Compton rap artist Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for music on Monday, the first time a hip-hop figure has ever won the award, and a remarkable capstone in a career that brought the young MC known as “K-Dot” from the streets of his city’s “Bompton” westside to the esteemed ranks of one of the highest creative honors in the United States.
Lamar won a prize that is usually awarded to talented but relatively obscure composers of classical and experimental jazz genres in music. The Pulitzer board awarded Lamar’s 2017 album DAMN, a follow-up to his searing 2015 release To Pimp a Butterfly. In DAMN, the now-maturing lyricist reflects on broad themes of adulthood, organized around tracks such as “Humble,” “Loyalty,” “Lust,” “Blood.”
Watch for the bookmarked moment as Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy announces Lamar’s prize, last in the Pulitzer announcement on Monday at the journalism school on the campus of Columbia University:
Kendrick Lamar first captured critical and widespread attention for his 2012 major-label release Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, an almost Romeo & Juliet-like fable about a young man battling the allure of the gangster life on the streets. He’s won multiple Grammy awards including Best Rap Album for DAMN (2018) and To Pimp A Butterfly (2016).
For the 2016 Grammys, Lamar wowed critics and audiences with a “stunning” and politically charged performance that included striking visuals such as the word ‘Compton’ displayed over the shape of the African continent.
The city of Compton is a consistent theme and presence in Lamar’s work, often around his childhood landmarks along the east-west thoroughfare of Rosecrans Avenue. The rapper, who is now 30, is alumnus of Centennial High School in Compton.
Writing in the L.A. Times, music critic Randall Roberts said:
Like the best writers, Lamar pinpoints small moments that illustrate larger points, in his case the kind that springboard into documentary narratives about home and history, about dangers lurking and the power of anger. Like classic L.A. chroniclers such as Iceberg Slim, John Fante, Joan Didion and James Ellroy, Lamar imbues a sense of place into his lines.
“Black Panther” director Coogler describes Lamar as possessing “an integrity to him that crosses demographics and it crosses different ages. When you hear him you feel like he’s being truthful. You feel like you’re scratching at a certain type of personal truth.”
The rapper’s 2012 mixtape, “Compton State of Mind,” locates Rosecrans Avenue by name as he describes being on the street chilling, eating “five dollar Little Caesar” and food from when “mama shopped at Food for Less.” Centennial High School, he raps, “had me swimming with a pool of sharks — me I’m just a good kid trying to keep it neutral / But I’m well aware that a square can get shot too.”
Watch the video for “Humble” below: