Kendrick Lamar becomes the first pop musician to win a Pulitzer

Culture / News

The prestigious award typically goes to jazz and classical musicians.

Apr 17, 2018
Kendrick Lamar Becomes The First Pop Musician To Win A Pulitzer

INDIO, CA – APRIL 13: Kendrick Lamar performs onstage with SZA during the 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 13, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella)

Kendrick Lamar fans don’t need to be told he’s one of the best in the game, and awards don’t amount to much for those who acknowledge that. But it’s still always been baffling that Lamar hasn’t gotten his dues. At the Grammys, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City lost to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories; To Pimp a Butterfly lost to Taylor Swift’s 1989and his latest studio album, Damn, lost to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic. If prestige keeps you up at night, then rest easy, because Lamar now has an accolade to trump Swift, Mars and the rest of them as the first pop musician to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Best known for awarding excellence in American literature and journalism, the Pulitzers have been running for a century and are some of the greatest honors a writer can receive. In a year filled with breaking news, the Pulitzers recognized reporting on the California wildfires, Duterte’s grotesque war on drugs in the Philippines, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s profile of church shooter Dylann Roof and Ronan Farrow’s bombshell reporting on Harvey Weinstein, which launched the continuing #MeToo movement.

The Pulitzers aren’t well known for recognizing achievements in music, but that’s because the musicians they recognize aren’t particularly well known. Ever since the category’s inception in 1943, the prize has routinely gone to artists in the world of classical or jazz music. Even jazz had to wait until 1997, when Wynton Marsalis took home the prize.

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WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 22: Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis pauses prior to his address at a National Press Club luncheon September 22, 2003 in Washington, DC. Marsalis was the first jazz composer to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1997. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

There’s nothing in the award category dictating that only classical and jazz can receive it, it just seems the judge’s tastes are as stuffy as your dentist’s lobby. Even the most popular musicians to emerge in those genres, from Philip Glass to Yo-Yo Ma to Sun-Ra, have never been recognized. The closest popular musicians has gotten to the Pulitzer are through honorary citations, which have included Bob Dylan, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Hank Williams. 

Lamar didn’t win through a citation. David Hajdu, a music critic and juror for the award, said the decision was born out of an observation that jazz and rap have a lot in common. “That led us to put on the table the fact that (rap) has value on its own terms and not just as a resource for use in a field that is more broadly recognized by the institutional establishment as serious or legitimate,” said Hajdu

Apr 17, 2018