LOS ANGELES — Never in the Pulitzer Prize’s 75-year history has a hip-hop artist received the accolade for music until now, with Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar becoming the first for his fourth studio album “DAMN.”
Last weekend, Lamar was celebrating the one-year anniversary of the release of “DAMN.” On April 16, the same album was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music, making it the first time the honor was given to an album outside of jazz, opera or classical music.
“The honorees were chosen from a stellar and diverse group of distinguished finalists,” said Dana Candy, the administrator of the Pulitzers. “The winners this year affirm the impact of arts and letters on American culture, including books, music and drama that inform us, challenge our conventional notion of creative expression and they push us to consider and embrace new ideas and perspectives.”
The Pulitzer board described “DAMN” as an album with “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
Earlier this year, the album won a Grammy for best rap album, with the album’s single “Humble” winning for best rap performance, rap song and music video. In all, the 30-year-old has won 12 Grammys and been praised as one of the best rappers alive.
Born in Compton in 1987, Lamar’s lyrics often tell the stories of the streets he grew up in, noting the violence he has witnessed, the struggles of modern black life and the inspirations that came from his life there.
The Pulitzer Prize was established in 1917 by provisions in the will of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer also bestowing awards for excellence in fiction and poetry.
Last year, four African-American authors were honored, including Colson Whitehead for his novel “The Underground Railroad,” Tyehimba Jess for his poetry book “Olio,” Hilton Als for his criticism work in The New Yorker and Lynn Nottage for her play “Sweat.”
The music category was added to the Plan of Award prizes in 1943 and usually goes to composers of classical music. In the 1990s, however, requirements were broadened to attract a wider range of American music. And in 1997, the prize went to Wynton Marsalis’s “Blood on the Fields,” the first such award for a jazz artist. The Pulitzer Award bestowed a special citation to Duke Ellington on his 1999 centennial year.
Although Lamar has again made music history, his official Facebook page shared a modest post on his award with a caption reading: “#DAMN #TDE Pulitzer Prizes.”
Others congratulated his win, including his label Top Dawg Entertainment, which tweeted lyrics from his songs: “The Heart, Pt 3 (Will You Let it Die,) “I came, I saw, I conquered. No shame, I blame all of this on Compton.”
Music mogul Diddy tweeted: “Congratulations to my brother @KendrickLamar on becoming the first hip hop artist to win a Pulitzer Prize. “Damn” is an incredible body of work!!! Keep going! YOU MAKE US ALL SO PROUD KING!!! #BlackExcellence.
Los Angeles rapper Ice T wrote: “A personal shout out of RESPECT to @kendricklamar. Winning the Pulitzer Prize you proved the deep value of the Art Form. You absolutely deserve it.”
California’s Sen. Kamala Harris made sure to give her respects as well: “Congratulations to @kendricklamar for becoming the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. #blackexcellence.”
Lamar’s journey started when he was named one of the top 10 freshmen on the XXL list. Shortly after, he released his mix tape Section.80 on his Top Dawg record label in 2011, which went gold. His first studio album on Aftermath — owned by Compton native Dr. Dre — was his autobiographical album “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City” and was certified gold. But it was the release in 2015 of “To Pimp a Butterfly” which made Lamar a household name.
His most recent album ,“DAMN,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and has since been certified double platinum. To add to his accolades, Marvel’s “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler asked Lamar to produce the film’s soundtrack after being drawn to the “introspective” quality of Lamar’s “DAMN” album and its thoughts on the personal costs of black achievement in Donald Trump’s America.