Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for music Monday, making history as the first non-classical or jazz artist to win the prestigious prize.
The revered rapper is also the most commercially successful musician to receive the award, usually reserved for critically acclaimed classical acts who don’t live on the pop charts.
The 30-year-old won the prize for “DAMN.,” his raw and powerful Grammy-winning album.
Out of more than 2,400 submissions, distinguished projects in just 21 categories earned gold Monday as winners of the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes.
“They include books, music and drama that inform us, that challenge our conventional notions of creative expression and that push us to consider and embrace new ideas and perspectives,” Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy said during the announcement at Columbia University in New York City.
The Pulitzer board said Monday the album is “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” He will win $15,000.
The Pulitzer board has awarded special honors to Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Hank Williams, but a popular figure like Lamar has never won the prize for music. In 1997, Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz act to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.
That makes Lamar’s win that much more important: His platinum-selling major-label albums – “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” ”To Pimp a Butterfly” and “DAMN.” – became works of art, with Lamar writing songs about blackness, street life, police brutality, perseverance, survival and self-worth. His piercing and sharp raps helped him become the voice of the generation, and easily ascend as the leader in hip-hop and cross over to audiences outside of rap, from rock to pop to jazz. He’s also been a dominator on the charts, having achieved two dozen Top 40 hits, including a No. 1 success with “Humble,” and he has even collaborated with the likes of U2, Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons, Rihanna and Beyonce.
Lamar’s musical success helped him win 12 Grammy Awards, though all three of his major-label albums have lost in the top category – album of the year. Each loss has been criticized by the music community, launching the conversation about how the Recording Academy might be out of touch. “DAMN.” lost album of the year to Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” in January.
The rapper, born in Compton, California, was hand-picked by “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler to curate an album to accompany the ubiquitously successful film, giving Lamar yet again another No. 1 effort and highly praised project.