US rapper Kendrick Lamar has given hip-hop an unexpected moment of institutional critical acclaim, taking out the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2017 album ‘DAMN.’.
It’s the first time a non-classical or jazz musician has won the award, which recognises the artistic brilliance of a particular piece of music.
The judges described the 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.”
Prize administrator Dana Canedy told The New York Times the win was “a big moment for hip-hop music and a big moment for the Pulitzers”.
The Pulitzers, particularly the music category, have long focused on more traditional forms of artistic expression.
The prize was first awarded in the 1940s but it took until 1997 for a jazz winner to come along — Wynton Marsalis for his orotorio Blood on the Fields.
The previous four winners were classical or operatic, and this year Lamar beat out a string quartet work and a “five-movement cantata for chamber choir, electric guitar and percussion”.
DAMN. was met with widespread acclaim when it was released last year
DAMN. was less pointedly political than To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar’s previous record.
“And we hate po-po, wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho,” he sang on Alright, from that album, a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.
But it still tackled poverty and prejudice and also saw the rapper dealing with more personal issues of faith and the stresses of fame.
The Californian rapper is seen as the king of hip-hop at present — few aside from Drake have the ticket sales and streaming numbers, and Drake isn’t considered as forthright a social commentator.
After the announcement, Terrence “Punch” Henderson, the head of Lamar’s label Top Dawg Entertainment, said he didn’t want to hear anyone “speak with anything less than respect in your mouth for Kendrick Lamar”.
The Pulitzers are probably best known for the journalism categories, and this year the top awards in that area went to investigations of sexual misconduct that sparked the Me Too movement.
The New York Times and The New Yorker shared the prestigious Public Service award for their “explosive, impactful” investigations into the actions of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.