Kendrick Lamar has become the first non-classical, non-jazz artist to win the Pulitzer Prize for music for his 2017 album DAMN.
The prize listing describes Lamar’s record, which documents the complexities of growing up in his hometown of Compton, as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
Released almost exactly a year ago and featuring credits from Rihanna, U2, James Blake and (ironically, given the milestone) jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, DAMN. has been described as the more compact successor to Lamar’s experimental, often complex sophomore record, 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. It sold 353,000 copies its first week, according to Billboard (that’s not including streams — overall it racked up 603,000 “album-equivalent units”), and went platinum earlier this month, the third of his records to do so. Like Butterfly before it, DAMN. garnered Lamar an Album of the Year nomination and the award for Best Rap Album at the 60th Grammy Awards.
“LeBron James or the little boy around the corner, we come from the same struggles, and it comes out of my mouth for them to relate to,” Lamar told Dave Chappelle of the album in Interview Magazine last summer. “I don’t want anybody to classify my music. I want them to say, ‘This is somebody who’s recognizing his true feelings … and views on the world, all on one record.’ I want people to recognize that and to take it and apply it to their own lives.”
The Pulitzer Prize, which was founded in 1917, first established its Music category in 1943. Its recipients were exclusively classical artists until 1997, when trumpet player Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz musician to win the award; Marsalis was only the second African-American composer to win, following composer George Walker’s win with Lilacs just a year before.
Lamar has released at least one album every year since 2015, including, most recently, the accompanying soundtrack for Marvel’s Black Panther, which he curated. He made guest appearances onstage at Coachella over the weekend, during the sets of Black Panther collaborators SZA and Vince Staples.