Tuesday, April 17, 2018

and Kendrick Lamar has gotten the Pulizter Prize for music, naturally debate ensues about if/how/why a hip hop or rap album should get the award for music

I haven't heard anything by Lamar but I'm at a stage in life where I have a hard time believing that awards recognitions are the same as artistic relevance.  We'll see that Ellington was passed over for the same prize decades ago.  Among musicians there can be jokes that the worst thing that can happen to you is winning a Grammy for Best New Artist. 
Here’s one among the many provocative questions raised by Kendrick Lamar’s Damn winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music: Is Damn the best work of rap or pop ever made? The Pulitzers, whose only stated criteria is “for distinguished musical composition by an American” in the eligible timeframe, have previously only awarded classical and jazz artists. By making an exception for Lamar, the Pulitzers could be seen as saying that he is, well, the exception. That only Lamar’s blazingly intricate 14-track reckoning with vice and Geraldo Rivera can compete with rarefied types like Caroline Shaw (winner in 2013), Wynton Marsalis (1997), or Aaron Copland (1945). That the rest of pop—not to mention the rest of hip-hop—remains of an unmentionable tier, except maybe for Bob Dylan, who won a special citation from the Pulitzers in 2008.
This is a dubious and snobbish thought, yes—but it’s a result of the inevitably thorny logic that always goes along with artistic awards-giving. That it took until 2018 for the Pulitzers to award a work of rap or pop might say something about the evolution of those genres, and Damn really is a work of staggering, arguably historic, sophistication. I look forward to reading the sure-to-come articles positioning it as the greatest pop work ever (even above Migos, who are Better Than the Beatles™). But that discussion will be a sideshow. The rapper’s win is probably more significant to the reputation of the prize itself than to the prizewinner; it almost feels as though the Pulitzers won a Kendrick Lamar, and not the other way around.
After all, the Lamar news will be, no doubt, the means through which lots of people learn that the Pulitzers have a music category at all. Its favored genres, classical or jazz, have long been on the commercial wane, and their practitioners can frequently be found defending their relevance to the wider world. In that sense, there’s an argument against Lamar’s inclusion, and for the previous pseudo-ban on pop, on purely altruistic grounds. The attention and prize money the Pulitzers can provide would be, relatively, of greater impact to the careers of Michael Gilbertson and Ted Hearne, the composers who are runners-up this year, than to the platinum-certified Lamar. But to decide a prize based on who “needs” it more would undermine its credibility, which is to say, its worth
The ability to hear hip-hop as brilliant music, period, is overdue for institutions and observers of all kind—which has also been the case, repeatedly in history, with regards to black music of all kinds. The Grammys, supposedly the most relevant awards-giving body in pop, routinely passes over excellent hip-hop works in its general categories, a trend that continued this year with Lamar’s loss to Bruno Mars. In the case of the Pulitzers, Lamar’s win brings to mind the way it took jazz decades to be afforded recognition: In 1965, an internal dispute over whether to commend Duke Ellington’s entire body of work resulted in no Pulitzer for music being issued that year, and it would take until 1997 for a jazz artist (Marsalis) to win out.
“I’m hardly surprised that my music is still without official honor at home,” Ellington once said of the Pulitzer snub. “Most Americans still take it for granted that European-based classical music, if you will, is the only really respectable kind.” Respect is a slippery thing, and the Pulitzer fallout thus far has made clear that certain traditionalists—those who think saying “rap = crap” is anything but the embarrassing tell of a closed mind—will remain dismissive of Lamar. A prize can only do so much. But Lamar’s catalogue, which includes albums arguably as good as or better than Damn, has often conveyed how potent such regard can nonetheless be: “If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us,” he rapped in 2015. After the Pulitzer announcement, his label boss Terrence Henderson tweeted about the “respect” people would now have to pay Lamar, which raises the damning question of who wasn’t already respecting an artist this excellent, and why.
Kendrick Lamar just won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for music for his album DAMN. and made history in the process.
Announcing the prize, the Pulitzer board called 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 Pulitzer for music, which was first awarded in 1943, generally goes to contemporary classical music; a quick scan through the list of previous winners reveals a lot of operas and symphonies. Lamar, however, is a hip-hop artist, and DAMN. is a hip-hop album. Lamar is now not only the first person to win a Pulitzer for a hip-hop album but the first person to win a Pulitzer for any music that’s not classical or jazz.
And even jazz, it’s worth noting, is a late addition to the Pulitzers. The Pulitzer jury once recommended giving the award to Duke Ellington in 1965, but the board declined to honor anyone that year. The first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer, Wynton Marsalis, didn’t take home his prize until 1997.
 And Slipped Disc being Slipped Disc ...
That an art form that isn't even considered art can be taken seriously decades later happens.  I never would have considered rap music twenty years ago.  It's still not exactly my favorite genre but I can respect that musical styles do not get followings out of thin air or for no reasons at all.
And the comments about opera at Slipped Disc have been met with a certain amount of deirision but the comparison of rap and hip hop to opera does not seem historically inept.  Advocates of ars perfecta from the late Renaissance regarded recitative and figured bass as basically the domain of talentless hacks who had no business being musicians.  It doesn't mean that the creators of early operas weren't churning out tons of maudlin over-hyped overheated plot lines with showboating formulaic song and dance numbers.  Compared to ars perfect of a Palestrina the opera singers could come off like they were panting and wheezing and shrieking.  Such complaints about them were not unknown.
So Lamar can have the prize, even if having the prize might not be the best thing. 

No comments: