“What Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Means for Hip-Hop”

“I would argue that the award is a bigger event for the Pulitzers than it is for Lamar, or for hip-hop’s morale. “Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn’t want me to be too famous too young,” Duke Ellington said in 1965, when he was sixty-six, after the Pulitzer Prize Advisory Board denied a recommendation that he receive a special-citation recognition for his contributions to jazz. With Lamar, just thirty years old, likely sitting on future compositions that will outdo the odysseys on “damn.” — and on “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” which came before it — the Pulitzers push a reformation campaign, finding a canny opportunity to stake a place ahead of the curve. (The win bears some relation to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature, in 2016, although in that case the referendum had to do with what constituted literature.) Most glaringly, it sets the stage for the argument that the prize of the intelligentsia, which has been disinterested in the flow of popular music, may have a shrewder grasp on cultural impact than the Grammys, which for its top honor, Album of the Year, has snubbed not only Lamar — this year and in the past — but every other black hip-hop artist other than Lauryn Hill and OutKast. I certainly did not expect the Pulitzers to be what finally proved the Grammys irrelevant. David Hajdu, a critic at The Nation and one of the Pulitzer jurors, told Coscarelli that recognizing “damn.” meant recognizing that rap “has value on its own terms and not just as a resource for use in a field that is more broadly recognized by the institutional establishment as serious or legitimate.” Rap has not primarily depended on the recognition of traditional bodies to flourish and to change. It’ll be fun to hear how Lamar finesses a verse to include the word “Pulitzer.””