Carson Hughes, A&E Editor
The Pulitzer Prize for Music isn’t known for being “hip.” The award has had a traditionally narrow scope focusing on classical and jazz pieces, with last year’s Pulitzer being awarded to composer Du Yun for her operatic work “Angels Bone.” So it caused a great stir when the Pulitzer Prize for Music went to a mainstream artist like Kendrick Lamar for his album “DAMN.” This marks the first time the award has gone to a non-classical and non-jazz artist.
The Pulitzer Prize Board refers to “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.”
Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy explained how the Pulitzer Prize Board came to the decision in an interview with Billboard. “In this case, I don’t know specifically what the piece was, but in this case they were considering a piece of music they felt had hip-hop influences and said, ‘Well if we’re considering a piece of music that has hip-hop influences, why aren’t we considering hip-hop?’ And someone said, ‘That’s exactly what we should do.’ And then someone said, ‘We should be considering Kendrick Lamar’ and the group said ‘absolutely.’ So then, right then, they decided to listen to the entire album and decided ‘This is it.’”
Kendrick Lamar’s win has been the subject of controversy within the classical music community, however. In an interview with the Washington Post, composer Alex Temple explained the divided reactions. “A lot of people are very enthusiastic about Kendrick’s win, saying that it’s about time the Pulitzer moved beyond its limited focus on contemporary classical music and, for the most part, on work by white men.
On the other side, there are people saying that hip-hop doesn’t even count as music; I even saw one trot out the old cliche that “you can’t spell ‘crap’ without ‘rap.’” And some are in the middle, appreciative of Kendrick’s work but afraid that classical music will be eclipsed if popular music has access to institutions like the Pulitzer.”
The Pulitzer Prizes are also awarded to a number of other artistic categories including Fiction, Drama, Poetry and Nonfiction. The Prize for Fiction has been awarded to “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer, “Cost of Living” by Martyna Majok won the Prize for Drama, James Forman Jr.’s examination of criminal justice “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America” won the Prize for General Nonfiction and Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
This article first appeared in the Friday, April 20 edition of The Echo.