Kendrick Lamar Became the First Rapper to Take Home a Pulitzer

On Monday, to the immense joy of the internet, rap music fans, and former New York Times editor Dana Canedy, Kendrick Lamar took home the Pulitzer Prize for his album “DAMN.” He’s the first rapper to win the award, and he’s also the first winner who isn’t a classical or jazz musician since the Pulitzers expanded to include music in 1943.

The Compton, Calif., rapper hasn’t yet commented on the award for the album he dropped almost exactly a year ago. The Pulitzer listing describes “DAMN.” as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” Canedy said that the board’s decision to give the award to Lamar was unanimous. 

Featuring musicians ranging from Rihanna to jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, “DAMN.,” Lamar’s fourth album, sold 353,000 copies in its first week and won Best Rap Album at the 60th Grammy Awards. Terrence Henderson, the record executive known as Punch from Lamar’s label Top Dawg Entertainment, spoke about the award on Twitter:

The Pulitzer Prize was founded in 1917, and its Music category recipients were all classical musicians until 1997, when trumpet player Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz musician to win the award for his oratorio “Blood on the Fields”. 

This quote from his 2017 Interview magazine chat with Dave Chappelle sums up what made “DAMN.” so universally applicable:

“LeBron James or the little boy around the corner, we come from the same struggles, and it comes out of my mouth for them to relate to,” Lamar told Chappelle. “I don’t want anybody to classify my music. I want them to say, ‘This is somebody who’s recognizing his true feelings … and views on the world, all on one record.’ I want people to recognize that and to take it and apply it to their own lives.”

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