By Chanel McFollins, Staff Writer
Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer settled in America and became a renown journalist and publisher. Upon his death in 1911, he left $2 billion to Columbia University to create the first journalism school in America, as well as set up what is now known as the Pulitzer Prize. The award honors distinguished people in journalism, photography, literature, drama, and music. The award is very selective, and in April of this year, Black American rapper, songwriter and producer, Kendrick Lamar, became the first rapper and “the first nonclassical or jazz musician to receive the [Pulitzer] prize since the awards expanded to music in 1943.”
It is a very important achievement because this award sends a message to listeners and artists of hip-hop that the genre is becoming legitimized in American society. Did you ever notice in a movie when teens are doing something crazy or illegal, there is a rap beat in the background? It isn’t by accident. Rap music has a stigma upon it for being “ghetto” or “ignorant,” but it is so versatile that it makes no sense to count out the entire genre based on some songs. Hip-hop is music that plays in the background of my life. Many of the most profound music and lyrics I have heard have come from rap and hip-hop artists. The jurors for the music category became cognizant of this as they discussed over 100 classical and jazz pieces and realized many of these pieces had hip-hop or rap elements. They considered that hip-hop, “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.”
This sentiment is really a metaphor for Blackness, as pieces of our culture and history are used and recognized only as long as it’s convenient. It makes Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize even more exceptional. Many things that are historically Black or African American do not receive the recognition they deserve, and when they do, it is past due. Prime examples are the fact that out of over 100 prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), none of them are on the Ivy League list. Or, that 2001 was the first year that a Black woman won an Oscar for a lead role. Or, that after more than 200 years, the first and only Black president was elected (he was not the first to run) in 2008. We constantly strive harder to get the same recognition as others.
With over 100 awards, Kendrick Lamar is finally getting the recognition he deserves. He was featured on Time 100, which focused on the most influential people of 2016. 12 of his awards are Grammys, five of which were won from DAMN. The album also topped numerous year-end best album lists. Three out of four of his studio albums were nominated for Best Rap Album, and two of them won. From the beginning, his music dove deeply into the essence and crisis of Blackness and all that it entails (identity crises, depression, guilt, triumph, and hope, to name a few). Listening to his music is truly an artistic experience. His cadence and mastery of music is arguably unmatched. Everyone can tell a story, but they can’t all make you listen. His sound is fresh, not trap drums and autotune. You feel the rhythms and beats. His anecdotes are original, but sit with you if you know what’s it’s like to have fear instilled in you by your parents, or fear losing yourself as you actively achieve your goals as he describes in “FEAR.” If you have ever had times when you felt you could only depend on yourself, you can identify with “FEEL.” If you have ever feared for your life or lost loved ones due to lack of gun control or police brutality, “XXX” will resonate with you. Every song is powerfully distinct and woven together in a story.
*Other studio albums by Kendrick Lamar include Section.80, good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly. He also curated Black Panther: The Album. I encourage you to listen to the songs in order before listening separately.