On April 16, Kendrick Lamar accomplished an amazing feat by winning the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Music for his April 2017 album, “DAMN.” This marks the first time the award has been given to an artist outside of the classical or jazz music genres.
When you stand back and look at the bigger picture, this isn’t just a win for Lamar — but for the hip-hop community at large.
The buzz surrounding the award may not drastically increase his riches, or propel his career to new heights; however, what it does bring is an overdue respect and recognition to the genre of hip-hop, which is often overlooked.
While hip-hop has been around for nearly four decades, people often do not hold the genre in the same tier as the more “traditional” classical or jazz genre. We have seen the start of an effort to change this recently, with the induction of N.W.A. into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, and Jay-Z being the first rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017.
After the release of “DAMN.” Kendrick headlined both weekends of 2017’s Coachella and took home six MTV awards and five Grammy awards. He also won numerous NAACP Image Awards, a Brit Award, a Juno award, a BET Award, a Clio award and saw the album reach double platinum status.
Part of why Lamar boasts such a strong following has to do with his lyrical subject matter and his status as a socially conscious rapper.
Lamar’s music has always been considered socially conscious or “conscious rap.” This is mainly due to the fact that he paints a picture for the listener of what goes on in the everyday lives of African-Americans, rapping about what issues are currently affecting the people in these communities.
Take a listen to his highly acclaimed “To Pimp A Butterfly,” or even what the Pulitzer Board of Directors had to say about the album “DAMN.”
“A virtuosic song collection,” the Pulitzer board wrote of DAMN. “Unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
The hit song “Alright” from 2015’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” is a clear example of Lamar’s ability to speak for the masses. As tensions rose and protests became normal after the killings of Black Americans Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland (to name only a few), the country needed a rallying cry to bring everyone back together, and that is exactly what this song did. You could hear it playing everywhere you went, sung by people from all races and ages.
Lamar has continued to spark conversations on race and promote the culture of Black excellence with the critically acclaimed “Black Panther” soundtrack. From the hit singles, “King’s Dead” and “Pray For Me” all the way to less popular songs such as “Big Shot” and “Bloody Waters,” this is another empowering album that gives the listener mental images of African-Americans going through the systemic challenges in America from the inception of the country.
Lamar winning this award will only continue to increase the respect for hip-hop and its culture. Hip-hop has overcome many stigmas throughout the years and has transformed into an industry that generates over $10 billion a year.
What was once an exclusive category is now an open field that can acknowledge other deserving musicians. Who’s to say that one day we won’t see Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne or other notable African-American artists win the Pulitzer Prize