Kendrick Lamar wins the Pulitzer. And traditional America isn't happy.

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Kendrick Lamar can now add Politzer Prize winner to his growing laundry list of awards

Shocked? If so, you're not alone. I was too. Because, I always thought that the Pulitzer Prize was set aside for great writers and poets and journalists? That it was for classical musicians, not rappers.

So I did some looking around and found Eatock Daily, a composer based out of Toronto who shared my thoughts and assumptions. But then, I read these words, 

I’ve noticed that some classical types have been careful to sound respectful and inclusive when discussing this issue. Perhaps fearful of being labelled “elitist,” or hoping that just a little bit of hip-hop’s coolness might rub off on them, they praise Damn for its musical craft, sophistication and cultural authenticity, and say supportive things about Lamar’s prize-win (via).

And my "this is bullshit" radar sounded.

Then, when he quoted Norman Lebrecht, who called the decision, “an almighty kick in the teeth of contemporary composition" and added the he, "a classical {himself}" was "alarmed" by this decision because, "Even though the prize has almost always been awarded to a classical composer (with the exception of a few jazz artists) there has never been an official statement of this policy – it was an unwritten tradition", I pushed the panic button, holy shit!

Daily goes on to say that Lamar winning this award is "cultural erosion" and that "only time will tell if Lamar’s prize is a gesture of tokenism, or if the Pulitzers will largely embrace popular musics, and America’s classical composers will find themselves shut out of a prestigious award that used to “belong” to classical music." Damn. 

But also, why? Why does the Pulitzer have to belong to classical music? Because of tradition?

What tradition? 

Because from what I read, the Pulitzer music prize is awarded “for distinguished musical composition by an American", not tradition. 

So why the animosity or frustration?

Probably because Mr. Lamar doesn't fit easily into the image of what many traditional American's consider art, and not only because of how he looks, but because he uses gritty language and raps about a lifestyle and reality many Americans would rather turn away from and ignore.

But if that's the case, why did the staff of Reuters win the Pulitzer for Feature photography? Because their images of "the world to the violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar" (via) are pretty gritty too.

  Rohingya siblings fleeing violence hold one another as they cross the Naf River along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Palong Khali, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 1, 2017. (photo from Pulitzer.org)

Rohingya siblings fleeing violence hold one another as they cross the Naf River along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Palong Khali, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 1, 2017. (photo from Pulitzer.org)

  Hamida, a Rohingya refugee woman, weeps as she holds her 40-day-old son after he died as their boat capsized before arriving on shore in Shah Porir Dwip, Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 14, 2017. (photo from Pulitzer.org)

Hamida, a Rohingya refugee woman, weeps as she holds her 40-day-old son after he died as their boat capsized before arriving on shore in Shah Porir Dwip, Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 14, 2017. (photo from Pulitzer.org)

 Mohammed Shoaib, 7, who was shot in his chest before crossing the border from Myanmar in August, is held by his father outside a medical centre near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 5, 2017.  (photo from Pulitzer.org)

Mohammed Shoaib, 7, who was shot in his chest before crossing the border from Myanmar in August, is held by his father outside a medical centre near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 5, 2017. (photo from Pulitzer.org)

Why are these stories more valid than Lamar's? Why are these atrocities seen as "shocking" and move our hearts while Lamar's offend?

Why are photographers praised for their voice and style and Lamar criticized and considered a tainting of tradition?

Because he curses? What?

Mr. Daily actually beat me to these questions when he wrote, "It was only a matter of time before someone rhetorically asked,  “Hey, wait a minute, if the Pulitzer is for ‘distinguished musical composition by an American,’ why shouldn’t hip-hop be considered?” And it is his answer that I find most troubling. He writes, "the Pulitzer Prize for Music must now be shared among (presumably) all genres of American-made music. And the small and marginalized contemporary classical music world just got a little smaller and more marginal."

Damn. Presumably? Marginalized?

Really?

Kendrick Lamar is unfit for this award because allowing more non-traditional music into the discussion will leave classical musicians feeling marginalized? What about musicians of the past hundred years who were never recognized because they didn't follow "tradition"? Where is their contribution to music and society and mankind's story?

Marginalized?

Because right now, as Mr. Lamar is being celebrated as the first rapper to win the Pulitzer, CEO Kevin Johnson's is trying to salvage the Starbucks image by closing 8,000 stores in May for "racial-bias education day" after two black men were arrested for not buying anything.

Do you know how many times I have sat in Starbucks and not bought a damn thing but just sat and read or wrote or waited for a friend? Not only that, do you know how many of those times I've asked for a free glass of ice water AND used the bathroom? Countless. And never was I questioned, denied, or even remotely suspected of anything other than sitting and doing nothing. 

Marginalized? Really?!

This is exactly why it is so important that Mr. Kenrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Price for music, because now traditional America has to take him and rap and all those stories of how the other half live seriously. Because now traditional America can no longer use the argument, "That ain't music" or categorize it as, "black people music" and turn the station and their attention to something more agreeable to their ears. Because now (as it already has been for many years) it is truly part of America's music and a crucial component to America's story.

Damn. by Kendrick Lamar isn't a gesture of tokenism or a kick in the teeth to tradition and for sure it isn't a cultural erosion. It's progression in American storytelling, in American poetry, and in American voice. It's a piece of distinguished musical composition written by an American and recognized 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" (via). And Kendrick Lamar deserves an applause, not a patronizing pat on the back.

"Pulitzer was the most skillful of newspaper publishers, a passionate crusader against dishonest government, a fierce, hawk-like competitor who did not shrink from sensationalism in circulation struggles, and a visionary who richly endowed his profession." And whether Mr. Daily or traditional America likes it or not, so is Kendrick Lamar. 

Hot Damn.

 

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