*Important: This is not a think piece. If you would like to read up on critical analyses of DAMN., or on Kendrick Lamar’s music in general, please read articles written by black writers.*
Have you ever seen the list of past winners for the Pulitzer Prize for Music? For starters, here are some winners from the past decade: Jennifer Higdon for Violin Concerto, Kevin Puts for Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts, Julia Wolfe for Anthracite Fields, Kendrick Lamar for DAMN.
Which one isn’t like the other?
On April 16, DAMN. became not only the first rap album to take home the Pulitzer, but also the first non-classical or non-jazz composition to win. For an organization as notoriously homogeneous and self-serving (i.e. white) as the Pulitzer Prizes, Lamar’s win is a beautiful shock. Lamar’s win wasn’t just a performative pat on the back to hip-hop and black Americans in a time of political and social turbulence either. In fact, acclaimed violinist, Regina Carter, who served on the jury for this years music selection, confirmed that his win was a recognition of “brilliant, brilliant work.”
And DAMN. is quite brilliant, indeed. Besides the album’s commercial success, its unapologetic narrative of Black America, which goes by unnoticed at best and actively oppressed at worst, deserves every accolade it has and hasn’t won. Through his hits such as “Blood,” “Duckworth,” and “Loyalty,” Lamar examines and attempts to reconcile his roots, blackness, and fame. Every verse in each of his songs has a pointed meaning to it, whether it is about his external or internal struggles, and they deserve examination. When so much of black America is consumed and misrepresented through a white lens, the stamp DAMN. leaves on our society cannot be taken for granted.
That being said, in a predominantly white institution like Boston College whose black students make up only 4% of the student body, where non-black students scream every, single, word to “Humble” on the weekends, the legacy of Lamar’s win is obscured. What could be expected of a student population that remains complicit time and time again in the dehumanization of our black peers?
Luckily, DAMN. doesn’t need some white boy’s approval for its cultural significance. Or a Pulitzer Prize, for that matter.