Kendrick Lamar can add another award to his already-impressive shelf: He just became the first non-jazz or classical musical artist to win a Pulitzer prize.
The Pulitzer board wrote this about his album DAMN: “A virtuosic song collection, unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
The album was largely regard as one of the best of 2017, and topped our list of the year’s best albums.
An exclamation of admiration? An imprecatory curse? As with almost everything he does, the title of Kendrick Lamar’s third full-length album sparked an immediate reaction, then a re-evaluation of the first reaction, and then questioning about just why it sparked the reaction it did. Lamar is adept at subverting expectations and at this point, the most subversive thing he could do was release a straightforward rap album — which is what DAMN. sounds like at first. But repeated listenings peel back the layers, revealing what is in many ways Lamar’s most compelling work to date, while still centering on the question that has always fascinated and troubled this rich young ruler: “what must I do to be saved?”
This discomfort with the kingdom to come plagues Lamar. At times, this manifests in paranoia like on “FEAR.” At times, it conjures a sort of nervy defiance, like on “HUMBLE.” Lamar still knows he’s a sinner who’s probably gonna sin again — and on DAMN. he wants to know what redemption is going to look like. “See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches …I’ll make schools out of prison,” he says on “PRIDE.,” “I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service/Just to tell ’em we ain’t s***, but He’s been perfect.”
In every song, Kendrick Lamar seems bound and determined to approach God with the confidence of Job: “I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me.” Whether or not he’s receiving any answers is a question only Kendrick can answer, but he’s certainly asking some of the most fascinating questions in American music.
All hail King Kunta.