kendrick Lamar did not need this Pulitzer Prize to prove himself or further his career. Yes, this is a great honor; however, besides being a bona fide resume builder, this prize is a bigger win for the Pulitzer community than Lamar. In the grand scale of things, the Pulitzer prize for music goes unnoticed as each year passes. Now that the Pulitzer Prize has associated its name with a Grammy Award-winning rapper, and the news of this being spread across all media outlets, people are suddenly aware of this prize, or maybe the Pulitzer itself, for the first time.