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Hip Hop And How Kenrick Lamar And His Pulitzer Prize Are Changing It

Kendrick Lamar is making history with his fourth studio album, DAMN. Not only did he win a lot at the Grammys and topped charts both nationally and internationally but he also now won a Pulitzer Prize.

Lamar’s album is historically the first to win the coveted prize outside of the jazz and classical music genres. The award, the Pulitzer Prize for Music, is now making hip-hop history.

Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy said the decision was unanimous. The winner is chosen by a music jury.

“[They were] considering several entries and the discussion turned to the fact that some of the entries seemed to be influenced by hip-hop,” Canedy said. “So someone on the jury said, ‘Well, if we’re intrigued by work that is influenced by hip-hop, why don’t we just consider hip-hop?'”

The jury seemed to be all in agreement of that decision, and that’s when someone mentioned Lamar. 

“They decided right then to listen to the entire album, and thought this is one of our finalists,” Canedy said.

Hip-hop can arguably be considered one of the most influential music genres out there. The culture originated in The Bronx in the 70s, toward the end of the Civil Rights Movement. The block parties were similar to those in Jamaica–large, outdoors, and with expensive stereo. Competitive DJs isolated the percussion while MCs spoke over the beats, creating the Rap music we know of today. “Rappers Delight” by Sugarhill Gang was the first song recorded and released by a hip-hop group. (Though “King Tim III” by R&B group Fatback Band and “Groovy Ghost Show” by Casper are also considered first by some.)

Hip-hop’s influence is possibly one of the greatest over American youth today. It’s seen in movies, television shows, and other media sources. Rap speaks of multiple topics: from personal issues to political adversities. Rappers’ messages are universal and relatable. 

“I think that we’re just proud that we’ve arrived at this moment [that a hip-hop artist received a Pulitzer],” Canedy said. “We think this artist and his work is deserving.”

And that’s definitely an understatement about Lamar.

Lamar is from Compton, CA. His mainstream major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was quickly regarded an a classic. His 2015 album, To Pimp a Butterfly, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. DAMN, his fourth album and Pulitzer Prize winner, received critical acclaim and topped the charts in the United States and Canada. It also reached No. 2 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. “Love” became Lamar’s first No. 1-single on the US Billboard Hot 100. It won Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards, and (of course) the Pulitzer Prize. Lamar is considered one of the top 10 best rappers of all time according to Billboard.

“[Lamar’s work] shines a light on a hip-hop in a completely different way,” Canedy said. “This is a big moment for hip-hop music and a big moment for the Pulitzers.”

Monica Sager is a freelance writer from Clark University, where she is pursuing a double major in psychology and self-designed journalism with a minor in English. She wants to become an investigative journalist to combat and highlight humanitarian issues. Monica has previously been published in The Pottstown Mercury, The Week UK, Worcester Telegram and Gazette and even The Boston Globe. Read more of Monica’s previous work on her Twitter @MonicaSager3.
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