Kendrick Lamar Wins the Pulitzer Prize in Music– Live in Color

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The Dorian Lynskey article “From street kid to Pulitzer: why Kendrick Lamar deserves the prize” highlights the fact that “Damn features a pointed sample of Geraldo Rivera on Fox News making the absurd claim that ‘hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.’” Kendrick clearly challenges structures such as racism and police brutality. In the song “BLOOD,” Kendrick uses a voice over of two “Fox News personalities Eric Bolling and Kimberly Guilfoyle dismissing Lamar the day after he performed at the 2016 Grammy awards” (Leight, Reeves, Lee, Rolling Stone Magazine 2017). The excerpt goes something like:


Bolling: [Kendrick states his views] on police brutality with that line in the song, quote, and we hate the po po wanna kill us in the street fo sho

Kimberly: ah please, ugh, i don’t like it”

This rebellious theme continues throughout the album. This is partly why Kendrick Lamar winning the Pulitzer Prize for his album Damn was groundbreaking. No album revered by popular culture ever won the prize, and only two Jazz albums have ever won. The rest of the musical prizes have gone to European classics. Furthermore, the majority of Pulitzer Prizes awarded for music, and awarded in general, have gone to white artists. Hip Hop and Rap have never once been acclaimed by this mainstream, rather elitist award institution until Damn. Although this speaks to the selectivity and limited scope of what the judges of the Pulitzer Prize deem worthy of recognition, it also speaks to the revolutionary nature of Damn and perhaps to the changing climate in the United States regarding the politics of race.

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Although “Damn” is what caused Kendrick Lamar to win the Pulitzer Prize, he was preaching and practicing of black power and surviving against the higher powers that be. The Pulitzer prize is rightfully his and well deserved. Continuously he speaks upon his struggles and the problems the majority of the world faces. His albums “ Good Kid M.A.A.D City” and “To Pimp a Butterfly”  both expressed the struggles of growing up in a poverty community as a black child. His albums also gave a vision to all people who are pursuing a career in a white male dominant society. He paints a picture and a path for those of color who struggle with being poor, or having to be a criminal to just to survive, and the paths for their future. Not only does he encourage the youth and the color but he pushes and embraces females and their creative work. Kendrick Lamar knows this is a racist world and he uses himself and his people to grow and rise through the social and economical ranks.

One person he helped on making their song a success in their album is Beyonce on her “Lemonade” album. The song name is “Freedom” and it shows how viable  Kendrick Lamar is to the Hip-Hop society. On this track Lamar touches upon both racism and slavery but also the domestic relationship between a husband and his wife, specifically a black marriage. This song speaks on how tired people are of being used and abused but she will not give up and she will keep on fighting because she is who she loves and what she made is what she love and she will not lose that for anybody especially White Supremacy.


The article  From street kid to Pulitzer: why Kendrick Lamar deserves the prize” by Dorian Lynskey does a great job of explaining the lyrical genius that is Kendrick Lamar’s album Damn and why it is so deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. Lynskey made it very clear that music outside of the European classical tradition, does not get recognized. It is interesting how it took more than half a century to recognize a non-European artist’s music, which was Wyton Marsalis’s Blood on the Fields. The Pulitzer Prize past is plastered in Eurocentric music. Seeing a new, young, and most importantly, black, hero be the image of an award that is always covered in white, is refreshing.


Kendrick’s album won the prize because of its’ efforts to capture the emotion of what is to be Black/African American in the United States in 2017. One piece that I did not like about the article is that it says “The award says less about hip-hop at large than it does about Lamar’s exceptional place in American culture.” I feel like the fact that he won the Pulitzer Prize, shows that Kendrick pushed the boundaries of hip-hop and made it reach a new level. I also feel like placing Kendrick’s talent within the limits of the phrase “American culture” is an issue. Kendrick gets to decide if he wants his work to be associated with American culture. Even though he was brought up by it, he is preaching against its’ harmful ways, and maybe that is exactly what Kendrick wants; his work to be associated with a new progressive movement of wisdom and love, and not necessarily stuck in constraints of American culture.


Kendrick is a Pulitzer Prize winning rap artist, who preaches the beauty and importance of a women in the lives of every person. He has many songs that speak about the violence that women go through, and how he has seen it first hand; like the song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying” in the album “good kid, m.A.A.d city”. 

“A nigga behind me right now asking for ass and shit
And I’mma need that 40 dollars even if I gotta
Fuck, suck and swallow in the parking lot”

” I’m followed by a married man, a father of three
My titties bounce on the cadence of his tingling keys
Matter of fact he my favorite cause he tip me with E’s
He got a cousin named David and I seen him last week
This is the life of another girl damaged by the system
These foster homes, I run away and never do miss em”

Through his music, he takes a firm stand on the fact that women should be respected and cared for always. It is important for people in our community to see an artist who comes from a place of hatred and anger but has so much heart and love for his people win such an amazing prize. Despite the fact that it may be losing it’s authenticity, so to say; Kendrick Lamar did this remarkable feat that should inspire everyone to not settle for anything less than ordinary.

