On Monday, April 16, Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2017 album “DAMN.” This was the first time in the award’s 75-year history that the recognition has gone to an artist outside the genres of classical or jazz music.
Particularly after losing the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, considered by many to be the highest honor in music, to Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic,” Lamar’s victory here is especially notable. Before Monday, many would have considered receiving a Pulitzer Prize outside of the realm of possibility for a hip-hop artist.
In Lamar’s case, taking into account his contributions to and deep influence on American rap music, winning the Pulitzer Prize is arguably even more impactful than winning a Grammy would have been. The decision of the Pulitzer Prize Board to recognize Lamar and, more broadly, any rapper at all, showcases and supports a growing acceptance for rap, even within traditionalist institutions such as the Pulitzer Prize. The prize going to Lamar is a step in the right direction for rap’s artistic legitimacy to those outside its fan base and opens the door for future rappers to attain this sort of appreciation.
Rap is also inextricably tied to the black culture that it was born in and that surrounds it. The Pulitzer Board, eleven out of seventeen members of which are white, choosing to recognize Lamar goes a long way towards the acceptance of not only his music, as we’ve addressed, but also of the culture that it represents.
This year’s award is especially important considering that not just any rapper won; Kendrick Lamar did. Lamar’s music, especially on this album, is largely about his experience as a black man in America. In many ways, his music places him on the forefront of issues of racial inequality with his sophisticated and sometimes contentious lyrics. The Pulitzer Prize Board’s recognition of “DAMN.” highlights Lamar’s expression of his experience and struggle as a black man and at the same time legitimizes it to a different audience — one that might not have paid Lamar’s work any attention otherwise.
“DAMN.” winning the Pulitzer Prize is a departure from the award’s norm. It is the Board’s decision to recognize a type of music, a type of man, and a culture different from any other recognized in the award’s history. It is a monumental change, and considering the shifting landscape of American musical expression and the cultural significance surrounding “DAMN.” and other works, one that was long overdue.
This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXLI.