Kendrick Lamar
INDEXED: What we’re reading when we read about Lamar’s Pulitzer Win
Image: Batiste Safont/Wikipedia

INDEXED: What we’re reading when we read about Lamar’s Pulitzer Win

Ever since Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy announced Kendrick Lamar’s win in the music category a bit after 3 p.m. on Monday, news outlets and social media have been alight with hot takes and existential reflections. As the first artist working outside the classical-ish field (with a couple more recent nods to jazz) to snag the prize, the selection of Lamar’s album DAMN. seems to have signaled a lot, both in terms of the parameters of the Pulitzer itself going forward and regarding some larger cultural shifts when it comes to art and gatekeeping.

For those looking for drama, the anxiety and the undercutting were quickly found in the expected Facebook feeds and comments sections. The background on how DAMN. came to be considered among the submitted entries came to light before the day was done.

Nearly 48 hours later, it remains a hot topic in newsrooms across the country, despite being crowded into the chaos that is the daily political news cycle in 2018. We’ve indexed some highlights below.

Kendrick Lamar and the Shell Game of ‘Respect’ (The Atlantic)
The first non-classical, non-jazz winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music needs the accolade less than the accolade needs him.

With Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Win, The World May Finally Be Catching Up to Rap (Pitchfork)
Rappers usually speak of the Pulitzer facetiously…boys from the hood are never Pulitzer winners. Well, until [Monday].

What Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Means for Hip-Hop (The New Yorker)
Doreen St. Félix considers how Lamar’s historic milestone—becoming the first hip-hop artist to win a Pulitzer Prize for music—figures in the grander, affected consecration of blackness within élite spaces.

What the classical-music world can learn from Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize (The Washington Post)
Alyssa Rosenberg chats with composer, writer, and performer Alex Temple.

This Year’s Other Two Pulitzer Finalists on Losing to Kendrick Lamar (Slate)
Some classical fans are furious that the rapper won. The guys he beat are thrilled.

Kendrick Lamar Shakes Up the Pulitzer Game: Let’s Discuss (The New York Times)
Zachary Woolfe, the classical music editor of The New York Times, and Jon Pareles, the chief pop music critic, discuss the choice.

Personally, while assembling this index I got the biggest boost out of just spinning the album again—in reverse this time. David Lang, can you tell us which version jurors were listening to?

Did we miss a good take? Drop a link below.

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Molly Sheridan is a writer, editor, and producer specializing in classical and experimental music, with a focus on multimedia content designed for the web. A winner of ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Award for music journalism, she is the director of content for New Music USA and co-editor of its magazine NewMusicBox. She also serves as the administrative manager for the composer John Luther Adams. She hosted Carnegie Hall’s Sound Insights podcast series and her writing has appeared in publications such as TimeOut, The Washington Post, Serious Eats, and on her ArtsJournal... Read more »

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

One thought on “INDEXED: What we’re reading when we read about Lamar’s Pulitzer Win

  1. Jy

    One of the main messages from this award is that newly composed music from the classical world should not be considered on a separate artistic field than popular music. Newly composed classical music should not be given special attention by the arts. The reality is no one in the anglo-speaking first world really considers recently composed classical music more prestigious than popular music. In fact it would be hard for most people to even consider listening to it at all or that it was even really music. They would look at you strange if they heard that’s what you were all about. Realistically, respect and prestige in music in anglo-american societies is reserved for popular music today. Everywhere we go, especially in large commercial spaces, we are consumed by it whether we like it or not. There is zero social support in first world anglo-speaking societies for a young classical composer unless you are not equally happy in the popular music world (which actually most young people are today). The Pulitzer Prize in Music now makes this line of thinking official.

    I don’t care whether or not contemporary classical music is considered higher or lower or on the same level of popular music. But I do think it should have it’s own award in the normal world. Though the wording is not official, the Pulitzer Prize in music has been the only one in the US. If you thought the Pulitzer in music was obscure for classical music, try something else.

    Anyway, when will the next, what is it called?, Grammy or something, in music be awarded to a new classical composition (other than in its own obscure category)? If you think it was a long time coming for the Pulitzer to award a popular musician, for new classical music in the mainstream music world it will be never.

    I spend a lot of time going to experimental performance. To think that would be judged on the same plane as say a Broadway play or mainstream theater seems absurd.

    The only thing that makes me not care too much about the whole issue is that to be honest, I don’t have much sympathy for the average young American composer. It’s true if you look at the vast majority of young Americans that go into composition they are white, male, privileged, private school people who no matter how skillful they may be I’ll probably never be interested in what they have to say. It’s true in terms of cause and message and anger, I’m with Kendrick Lamar 100 percent. In terms of styles of popular music, I have nothing personal against hip hop either. If it were to be any kind of popular music, why not hip hop.

    I understand the agenda of those who made this choice. But I think the reality of the situation is that if you thought recognition and encouragement for new classical work was small, it just got smaller. Unless you are a pop-leaning classical composer, or equally a pop/classical composer, in terms of awards (which shouldn’t matter anyway) the official encouragement to make the weird stuff you make just shrunk even more.

    50 years ago serialism was the tyranny in the contemporary classical world (although not in the Soviet Union funnily enough). As a young person today, I feel like American commercialism/popular music is the tyranny in the American contemporary classical world. You’ve gotta like it, and maybe even make it yourself, and definitely be influenced by it, otherwise you’re out of step and irrelevant. So you’re not really allowed to just go anywhere you want which is discouraging for art.

    In the same way that American minimalists and post-minimalists fought against academic serialism (and kind of won) I feel like there may be young, left-wing people in the classical world who will need to fight against this tyranny of American pop music and commercialism. Although there are too few of them, and they will fail or won’t know what to do. The problem is if you’re against this award, all of a sudden you’re going to find yourself thrown in the camp of right-wing, racist idiots. So it’s complicated. It’s hard to find anyone left-wing against this award even if you’re a non-white, non-straight person. You’re just not allowed to not like American popular music. Even if say you love all kinds of classical and traditional music from around the world. Anyway it’s a pointless fight. Fortunately there is always the option of just leaving the country. It’s a frustrating, annoying place. Screw the benevolent Pulitzer and his measly 10,000 and focus on the music. Music will never be irrelevant but prizes can be.


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