Hip-Hop's 1st Pulitzer Prize with KING Kendrick Lamar

"Any kind of business outside of art and culture and hip-hop, I have to have full creative control... And having that control, I always wanted to have something that represents more than just a price tag."

— Kendrick Lamar

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The lineage of hip-hop begins from the ancestors' tradition of vivid storytelling. What hip-hop did was birth a new modern day musical language of the struggle within Black American life, blending the old traditions of oral storytelling and innovated complex lyricism filled with verses, tracks, hooks, and eventually, classic historical albums with narratives so rich you couldn’t help but experience the sound just like a Hollywood movie, only better. 

It is no secret that hip-hop has also had a constant battle for institutional legitimacy because of its original global musical phenomena and unapologetic expression of Black American life.  Over the decades, hip-hop has without a doubt matured and manifested into subgenres rooted in a competitive art form that has cemented global music history with decades of unforgettable modern-day storytellers.  The unveiling of the many facets of Black American life and the complex dimensions of its beauty and pain has always been hip-hop's allure. The music has always been diverse and evolving with its variety of musical styles and influences.  Sometimes it is filled with braggadocious cadences of fun and play and other times it is a vivid, raw, mind-searing tale that you can’t unhear, but no matter what your musical palette preference, hip-hop’s creative range of influences an innovative musical architecture has single-handedly changed American musical history and the outlook on Black American life forever.

"Putting a positive light on where I come from is important to me. When you think of Compton, there is this idea that it’s numb with negativity"

KING Kendrick, hip-hop's modern-day storyteller has exquisitely documented the experience of the struggle throughout Black life in its past, present, and near future, in both sound and narration. His pure vulnerability within his music is transcendent in a feel good, DAMN kinda way. You go through all types of emotions with Kendrick along his musical ride. 

Most recently he made a new stamp on music history this year when he became the first non-classical and non-jazz artist to receive a Pulitzer Prize for his third studio album DAMN. Kendrick was the first to win the honor since 1997 when the Pulitzer Prize for music went to a jazz work by Wynton Marsalis’s oratorio “Blood on the Fields.” Decades earlier in 1965, the Pulitzer jurors recommended awarding a special citation to Duke Ellington but were rejected. 

A little over 20 years later hip-hop's own Kendrick Lamar's music is acknowledged as a preeminent masterwork by an age-old institution calling his single, DAMN a “triumphant piece of art,” by Pulitzer Prize administrator Dana Canedy.  Kendrick was awarded the Pulitzer Prize over classical musicians and co-finalists Michael Gilbertson and his string Quartet and Ted Hearne's cantata Sound from the Bench. To get a sense of the magantitude of this historic momement in hip-hop and American history, the jurors were: violinist Regina Carter; Paul Cremo, a director at The Metropolitan Opera; Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor of English, comparative literature and African-American studies at Columbia University; David Hadju, music critic for The Nation; and David Lang, a composer. 

 Kendrick accepted his Pulitzer Prize for Music inside Columbia University in New York City saying, “It’s an honor,” during his acceptance speech, after receiving a standing ovation, “Been writing my whole life, so to get this type of recognition is beautiful.” Kendrick was also granted $15,000 as the top prize winner for his musical accolade.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Kendrick revealed this about his creative process for the album, “The initial goal was to make a hybrid of my first two commercial albums," he said. "That was our total focus, how to do that sonically, lyrically, through melody – and it came out exactly how I heard it in my head. … It's all pieces of me. My musicality has been driving me since I was four years old. It's just pieces of me, man, and how I execute it is the ultimate challenge. Going from To Pimp a Butterfly to DAMN., that shit could have crashed and burned if it wasn't executed right. So I had to be real careful on my subject matter and how I weave in and out of the topics, where it still organically feels like me." Late last year, Lamar released a "collector's edition" of DAMN. with the original album's tracklist reversed — played back-to-front revealing even more depth to his musical palette of creativity shifting the album's focus to the contrasting revelations of self, something we can all relate to in the current times.