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Kendrick Lamar wins Pulitzer Prize for music

Board says hip-hop artist’s Grammy-winning album, “DAMN.,” is a “virtuosic song collection” that captures “the modern African American life.”

Kendrick Lamar accepts the Grammy for best rap

Kendrick Lamar accepts the Grammy for best rap album for "DAMN." at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 28, 2018. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Kendrick Lamar has won the Pulitzer Prize for music, making history as the first nonclassical or jazz artist to win the prestigious prize.

The revered rapper is also the most commercially successful musician to receive the award, usually reserved for critically acclaimed classical acts who don’t live on the pop charts.

The 30-year-old hip-hop artist won the prize for “DAMN.,” his raw and powerful Grammy-winning album. The Pulitzer board said Monday the album is a “virtuosic song collection” and said it captures “the modern African American life.” He will win $15,000.

Lamar has been lauded for his deep lyrical content, politically charged live performances, and his profound mix of hip-hop, spoken word, jazz, soul, funk, poetry and African sounds. Since emerging on the music scene with the 2011 album “Section.80,” he has achieved the perfect mix of commercial appeal and critical respect.

The Pulitzer board has awarded special honors to Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Hank Williams, but a popular figure like Lamar has never won the prize for music. In 1997, Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz act to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.

That makes Lamar’s win that much more important: His platinum-selling major-label albums — “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “DAMN.” — became works of art, with Lamar writing songs about blackness, street life, police brutality, perseverance, survival and self-worth. His piercing and sharp rhymes helped him become the voice of the generation, and easily ascend as the leader in hip-hop and cross over to audiences outside of rap, from rock to pop to jazz. He’s also been a dominator on the charts, having achieved two dozen Top 40 hits, including a No. 1 success with “Humble,” and he has even collaborated with the likes of U2, Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons, Rihanna and Beyoncé.

His music, with songs like “Alright” and “The Blacker the Berry,” have become anthems in the wake of high-profile police shootings of minorities as the conversation about race relations dominates news headlines. He brought a dose of seriousness to the 2015 BET Awards, rapping on top of a police car with a large American flag waving behind him. At the 2016 Grammys, during his visually stunning, show-stopping performance, he appeared beaten, in handcuffs, with chains around his hands and bruises on his eyes as he delivered powerful lyrics to the audience.

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