Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer win

ZAKendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for DAMN.

The album is fascinating, and so are the discussions about what it means.

Mercifully, rock has been displaced by hip-hop, with its daring formal innovations, its blistering polemics and its vital role as a sounding board for powerful social movements. A genre aggressively committed to singles, as opposed to the creaky album-and-tour model that rock stubbornly insists upon even at the indie level, hip-hop provides a running commentary on the culture as it happens — a musical newsfeed in real time.

There’s a practical reason for this: While other musicians were whining about their paltry Spotify royalty checks and trying to monetize their fading careers, hip-hop artists gamed the Web in the 2010s and made it their bullhorn and promotional tool. For them, the Internet isn’t a distribution system, or worse, an evil force siphoning money from musicians; it’s their primary medium for artistic expression.

Hip-hop has cornered the market on innovation. No present-day rock musician can compete with Lamar’s astonishing verbal dexterity or his ability to articulate the inchoate rage of his listeners in tracks that take in the full sweep of vernacular music. But superstars such as Lamar don’t really drive hip-hop culture anyway, not when obscure and iconic artists are posting mind-blowing tracks online at a rate that makes rock seem sclerotic by comparison. To take the measure of forward thinking in popular music, you have to pay attention to every culvert and tributary of hip-hop.

(Washington Post)

Some music historians might be surprised to learn which compositions earned the prize in the years that birthed Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (John LaMontaine’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra”), or Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska (Bobby Sessions’ “Concerto for Orchestra”), or Joni Mitchell’s Blue (Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 6), or John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (nothing!).


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.

(New Yorker)


Thanks for compiling this. Interesting stuff.

Interesting comments.

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I would invite the author from WaPo to spend 24 hours listening to Shade45 on SiriusXM.

Then, come back and tell me more about “mind blowing” lyrics. There are great artists in this genre, and Kendrick Lamar is one of them, but most hip-hop is mindless repetition of bitches and bling.

I haven’t listened to Lamar before, and I have difficulty with it now, but I consider that my fault.

Jeremy Samuel Faust in Slate:
"It is not just that the jury declared Lamar’s music worthy of its prestige, though that certainly is momentous, but also that they would like me, and other classical musicians and devotees, to do what we so often demand of others: to broaden the scope of our listening, to recognize musical genius outside of our usual purview and comfort zone.

“Why, I must now ask, did I not fully appreciate Lamar’s tight control of Sprechstimme, the stodgiest academic description one can imagine for his vocal style: spoken, yet almost sung, not dissimilar to efforts by composers from Leoš Janáček, to Arnold Schoenberg, to Luciano Berio, but also Eazy-E, Tupac Shakur, and Eminem? Why did I not enjoy his vocal lines as scrupulously controlled “cells” of repeating pitches, slowly evolving in much the same way as the best works by Steve Reich and Philip Glass? Why did I not notice cathartic metric modulations that would have made Elliott Carter, the father of this technique in classical music, swoon with jealousy? Why did I not notice that Lamar’s tightly controlled beats and instrumentals are not just platforms for his vocals but are, unto themselves, akin to expertly controlled musical plate tectonics, slowly but relentlessly shifting, creating subtle and yet epic movements—what we in the classical music world would hear as a sophisticated and successful form of post-minimalism?”

Alex Temple in the Washington Post:
“I’ve seen some pretty shocking dismissals from people who listened to Kendrick for two minutes, lacking any kind of cultural or artistic context, heard some swears and an angry tone, and concluded that his music wasn’t worth listening to. They weren’t delving into the subtleties of the production, or exploring the massive web of inter-textual references, or recognizing that Kendrick often puts on other people’s personas, sometimes more than one in a single song. The funny thing is, these same people would respond to a casual dismissal of their music by saying ‘you need to educate yourself.’”

This award is to Kendrick Lamar, not to the hip hop genre. It acknowledges that the genre is worthy of serious attention, it doesn’t say that all the work in the genre is great. Anymore than pop, or rock, or jazz, or classical.

I intend to educate myself.


