The Pros and Cons of Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize

The fact that Lamar’s music has risen to the upper echelon of American culture doesn’t mean the rest of hip-hop is going to be welcomed alongside him.

In 2014, Macklemore won the Best New Artist Grammy over Kendrick Lamar.

Obviously, that was the wrong decision. In the four years since Macklemore's win, Lamar has gone on to find innovative, genre-bending means of telling tales of strife and struggle through song. Meanwhile, Macklemore is generally regarded as little more than a shitty haircut.

Of course, that wasn't the first time the Grammys dropped the ball with that award. Back in 2005, Maroon 5 famously won Best New Artist over Kanye West. And sure, nowadays Kanye is a moronic Trump supporter who insists on live-tweeting his manic episodes. But honestly, Yeezus could walk onstage and give a 45-minute TED Talk about how slavery was a good thing and the Holocaust never happened, and it would still be more enjoyable than listening to Adam Levine's goddamned falsetto.

In 2016, Lamar faced another Grammy loss when Taylor Swift's 1989 bested To Pimp a Butterfly. Personally, I preferred To Pimp a Butterfly, but it makes sense that Taylor Swift won.  After all, Republicans were riled up that year, and Taylor Swift's music perfectly answers the question, "What would it sound like if a MAGA hat could play the guitar?"

Of course, I don't begrudge her having won a Grammy over Lamar. It's just a shame that Taylor Swift was the only blond, blue-eyed white woman America rallied behind that year.

After losing Grammys to the likes of Macklemore, Daft Punk, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, Lamar lost again this year, this time to Bruno Mars' 24K Magic. And honestly? Good for Bruno. That ethnically vague little muffin makes great music to get drunk to, and he deserves as many awards as he can fit on his mantle.

In lieu of a Grammy Award for Best Album, Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize this year, becoming not only the first rap artist to win the award, but the first recipient to be neither a classical nor a jazz musician. It was a historic moment, and many feel Lamar's Pulitzer win was a well-earned consolation prize after a slew of Grammy snubs.

But unlike the Grammys, the Pulitzer is devoid of the glitz and glam of stardom. It's less of a popularity contest because the award isn't a measure of celebrity. Instead, the Pulitzer is viewed as a sign of artistic worthiness. So what happens now that a rapper has a Pulitzer? What happens now that rebel music born of oppression has received an official seal of approval?

In some ways, Lamar's Pulitzer win represents rap's ascension into the exclusive realm of highbrow art. Now, like jazz and classical music, hip-hop has been deemed worthy by the bougie powers that be, proof that the same upscale elites who still struggle to accept Black people have managed accept a new age of Black music.

But the fact that Lamar's music has risen to the upper echelon of American culture doesn't mean the rest of hip-hop is going to be welcomed alongside him. After all, "socially conscious hip-hop"—or whatever you call it—is a lot easier for upper-crust tastemakers to digest than its alternatives.

To be honest, I have no idea what all the different kinds of hip-hop are called. The genre is a menagerie of different sounds and influences all stemming from the same roots, but personally, I tend to split hip-hop into three distinct categories: "Fancy Rap," "Rap About Drugs and Butts" and, more recently, "Rap With a Shitload of Bird Sounds."

Lamar's Pulitzer undeniably validates "Fancy Rap." Unfortunately, in doing so, it also validates white boys who love Q-Tip a little too much, light-skinned Black dudes who can't stop prattling on about how J. Cole went platinum without any features, pretentious college kids who overuse the word "woke" but still clutch their purses whenever a Black man walks by, and hip-hop fans who ignore the implied classism of referring to socially conscious MCs as "real hip-hop artists" while purposefully disregarding the contributions of other rappers.

Don't get me wrong, "Fancy Rap" can be great. But what about the rest of the genre? What about rap that focuses on drugs, butts and bird sounds? That's some of the best rap! And at this point, that's not even a matter of opinion. Butt-centric hip-hop has had an unquestionable impact on music around the world. And so I ask you: When the fuck will butt-themed lyricism finally get its day in the sun? When will artists like Wreckx-n-Effect, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Bubba Sparxxx finally receive their well-deserved Pulitzers?

Alas, it may never happen. Despite being worthy music that still speaks to and of the people it represents, Rap About Drugs and Butts and Rap With a Lot of Bird Sounds will probably never appeal to folks who dole out highbrow awards the same way Fancy Rap can.

But at the end of the day, who cares? It's great that Lamar achieved a historic victory and that the Pulitzer Prize for Music is no longer awarded exclusively to jazz and classical musicians. But hip-hop was born of rebellion and doesn't need any approval. And besides, whether an artist has a Grammy, a Pulitzer or no awards at all, good music is good music.
Five Crucial Top Dawg Entertainment Deep Cuts, By Donovan Farley

SZA, "Bed"

Before CNTRL catapulted her to international stardom, the singer released three well-crafted EPs that stand as an intriguing peek into a unique artist exploring her sound. The captivating, atmospheric "Bed" leads off See.SZA.Run, the second of those EPs, and features the pleading, heart-on-sleeve soulfulness that would later make SZA a uniquely relatable a star.

Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, "6'7' Freestyle"

In which Lamar and Q let loose over the beat from Lil Wayne's "6 Foot 7 Foot" in jaw-dropping fashion. Q's verse is tight, but Lamar's pair of flawless, seemingly effortless freestyles kick down the door and tell everyone to get the fuck out, as he illustrates, yet again, why he is the best rapper going.

SiR, "That's Life"

Top Dawg's next star in the making is a multifaceted talent who made his bones working behind the scenes with legends like Anita Baker and Stevie Wonder. That pedigree is perhaps the source of SiR's abundant self-confidence as a performer. His soulful, smooth-as-satin delivery and production chops are on full display on this sensual, languidly paced jazzy number from his 2014 mixtape, Long Live Dilla.

Kendrick Lamar feat. Gunplay, "Cartoons & Cereal"

Considered by diehards one of Lamar's finest moments, "Cartoons & Cereal" was slated to open Good Kid, M.A.A.D City but didn't make the cut, either because of sample clearance issues or the fact that it leaked ahead of the record's release. It's a shame, because the uninitiated are missing out on some truly top-notch K-Dot—and Gunplay rises to the occasion as well. Lamar nodded to the unreleased track's popularity by including a snippet of the song in the epic "Alright" video.

Black Hippy, "U.O.E.N.O (Black Hippy Remix)"

Frustratingly, Black Hippy—the crew of Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q—have yet to release an album together. Until the universe rights itself, this woozy remix of Rocko's "U.O.E.N.O" stands as perhaps the finest example of the fire our ears could be blessed with. Imagine the heat that would result from these four dudes trying to one up each other track after track. One can only dream.

SEE IT: TDE: The Championship Tour with Kendrick Lamar is at Sunlight Supply Amphitheater, 17200 NE Delfel Road, Ridgefield, Wash., on Sunday, May 6. 7:30 pm. $39-$595. All ages. Get tickets here.