What a Pulitzer Prize Means for Kendrick Lamar


It is a historic award. Kendrick Lamar is the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize in the music category, usually awarded to artists of classical or jazz music.

DAMN, Kendrick Lamar strikes again. The American rapper was awarded this Monday, April 16 by the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in the music category for his album DAMN. A first for a hip-hop artist and more broadly for modern popular music. He adds this new recognition to the 12 Grammy Awards already won, including 5 for DAMN. at the last ceremony.

Victory for modern music

If the Pulitzer Prize was created in 1917, the music category appeared in 1943. And since then, it has been systematically awarded to works of classical music until the coronation of jazz musician and composer Wynton Marsalis in 1997. The following year, the board of directors of the Pulitzer Prize decided to relax the criteria in order to promote the diversity of eligible works. It again widened the spectrum in 2004, which allowed saxophonist Ornette Coleman to win in 2007. Despite these reforms, the Pulitzer Prize remained reserved for the classical and jazz universe.

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Beyond rap, all popular modern music is crying out for victory thanks to this major cultural break. The Pulitzer Board nominated Kendrick Lamar based on his latest album, ” a virtuoso collection of tracks, unified by the authenticity of its language and rhythmic dynamics that offer landmark photos, capturing the complexity of modern African-American life”.

political rapper

Originally from the poor neighborhood of Compton in Los Angeles, the artist is considered a political rapper, regularly evoking social issues in his titles. “Alright”, from his previous album To Pimp a Butterfly, has become a rallying cry for protesters in the United States, even the unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter protest movement, which denounces police violence against black people. His “Nigga, We’re gonna be alright” backing vocals are kind of comfort that people of color and other oppressed communities desperately need: the hope – the feeling – that despite the growing tensions in this country, in the long run, all will be well”was analyzing Slate in 2015.

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Three years later, racial tensions are still very present in the United States, when Stephon Clark, a young man of 22, was shot at the end of March by the police with 20 bullets in the back, when he was ” armed” with a telephone. This tragic story is not unique in a country where current tensions between white police and the African-American community are bitterly reminiscent of the deadly riots of 1992.

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personal stories

In DAMN, Kendrick Lamar speaks again about the condition of blacks in the United States and criticizes police violence. His songs “Fear” and “XXX” with U2 are also the standard bearers. But this latest album is above all very personal. If Kendrick Lamar evokes in particular the consequences of his new celebrity on his life, his song “Duckworth”, which turns out to be his last name, tells the true story which connects his own father and the creator of his TDE label, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. While Kendrick’s father is working at the KFC, Anthony, who was on the run from the police, bursts into the fast food restaurant with the intention of robbing him. ” Ducky knew they had robbed the manager and shot a client last year”, says the Compton rapper in the song. If the future boss of TDE had not spared the father of his protege, their respective stories could have been very different.

Be careful because this decision changed two lives. We’re turning things around, one curse at a time. That turned into good karma, I’ll tell you why. Take two strangers and put them in two complicated situations. Give them a soul so they can make their own choices and live with it. 20 years later these strangers could meet again in a studio reaping the benefits. Then they will remember this incident at KFC.says Kendrick Lamar in “Duckworth”.

(With Belga)

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What a Pulitzer Prize Means for Kendrick Lamar