Kendrick Lamar has won a Pulitzer Prize for music for his album “Damn.,” the organization announced Monday afternoon. It was the first win for a non-classical or jazz musician since the awards began including music some 75 years ago.
The Pulitzer board deemed the album “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” While Lamar himself — who made two guest appearances at California’s Coachella festival over the weekend — did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Punch, head of Lamar’s label Top Dawg Entertainment, tweeted: “Pulitzer Prize winner Kdot from Compton. I [better] not ever hear one of you n—as speak with anything less than respect in your mouth for Kendrick Lamar. #TDE.”
The attention and prize money the Pulitzers can provide would be, relatively, of greater impact to the careers of Michael Gilbertson and Ted Hearne, the composers who are runners-up this year, than to the platinum-certified Lamar. But to decide a prize based on who “needs” it more would undermine its credibility, which is to say, its worth.
The music critic David Hajdu, who was on the Pulitzer judging panel, told The New York Times that Lamar’s work entered the discussion once they realized that some of the modern classical artists they were evaluating bore clear hip-hop influence. “That led us to put on the table the fact that [rap music] has value on its own terms and not just as a resource for use in a field that is more broadly recognized by the institutional establishment as serious or legitimate,” he said.
The judges (Hajdu plus the violinist Regina Carter, the Met Opera’s Paul Cremo, the Columbia professor Farah Jasmine Griffin, and the composer David Lang) then recommended Damn unanimously. “There was no talk about recognizing something that was already popular,” Hajdu added to the Times. “Just: ‘Listen to this—this is brilliant.’ This is the best piece of music.”
After the Pulitzer announcement, his label boss Terrence Henderson tweeted about the “respect” people would now have to pay the rapper, which raises the damning question of who wasn’t already respecting an artist this excellent, and why.