Kendrick Lamar has been nominated for a Grammy for four years in a row, and every year, the Academy has snubbed him. Most recently, Kendrick lost the Record of the Year award to Bruno Mars. While 24K Magic has plenty of solid tracks, it pales in comparison to the complexity and pure musical talent of Kendrick’s 2017 DAMN.
Fortunately, this time around Kendrick’s musical skill hasn’t gone unrecognized. Kendrick Lamar shook bougie music snobs everywhere when DAMN. won a Pulitzer Prize Award for music. As a result, Kendrick broke history, by being the first hip-hop artist, or any non-jazz or classical musician, to win the award.
Most people know the Pulitzer Prize as an award reserved for literary authors, usually appearing as a sticker slapped onto the cover of a novel in Barnes n’ Nobles’ Best-Selling Section. However, the Pulitzer Prize for Music is very real and very prestigious. The first Pulitzer Prize for Music was awarded in 1943, and until now has been reserved for the jazz and classical crowd.
The Pulitzer Prize is awarded to those with exceptional accomplishments in things like literature, journalism, and in this case, musical composition. Founded in 1917, potential candidates of the Pulitzer Prize have been reserved for members of the self-declared ‘higher art world.’ The winners are announced once a year, and each winner is given a certificate and $15,000. It may not seem like much, but the award is more about what it says about an artist, rather than the prize.
What started the debate of admitting Kendrick and hip-hop to the world of prestigious music composers, was when some of the nominees had implemented hip-hop influences in their work. At some point, someone must have asked the question, “If someone using hip-hop as a resource can win the Pulitzer, why can’t an actual hip-hop artist.”
Kendrick winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music changes everything. For decades, hip-hop has been considered lesser-than by the higher musical community. One listen through of DAMN. and it’s easy to see why the Pulitzer Board made it their pick this year. Filled with rich imagery and using complex experimental techniques, DAMN. should be considered just as complex as any classical or jazz album. In DAMN. Kendrick speaks to a multitude of perspectives within the Black experience and paints the contrast between his humble beginnings and earning worldwide fame. The Pulitzer Board called the album a, “…virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism.”Kendrick is no stranger to ‘virtuosic and rhythmic’ music composition either, just check out his previous album To Pimp a Butterfly for proof.
To no surprise, Kendrick has earned some fierce hate as well from some of this year’s potential candidates. Many in the classical and jazz world have taken to social media to vent their frustrations. Those who shared their distaste for Kendrick’s Pulitzer win have denied Kendrick’s work and more importantly, hip-hop, as a lesser form of music. Fortunately, the Pulitzer Board doesn’t feel the same way, and it looks like all those jazz and classical musicians will have to compete with hip-hop’s best in 2019.