On Monday, April 16 Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar made music and Pulitzer Prize history by winning the prestiged award in the category of music for his 2017 album ‘Damn.’ With strong lyrics, well constructed instrumentals and various guest appearances, it’s easy to see why so many music fans and critics agree that ‘Damn’ is worth five Grammys and endless praise, but with a Pulitzer Prize, Lamar, 30, is now the first ever rapper to win the prestigious award.
‘Damn’ is a musical documentation of the struggles his community faces on a daily basis. The internal struggles of a community, the internal conflict of the self, racial commentary and current events all find a place in this album and intertwine to form a salient and candid collection of songs that ebb and flow with the realities of life. The album is also a reflection of Lamar himself and is filled with fragments of the rapper’s experiences, pieced together by the fabric of his community and roots.
Like N.W.A., Public Enemy and other classic rappers of the past, Lamar focuses a lot on racism, police brutality, gang violence and the political atmosphere, especially as it affects minorities and the communities they grow up in.
The Pulitzer Prize in the category of music has always been awarded to a classical or Jazz artist, making Lamar’s win not just a personal one, but also a victory for the genre of rap itself.
“A virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life,” the Pulitzer board wrote of Lamar’s album.
While I am not too fond of many current rap artists, I am an avid fan of Lamar and his poetic ferver. His music is reminiscent of classic hip hop and rap, and much like Ice Cube, a man who captured the “angry black man” psyche and gave it purpose by openly displaying it with pride and ferocity, Lamar has no hesitation in saying what many of his friends and peers are thinking. His openness is extremely important and valuable to the conversations of racial inequality and other hot social topics.
Lamar is not the first black rapper to use his platform to shed light on the perils of his community and his blackness. Ice Cube, Chuck D, Ice T and KRS-One are just a few artists who pioneered a genre of conscious rap that was politically and socially charged. Their sentiments are still as strong as ever and are even echoed today in Lamar’s music. The inclusion of poignant and complex topics in Lamar’s work and the recognition of it is not just a win for Lamar, but for all his predecessors.
Lamar’s win also opens up the Pulitzer Prize to different genres of music and helps legitimize the artistic struggle to speak freely and candidly for the sake of social commentary.
As a young, Mexican-American woman, who admittedly falls much paler on the skin tone chart than most of my relatives, I can’t relate to the experiences of Lamar or the black community, but because of his music, I and many others, have access to a perspective that quite frankly deserves to be heard and might not have been expressed so publicly otherwise. That in itself is worth more than any award.