In a groundbreaking moment for both the Pulitzer committee and hip-hop music as a whole, Kendrick Lamar accepted the prize on May 30 at Columbia University. Donning a print-covered button up and light colored pants as he’s flanked by friends, family, and peers, Lamar walked up the steps of the prestigious university and received his award with gracefulness and honor.
The original Pulitzer Prize was awarded in 1917 and the award itself was created to give merit to various outstanding works in the arts. With his award, Lamar now joins the likes of Aaron Copland, Wynton Marsalis, and Gian Carlo Menotti as a noted musician in the eyes of the Pulitzer.
It took nearly a quarter century from the creation of the Pulitzer for the first prize for music to be awarded in 1943 to William Schuman for “Secular Cantata No. 2: A Free Song.”
The “HUMBLE.” rapper is the first musician outside of the classical or jazz genres to receive the prestigious award, which was granted to him for his critically acclaimed album “DAMN.” A body of work well known now for its versatility and accessibility in addressing hot-button issues in the United States as well as those in specific racial and economic groups. The album traverses quite a lot of ground sonically, from the angelic feel-good vibes of “LOVE.” to the U2 assisted call to action for the nation on “XXX.”, to then Lamar lamenting on his own life in “DUCKWORTH.”, a song titled in accordance with the rapper’s legal last name.
In bequeathing the award to Lamar, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger summed up the artist’s fourth LP as a “virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African American life.”
Those who are awarded the prize do not traditionally give an acceptance speech, but in a subsequent Facebook Live video on the Pulitzer Prizes page, Lamar explained his thought process after achieving the Pulitzer, stating that “I’ve been writing my whole life, so to get this type of recognition ― it’s beautiful.”
Lamar was nominated in seven different categories at this year’s Grammy awards but lost the album of the year title to Bruno Mars. However, he did not go home empty-handed, as he took with him the awards for Best Music Video, Rap Song, Rap Performance, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best Rap Album.