Kendrick Lamar has taken society by storm through writing about the inequalities of race, the falsehoods of the American dream, and the personal and individual struggles that African Americans face.
And the people agreed.
Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for Music this past Monday for his album DAMN., which was released, April 14, 2017.
This decision marks a significant win for hip-hop and rap in American society, as every previous winner of this award has been of classical or jazz backgrounds, and many were not popular household names.
The fact that Kendrick has been writing about his experiences being wronged by “Uncle Sam” and American society shows that hip-hop and rap have finally entered the mainstream as institutionally legitimate, in addition to giving other rappers and artists the opportunity to win in the future through this exposure.
Despite Kendrick’s setbacks at the Grammy’s – losing to Bruno Mars for record and album of the year – the New York Times reported that DAMN. won with a unanimous vote from the Pulitzer Prize board members. According to Pitchfork, prize jurors found value in Kendrick’s powerful storytelling narrative, and DAMN. was recognized as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism…”
Lamar’s lyricism, as well as the meaning behind his music have always been rooted deep in his experiences, anxieties, and struggles.
In his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick discusses African American culture, racial inequalities, depression, and institutional discrimination.
I learned a lot about Kendrick’s lyrics and intentions by listening to DISSECT, a long-form serialized music podcast that dives deep into rap albums, analyzing them song by song. Host Colin Kushna discusses how the songs on Lamar’s album were influential during the Black Lives Matter movement, and ultimately serve to unify through love.
As Kanye West’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has been analyzed on DISSECT, I personally hope that DAMN. is next in line after this incredible, honorable, and historic win for Kendrick Lamar with the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
For distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.
In that regard, it makes sense that the prize jurors find value in the mechanics of Kendrick’s storytelling and in his rapping’s technicality. DAMN. was recognized as offering “affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
Such a description seems to only scratch the surface of what the album does as a work of art, like a museum placard indexing a showpiece—technically correct, yet inexact and unimaginative.
Mikaela Duhs is KCPR’s video editor and a Journalism senior. Photo provided by Goldenvoice.