In the grand scheme of things, DAMN. being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music is not an especially onerous honor. Few people, if any, rely on the Pulitzer to stay current with music. Throughout its history, the award, granted by a rather narrow circle of jurors, has been effectively reserved for white composers of classical music, with the occasional black jazz artist (or, more recently, Chinese composer) thrown in for good measure. Classical music, and contemporary classical music especially, registering not at all in a landscape of American music determined by pop sensibilities filtered through recording conglomerates, the music Pulitzer was an obscure bauble coveted only by the people who cared about it, of which there were not many. Forget the big reporting and magazine awards; even the poetry Pulitzer mattered more than music. Grammys are the awards that count most in music, and given that Kendrick is already loaded with golden gramophones — though the Album of the Year continues, unconscionably, to elude him — the Pulitzer is just a feather in his Dodgers fitted cap.
Sure, the Pulitzer connotes prestige and carries overtones of High Art, but anyone paying attention to Kendrick would already know to take his albums at least as seriously as one would take an experimental orchestra concerto. Most awards feel like a favor granted to the recipient, but in this case it’s Kendrick himself who’s doing the award a favor. Thanks to him, the Pulitzer Prize for Music feels relevant for the first time in recent recollection. We can only hope that more Pulitzers end up in the hands of popular artists. Metro Boomin would look nice at the Pulitzer ceremony; Beyoncé would be stunning wearing a gold Pulitzer medal. But it’s clear that Kendrick’s winning the Pulitzer is meaningful precisely because he doesn’t need it. He didn’t come to the award so much as the award came to him, and if it hangs around his neck easily, it’s only because he’s long been accustomed to more strenuous burdens.
Well, I suppose ... that might be a bit of an overstatement but, on the other hand, hip hop in particular and musical fandom in general can be given to hyperbole, right?
Over at The New Yorker ...
and over at Slate there's an interview with the other nominees and they seem pretty happy Lamar won.
2018/04/pulitzer-finalists- michael-gilbertson-and-ted- hearne-on-kendrick-lamars-win. html
This year’s Pulitzer winner was also very political. Are you a fan of Kendrick Lamar?
Gilbertson: I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I am a fan of his music. I remember when I was at Yale, I heard some other grad students give a talk on some of the theological and conceptual narrative depth in his work, and I was really struck by that. It changed the way I listen to his music. I’m really a fan of his work.
What’s your favorite Kendrick track?
Hearne: I love “Feel” so, so much. Incredible poetry, incredible groove, love his use of sampling, love the burst of intensity and the way he fucks with time near the end of the track.
Gilbertson: Probably “Real” from the album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. There are many things I like musically, but I particularly love the refrain: “I do what I wanna do, I say what I wanna say, when I feel, and I look in the mirror and know I’m there.” I grew up a gay kid in Iowa, and it was tough. Music got me through the hardest times. Those words really speak to me.
What did you think of the board awarding this year’s top prize to Kendrick?
Hearne: I don’t put too much stock in prizes, but this is a really important year because Kendrick Lamar’s music is super important to me and to a lot of people. Hip-hop as a genre has been important to me as a composer, but Kendrick’s work in particular. He is such a bold and experimental and authentic artist. He’s one of the people that is creating truly new music.
What do you think his win means for the future of the prize?
Gilbertson: I never thought my string quartet and an album by Kendrick Lamar would be in the same category. This is no longer a narrow honor. It used to be classical composers competing against each other in relatively small numbers, but now we’re all competing against these major voices in music.
Hearne: I think it’s wonderful. When we say classical music, I think it’s a collection of audiences and musicians that have been grouped together and a big part of that grouping together, over centuries, has been about the exclusion of nonwhite people and nonwhite artists. Sure, in some respects, using violins and European classical instruments is a part of classical music, but so are a lot of other ideas. Especially in America, there are incredibly important musical thinkers who have been kept out of classical music spaces for a long time.
Can you give me an example?
Hearne: Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker. The ideas that Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus were playing with compositionally were more innovative than almost anybody in the entire century. We have to ask ourselves why Miles Davis is not considered part of that genre. It’s great that the Pulitzer Prize, which is considered prestigious in some circles, is recognizing a whole tradition of musical thinkers and bringing them into a space that has been, up until very recently, entirely white.
Of course, it’s great to be included on a list with [Kendrick], but it also bodes well for breaking down the walls of genre.
Gilbertson: A few years ago, Caroline Shaw worked with Kanye West after she won the Pulitzer. Maybe we’ll get some more cross-disciplinary collaborations coming out of this.
Cross-disciplinary or cross-genre collaboration might be endemic to hip hop as a genre, though, couldn't it? I have not gotten the impression that cross-genre experimentation is closed off on either the hip hop side or necessarily the classical side of the divide ... although ... given how pervasive intellectual property is and how licensing works one under-utilized possibility might be making use of stuff that's public domain but relatively obscure.
See, there's something that stuck with me about the eruption of predictable disapproval at Slipped Disc but that'll be a separate post.