By Andrew Tyrrell, Editor-in-Chief
On April 16, the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced by Columbia University, who have been handling the awards for now over a century. In may categories, particularly in journalism, there were few surprises. The New York Times received three awards, including one for Public Service for their reporting on the Me Too movement; they shared the award with The New Yorker. Reuters, the great London-based news organization took home the Pulitzer for International Reporting beating out, surprisingly, BuzzFeed.
The biggest surprise, though, came when the Pulitzer for Music was awarded. The Pulitzer Prize for Music was first awarded in 1943, and for 74 years the award went either to a jazz or classical album. Not this year. This year the award went to Kendrick Lamar for his fourth studio album, DAMN., which he also won a Grammy for. Naturally, snooty people were upset that one of the most prestigious awards in the country went to a rap album.
Rap has a very long history of being looked down on. Now, I’m no superfan of rap. I’ve only really gotten into the genre in recent years, and in many ways I still lag behind on who the most important artists are. But I still have a great appreciation for the genre, even if it doesn’t always jive with me or make sense to me. I’m not sure the last time an album from any genre had the same impact on me as DAMN.
When I got the news alert that Kendrick Lamar was a Pulitzer Prize winning artist, I was immediately reminded of 2016, when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature over Philip Roth. A lot of people were pissed off about that one, too. I’m a huge fan of Roth, and I think he’s more than deserving of a Nobel Prize. He is, perhaps, the greatest American writer in history. But as an artist, I’m all about pushing things forward. Awarding Bob Dylan a Nobel Prize in Literature forced people to expand their views on what is considered literature. In 2018, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. made the powers at Columbia University reevaluate what was worthy of their prize for music. And I think that’s incredibly important.
DAMN. is a tour de force album, that, to quote the Pulitzer committee, “offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” At a time where America is seeing renewed verve from white nationalist movements, Kendrick Lamar winning a Pulitzer says a lot, and is a push back against the mentality of those people.
Kendrick winning a Pulitzer is also very important simply because of his genre. Not only has the Pulitzer committee shown that artists outside of classical or jazz can and will be recognized for their contributions, but they’ve legitimized a genre of music often derided for its perceived glorification of drug use, sex, and gang violence. Which, by the way, rock n roll often covers very similar subjects, yet hasn’t received the same derision as rap has. I wonder why?
DAMN. is an album that can be endlessly deconstructed. There’s so much there. I’ve listened to this album close to a dozen times this week, and I get something new every time. It’s a masterclass in composition and artistry. That’s why it won a Pulitzer, and, to me, it solidifies Kendrick Lamar as the best rapper in the game. It’s hard to argue against a Pulitzer.