DAMN, the Kendrick Lamar album that got him a Pulitzer Prize

Kendrick Lamar is the only rapper, to date, to have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

On April 16, 2018, the Pulitzer Prize Board awards the Pulitzer Prize for Music to rapper Kendrick Lamar for his 2017 album, DAMN. It was the first time the award had gone to a musical work outside the classical and jazz genres, a watershed moment for the Pulitzers and Lamar and a sign of hip-hop’s recognition by America’s cultural elite as a legitimate artistic medium.

Born and raised in Compton, California, Lamar grew up in a community with a unique connection to gender, and even witnessed two ’90s rap idols, Tupac Shakur and Dr. Drefilmed the video for his legendary single “California Love” in his neighborhood when he was a child.

Even as rap took over the American music scene, many art and music critics refused to take it seriously, an attitude that only began to change in the 2000s when artists like Kanye West, whose 2013 tour featured Lamar as the opening act, they took it to new levels.

Many of Lamar’s lyrics reference police brutality, systemic racism, and other political issues., but many critics have praised his albums, DAMN, in particular, for setting personal stories within this context of social conflict.

The Pulitzer Committee called DAMN: “a collection of virtuosic songs unified by their authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers poignant vignettes that capture the complexity of modern African-American life.” Administrator Dana Canedy said the decision to award the award to Lamar was unanimous, adding that it was “a great moment for hip-hop music and a great moment for the Pulitzers.”.

Lamar’s win was widely seen as well-deserved recognition of his talent, as well as long-overdue recognition of hip-hop’s contributions to American culture. Although some members of the classical music community criticized the selection, past winners and nominees praised it. Ted Hearne, a songwriter who was nominated alongside Lamar, called him “one of the greatest living American songwriters, hands down.”

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