Kendrick Lamar Becomes First Hip-Hop Artist to Win the Pulitzer Prize for Music
By Meredith B. Kile
Kendrick Lamar is a best-selling artist, 12-time GRAMMY winner and now, the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize.
The 30-year-old rapper received the prestigious honor on Monday, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2017 album, DAMN. The award is a significant one in many respects, most notably because it makes Lamar the first non-classical or jazz artist to be celebrated by the Pulitzer jury, who called DAMN. a "virtuosic song collection" that captures "the modern African-American life."
Lamar will be awarded $15,000 along with the prize, a meager sum for the rapper, who went double platinum with DAMN. Special honors have previously gone to artists like Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Hank Williams, but the Compton-born lyricist is the most commercially successful artist to be awarded the Pulitzer for music.
DAMN. was released to critical acclaim and chart-topping success on April 14, 2017, following lead single “HUMBLE.” The album was the follow-up to Lamar’s major label releases, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, and 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. The rapper also recently curated and produced the soundtrack to Marvel’s Black Panther, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200.
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While Lamar is constantly innovating in terms of his sound and production, as well as visual presentation, his lyrics have always explored the realities of inner-city life, racial inequality, police brutality and the black experience. The Pulitzer jury’s recognition of DAMN. represents a turning point for the prize, similar to when Wynton Marsalis became the first artist to win for a jazz composition, with 1997’s Blood on the Fields.
The rapper, who made a surprise appearance at the Coachella festival in Indio, California, over the weekend, put his artistry on display at the GRAMMY Awards earlier this year. Lamar opened the show with a medley performance of several songs including "New Freezer," King's Dead" and "DNA.," and surprise appearances from U2 and Dave Chappelle were just the beginning.
Titled, "This Is a Satire by Kendrick Lamar," the set featured fiercely political commentary, including a chilling scene of more than a dozen backup dancers falling to the floor, one by one, while gunshot sounds rang out.
"The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America," Chappelle said during one of his brief monologues.
See more from the performance, which was met with a standing ovation before Lamar took home the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album, in the video below.