This Jazzy track is a great starting point


Yes. I was responding not to Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize, but WaPo’s sweeping generalizations quoted in the OP about Hip-Hop as a genre which, IMO, are nothing but virtue signaling.

In my mind, To Pimp a Butterfly is the album that really justifies giving Lamar the award, so definitely a good place to start. Producers and personnel on that album have got bonafides even non-rap fans have to respect, hahah. Terrace Martin, who has toured with Herbie Hancock and worked with countless artists across genres, was one largely responsible for the overall sound. Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper etc. Also worth digging into some Terrace Martin solo stuff where the line between hip-hop, LA funk, and jazz is even more blurred. Pollyseeds Sounds of Crenshaw album is his most recent.

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Kendrick Lamar is Hip-hop, Rap, Funk, R&B, he can Rock and can even do Jazz and I wouldn’t be surprised if he do some Classical. He is a genius…

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Regina Carter, a jury member:

Even as the board attempted to integrate hip-hop into a cultural field characterized by experimental, abstract rigor, it instantiated a general tendency for critics to reduce black music to a mere reflection of black experience. This contradiction suggests that the most persistent frame of reference that culturally white institutions have for black artistic production is as the realist representation of authentic experiences.

This is especially disconcerting in the case of Damn, which explicitly announces itself as a fever dream. The album opens with a skit in which Lamar narrates his own death after an encounter with a mysterious blind woman. Soon after, Lamar thrusts us into a kaleidoscopic exploration of original sin and the impact of personal choice in a world where black people’s material and political conditions often seem to foreclose the very possibility of choice. Even for Lamar, the album is highly unstable, with songs that rarely allow the listener to listen comfortably. Discordance is the album’s unifying aesthetic logic. Tracks like “DNA” And “XXX” feature jarring changes in beat and tempo that keep listeners on their toes. On “Yah,” a laidback tempo presents a pleasant façade, only for what sounds like a bassoon sample to ripple through the track at odd intervals and unsettle the whole affair. Throughout all 55 minutes, a cacophonic set of sampled voices—from Geraldo Rivera to Rick James—interpenetrates with Lamar’s, so that the album is constantly producing a dizzying sense of unstable perspective.a

I think the Pulitzer committee has shown remarkable consistency picking its music winners.

The entire Roon HipHop Community is out in force here. All 3 of us :grin: @lorin @Cantodea

Completely agree Lorin, I said the exact same last week, that I thought this prize is a belated award for ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, more than the Damn album (even though it’s technically for the latter). Well deserved too - obviously! :slight_smile:

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Indeed. That’s a cool profile background pic. Nile was at his very best when I saw him a couple weeks ago. Extra funky.

Nice piece getting into the nuts and bolts of working with Lamar in the studio:

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A cool read indeed. I wish there were more ‘making of’ videos of the studio process for this album (and all great albums in general). Even if such videos were released well after the album is released (so not to spoil the surprise element of the album release).

PS: the new J. Cole album might be the one to beat in 2018 :slight_smile:

I don’t get it. I’ve listened into some tracks of DAMN and they sound like usual Rap/Hip Hop or Pop stuff. Very simple instrumentation, often heared beats and standard vocals. Maybe the lyrics are worth the price, but my English is to bad to understand them – anyhow, I’m not interested in lyrics at all ;-).

Andres / my taste in music included every genre from classical, rock, jazz etc to the exclusion of hip hop until recently. Both my teenage kids introduced me to Lamar and like artists / I come to appreciate some his work, but I must admit I would not listen to him and other artists in this genre were it not for my kids insisting that I listen with them (they always state Dad there is a bit of swearing like some of the TV shows you watch!) / perhaps it is today’s Bob Dylan :slight_smile:️ I am glad that tis award has given the attention to a genre that I always discounted and like you I am actually exploring more listening guided by my kids.

Agreed. But as above, the award is really a belated award for his previous album. That’s the classic.

Here’s me comparing some of his music with my daughter with “Grand Master flash - the message” which in it’s time was refreshingly different to usual R & B artist like Babyface etc☺️ I am listening to both the albums and it is in a different league say to Drake etc - I must say I am really enjoying his style of music after a couple of listens.

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