Kendrick Lamar – LOVE. ft. Zacari

“Oh by the way, open the door by the way
Told you that I’m on the way
I’m on the way, I know connection is vague
Pick up the phone for me babe”

He makes sure his significant other understands that he will always be there and fight for their love. Something that is barely seen in today’s rap.

I do believe Kendrick Lamar deserved this award. As a hip-hop lover, especially Kendrick Lamar’s music, and a student in today’s age, I can see how far hip-hop has come, from being a heavily criticized form of art, to having an black hip hop artist artist win the Pulitzer Prize for music. It is very important for everyone to see that Kendrick’s message is all about community, self-love and recognizing the demons that live within ourselves and the people we love. He reaches out to many groups of people, which is another great thing he does in his music. I am pretty sure that many other artists who have won the Pulitzer Prize, especially in the early years, only reached out to a specific upper class population. Now the upper class can see how we people of color suffer at the bottom, but always find a way to come out on top successful, proud and with a smile.


A slower, softer song compared to the energetic previous track, Kendrick Lamar’s “YAH” addresses his frustration with Fox News and their portrayal of black people in the media. This lyrical outcry is why Lamar’s album DAMN. won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The Pulitzer is known to be awarded to artists of “higher” art forms, the music award typically given to classical and jazz artists. However, Lamar’s DAMN. could not simply just be ignored, especially in today’s political climate. In “YAH,” Kendrick raps,

Interviews wanna know my thoughts and opinions

Fox News wanna use my name for percentage

My latest muse is my niece, she worth livin’

See me on the TV and scream, “That’s Uncle Kendrick!”

Yeah that’s the business

Somebody tell Geraldo this nigga got some ambition

        Kendrick Lamar continues to express his discontent with Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera, referencing an excerpt played in the first track, “BLOOD.” Prior to DAMN, Rivera criticized Lamar for his lyrics in his song “Alright,” in which Lamar raps about police brutality and is said to be an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. “YAH” explicitly calls out Fox News and their overt racial bias, as Lamar raps that the media outlet only wants to use his name for percentage. Fox News repeatedly demonizes black people in their articles, skewing percentages and calling Black Lives Matter protesters “black identity extremists,” even going so far as to claim that these protesters are a domestic threat. Lamar raps that Fox News cannot depict him as the villain and he will continue to give interviews and voice his beliefs.

After the release of DAMN, Geraldo Rivera responded to the album, saying, “Aside from Drake, in my opinion, [Lamar is] probably the best hip-hop artist out there today.” He then followed this by saying, “[Hip-hop is] the worst role model. It’s the worst example. It’s the most negative possible message.” Yet-  a genre deemed to be “the worst role model”- reigned supreme for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. DAMN articulates the struggles and frustrations many people of color in the US face, showcasing that hip-hop is an incredibly powerful and influential platform beyond worthy of recognition.


Kreps, Daniel. “Geraldo Rivera Responds to Kendrick Lamar: Hip-Hop Is ‘Worst Role Model’.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 15 Apr. 2017,


Wilstein, Matt. “Kendrick Lamar Delivers Powerful Black Lives Matter-Inspired Grammys Performance.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 16 Feb. 2016,


Kendrick Lamar’s win of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music is extremely significant to the study of hip-hop, culture, and society. As mentioned by The Guardian, it is no secret that Pulitzer Prizes for music have lost some of their prestige in recent years, adopting a sort of “stuffy and irrelevant” connotation. By giving the award to Kendrick Lamar for his album DAMN., it can be suggested that the Pulitzer’s are using hip-hop as a gateway to access popular culture, and regain some of their previously held acclaim. This phenomenon is huge for hip-hop culture because it establishes hip-hop as a critical part of mainstream culture that can be utilized to access the masses, thus totally flipping the script of hip-hop’s societal role a mere forty years ago.

Not only this, but Kendrick’s acquisition of the Pulitzer also represents the blurring of boundaries between high and low culture. Historically, the Pulitzer’s have been a space dominated by high art forms, and have maintained a certain level of exclusivity because of this. With the entrance of Kendrick Lamar into this particular space, stereotypical notions of hip-hop as low culture are challenged, and the exact location of hip-hop within the social hierarchy of artistic expression is rendered ambiguous.While the genre of hip-hop often engages with themes long deemed unfit for high society, the introduction of such themes into privileged spaces, such as the Pulitzer’s, queries social barriers, and suggests the deconstruction of privilege itself. When taking into account the raced and classed connotations of high versus low culture, the recognition of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. offers serious socio-political potential.


“FEAR.” by Kendrick Lamar (on DAMN.)