“Damn” takes home Pulitzer

Kendrick Lamar’s rap album redefines the meaning of the prestiguous award

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On Apr. 16, Kendrick Lamar became the first artist of a music genre other than jazz or classical to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his recent album, “DAMN.”

The 14-song internationally-acclaimed album was released in 2017 by producer Top Dawg Entertainment and included chart-topping hits such as “HUMBLE” and “LOYALTY” (feat. Rihanna).

Earlier this year, Lamar won five Grammy Awards, including one for Best Rap Album, and was also nominated for Album of the Year.

Farah Griffin, a professor of African-American literature and music at Columbia University, was one of the five jurors who chose the album for the prize. In an interview with National Public Radio, she considered Lamar’s win to be a momentous step not just for the Pulitzer, but for all of society.

“All forms [of music] produce genius and excellence — and certainly black music forms have always produced that. But it’s not always been recognized by the arbiters of our culture writ large,” said Griffin.

Junior Alisha Yoo echoed Griffin’s statement on the importance of considering various types of music in the Pulitzer music award category: “Rap should be considered because it is a type of writing. Lyrics are basically like poems.”

“Art that invokes emotion is successful and deserving of praise,” added junior Asher Noel.

According to the Pulitzer Prize website, the annual award is given to an American artist, “For distinguished musical composition that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.” The prize comes with international recognition, prestige, and a $15,000 check.

The other two finalists were Michael Gilbertson for his orchestral piece, “Quartet,” and Ted Hearne for his piece “Sound From the Bench” written for a combination of performers, including a chamber choir, an electric guitarist, and a percussionist.

Last year, the prize was taken home by Du Yun, composer of the contemporary opera “Angel’s Bone.”

Critics are saying that the prize was long overdue for Lamar and that he should have won with his 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” instead.

Music review writer Doreen St. Félix of The New Yorker wrote that “The award is a bigger event for the Pulitzers than it is for Lamar, or for hip-hop’s morale.”

Her argument centers around the fact that only one of the 100 pieces considered by the Pulitzer committee was a hip-hop/rap piece, and that that piece happened to be the one that won.

This confused some, given that hip-hop surpassed rock as the most popular music genre in America last year, according to Forbes Magazine.

St. Félix, along with some other prominent music reviewers, claimed that the Pulitzer awarded this prize to Lamar more to boost their own relevance than for his musical excellence.

However, others believe Lamar won the prize strictly for his groundbreaking album, as was seen with the outpour of congratulations all over Twitter from various prominent musicians and public figures. The excitement for the American award has been voiced internationally as well as at home.

Sophomore Isaac Quentin said, “I think the album was very well made and was deserving of the prize.”

“The lyrics in the raps were very real,” Yoo said of the album that went double-platinum last year.

The most popular song of the album, “HUMBLE,” remained on top of Billboard’s Hot 100 list for five weeks straight.

While this may have been Lamar’s best-known track, most of the other songs of the album were also hits. “In his new album, “LOYALTY” stood out to me the most because of the sound of his voice, hushed and chill,” said Quentin.

Noel, who particularly liked the track “LOVE,” noted that he liked the album because Lamar “has good flow,” and is therefore deserving of the award.
“He rapped from his heart and his raps were very genuine,” said Yoo.

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