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The prestigious Pulitzer Prize is often associated with extraordinary works of journalism and literature, awarded to the most influential pieces of the year. When the Pulitzer Prize Board announced the music category winner to be Kendrick Lamar earlier this year, controversy stirred among classical composers and musical purists.
According to The New York Times, Lamar is the first artist outside of the jazz or classical genres to win the Pulitzer Prize, hailed for his influential lyrics and journalistic style. The Pulitzer Prize Board declared Lamar’s album “DAMN” as “a virtuosic song collection… that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
Following the decision, Lamar faced criticism, with many declaring that “DAMN” was neither a work of journalism nor a compositional masterpiece. Others denied rap as a form of music altogether.
Lamar’s album discusses racism, politics and religion, topics similar to those seen in modern investigative journalism.
In one song, “XXX,” Lamar makes passionate arguments against gun control and prejudice, saying, “Gang members or terrorists, et cetera, et cetera. America’s reflections of me, that’s what a mirror does.”
Sophomore Georgia Trentalange of Middletown said she thinks that Lamar received the prize because his lyrics are an accurate reflection of today’s society.
“I think it is a snapshot of what’s happening,” Trentalange said.
In an interview with The Washington Post, performer, composer and writer Alex Temple explained how the news-like quality of Lamar’s work itself stirred controversy.
“Lamar is dealing with topics they don’t necessarily want to look at… you can’t learn from a piece of music unless you spend some time exploring it on its own terms,” Temple said.
The Pulitzer Prize often opens doors for musicians and composers typically unknown to the general public. With Lamar already in the spotlight as a popular musician, his win took opportunities from artists who are not in the public eye. To these composers, the journalistic quality of Lamar’s work does not justify his win.
Despite the controversy, Lamar’s win is a ground-breaking feat, and may be a turning point in the world of rap music. This feat could earn rap music more respect, and may create more opportunities for other non-classical artists.