Yep, you read that correctly. Now, rapper Kendrick Lamar can add “Pulitzer Prize Winner” to his ever-expanding resume. In a historical feat, the “HUMBLE.” rapper beat out composers Michael Gilbertson and Ted Hearne for the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2017 album DAMN., an honor that’s previously only been awarded to classical musicians.
Speaking to Slate, Gilberton expressed his shock – and excitement – on learning he was nominated alongside Lamar. “I never thought my string quartet and an album by Kendrick Lamar would be in the same category,” he said. “This is no longer a narrow honor. It used to be classical composers competing against each other in relatively small numbers, but now we’re all competing against these major voices in music.”
“I think it’s wonderful,” Hearne added about the Lamar’s win. “When we say classical music, I think it’s a collection of audiences and musicians that have been grouped together and a big part of that grouping together, over centuries, has been about the exclusion of nonwhite people and nonwhite artists. Sure, in some respects, using violins and European classical instruments is a part of classical music, but so are a lot of other ideas. Especially in America, there are incredibly important musical thinkers who have been kept out of classical music spaces for a long time.”
Hearne’s comment speaks to why this moment is so radical. While, of course, we all know how amazing Kendrick Lamar is, but for him to be honored in a space that mostly (and historically) acknowledges cis, straight, white men – well, that’s incredible. Not only is hip-hop finally being recognized as a creative outlet as important as more traditionally celebrated genres, the world is also finally starting to support the voices of people of color.
Plus, DAMN. is a really great album.
Photo from the back cover of DAMN. by designer Vlad Sepetov