Modern icon Kendrick Lamar has been named the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, earning the honor for the outstanding quality of his 2017 release, DAMN.
Lamar is the first non-jazz, non-classic artist to ever win the prize for music, setting a new precedent for contemporary music to be considered for the prestigious prize. In fact, in its entire history, the Pulitzer for music has largely been a classical composers’ affair, with acclaimed avant-garde jazz artist Ornette Coleman the only other non-classical musician to earn the award for a contemporary work — though several citations have been given to non-classical artists like Duke Ellington for their bodies of work in the decades following its original release.
The administration behind the prize was extremely excited to give out this year’s award, if in no small part due to the fact that it has received plenty of criticism throughout the decades for its lack of consideration of pop artists.
“We have an amazing system that worked as it should this year,” Pulitzer Prize administrator Dana Canedy told Billboard, “The jury made the recommendation to the board, I am on the board, and then the board considered the jury recommendation, and unanimously voted in favor of this. We’re very excited. The system worked the way it should in that a really spectacular work was celebrated today in the music category.”
According to Canedy, the decision to more actively consider hip-hop came at the request of the jury, which consisted of acclaimed composers, industry members, journalists, and musicians.
“In this case, I don’t know specifically what the piece was, but in this case they were considering a piece of music they felt had hip-hop influences and said, ‘Well if we’re considering a piece of music that has hip-hop influences, why aren’t we considering hip-hop?’ And someone said, ‘That’s exactly what we should do.’ And then someone said, ‘We should be considering Kendrick Lamar’ and the group said ‘absolutely.’ So then, right then, they decided to listen to the entire album and decided, ‘This is it.'”
As for the Digital Trends staff, we’re not particularly surprised to see Lamar win such an incredible honor for his work on DAMN. We picked the album as our definitive favorite of 2017 on our annual year-end list, and continue to stand by that decision wholeheartedly.