Lamar is first rapper to win Pulitzer

Kendrick Lamar (at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in January), scored a Pulitzer Prize for music for his album Damn.
Kendrick Lamar (at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in January), scored a Pulitzer Prize for music for his album Damn.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • In January, Kendrick Lamar bagged five prizes at the Grammys for his critically acclaimed, best-selling Damn. album.

But, on Monday, he arguably earned a more prestigious recognition when he became the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize for music, a nod to his skills in telling the African-American experience on that album.

With the Pulitzer, the 30-year-old from the historically deprived Los Angeles community of Compton joins the league of celebrated American composers such as Aaron Copland, Charles Ives and John Adams.

The Pulitzer board described Damn., which was released last year, 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".

Damn., which reached No. 1 on the United States album chart, moves forward the conversation about race that Lamar started on his previous album, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), which infused jazz and spoken word and gave voice to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Damn. opens with him addressing his cultural role indirectly with a snippet from a conservative talk show criticising his lyrics against police brutality, which he again raises in the track XXX., a reflection on the meaning of America that features Irish rockers U2.

But much of the album is more personal and introspective, with the track Humble. exploring the pitfalls of fame and Lamar also introducing a martial-arts alter ego, Kung Fu Kenny.

The Pulitzer board rarely awards mainstream music, giving the prize last year to experimental opera composer Du Yun.

But in the mid-1990s, it introduced changes to make the award more inclusive. It has previously given the prize to jazz artists including Wynton Marsalis and Ornette Coleman.

Hip-hop has also been recognised by the Pulitzer board in the drama category with Hamilton - Lin-Manuel Miranda's modern retelling of America's founding fathers - winning in 2016.

Rap is now officially the biggest music genre in the United States after surpassing rock last year.

Ms Dana Canedy, administrator of the Pulitzer prizes, said of Lamar's triumph: "It shines a light on hip-hop in a completely different way. This is a big moment for hip-hop music and a big moment for the Pulitzers."

Despite the wide praise for Lamar, he has yet to win the most coveted award of the music industry, the Grammy for Album of the Year, with To Pimp A Butterfly and Damn. losing out to pop works 1989 (from Taylor Swift) and 24K Magic (Bruno Mars) respectively.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2018, with the headline 'Lamar is first rapper to win Pulitzer'. Print Edition | Subscribe