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And the 2018 Pulitzer Prize Goes to…Kendrick Lamar

Hannah Noh, School News Editor

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From a kid living in the streets of Compton, California to this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, Kendrick Lamar has been changing musical culture since his first mixtape in 2003. The 30-year-old American rapper and songwriter whose recent album DAMN. was certified double Platinum and was declared the Billboard Year-End number one album of 2017 is the first ever rapper to be awarded this renowned prize.

The Pulitzer Prize website describes Lamar’s album as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

Such praise likely reflects the unanimous decision among the Pulitzer Prize Board members, which occurred on April 16, to award a hip hop album in a category that had only recognized classical and jazz musicians — until now.

Many believe that this recognition of rap music is long overdue, especially since the genre is much more complex, vivid, and heavy in meaning than often mistaken to be.

“I feel like a lot of people tend to disregard rap because of the cursing and because of the songs that most may not agree with, like ones about ‘money and women,’” said Anaiah Thomas, an AMST sophomore. “But rappers like Kendrick Lamar take their work as a form of art, and so we should appreciate this.”

Mariana Meriles, an AAST sophomore, agreed. “The album as a whole flows well. But if you actually look at the lyrics, it is also very well written. What people don’t often realize is that rap is another form of poetry. It’s just spoken to a beat.

Lamar definitely tackles weighty topics through his lyrics, like his younger self’s daily experiences with abuse, threats, and misguidance from his father who had been a gang member.

However, despite the complexity of Lamar’s music, the increasing mainstream popularity of rap seems to be one of the reasons that some are still hesitant to recognize his Pulitzer win. Still, Lamar’s hip hop album won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and its singles like the critically acclaimed “Humble” have topped the Billboard charts. Thus, the argument seems to be that with rap being introduced to the Pulitzer jury table, the prize may end up being one less platform for non-mainstream genres.

In a recent New York Times article, Zachary Woolfe, the classical music editor of the Times, acknowledges that DAMN. is “surely deserving.” However, he notices that Lamar’s win feels like proof that now “the biggest artists and albums [seem to be getting] more and more, [while] everyone else gets a smaller piece of the pie.”

Regarding this belief, Anaiah Thomas says, “I still think [Lamar] won the Pulitzer Prize because he deserves it. He won it because of his own merit, and his being on the Billboard [charts] should not be used against him.”

Similar opinions have arisen in the classical and jazz community. This may be understandable, for the Pulitzer Prize for Music has been exclusive for quite some time. In fact, jazz was not awarded until 1997, since the prize’s establishment in 1917. Classical music had dominated until then.

Moira Ng, an AMST junior, understands why there exists a debate about whether or not Lamar deserves the prize, but she says that although she is not familiar with the genre, she believes that rap “is a form of literature too.”

Mariana Meriles proposes a similar point, explaining that as a jazz pianist, she understands why some classical or jazz musicians may be reluctant to accept a rapper as this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner. Yet, she says, “People also need to realize how much work goes into creating a rap album because it isn’t just about making a hit song. There are deeper meanings within Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics.

Therefore, just as jazz broke through initial prejudice to become a common winner of the Pulitzer music category, so too can rap and hip hop.

Moreover, Lamar is introducing to the Pulitzer Prize a new way of music through DAMN. Although he is in charge of his craft and production, he is not the only one who worked on this album, which is unlike the usual Pulitzer Prize winners who have been lone composers. Artists like Rihanna, Zacari, and U2 were featured in Lamar’s tracks, which is definitely an unfamiliar concept for Pulitzer Prize winners, but nonetheless refreshing.

Not only is Lamar making way for hip hop in new worlds that had otherwise been thought to be reserved for other genres of artistry, but he is also opening up doors for creativity and flexibility.

“In the past, the Pulitzer Prize for Music has been awarded to musicians who have tried to use their music to emphasize social issues and to advocate for change,” says Gordon Sherman, an AVPA-M junior. “And although I’m not a particular fan of rap, I think that it is definitely a type of poetry, and that Kendrick Lamar definitely fits the prize.”

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And the 2018 Pulitzer Prize Goes to…Kendrick Lamar