DAMN. Here comes Kendrick Lamar and his Pulitzer Prize

Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy greets Kendrick Lamar and his fiancee as they arrive at Columbia for the Pulitzer luncheon. (Photo: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University)

DAMN. Was there anything in 2017 that Compton-born hip hop megastar Kendrick Lamar didn’t do relating to his monster album of the same name? Grammys? American Music Awards? Pulitzer Prize? That could be answered with an emphatic no.

Lamar was already a superstar in the hip hop world prior to releasing DAMN. DAMN. elevated him into an on-demand megastar. Lamar served notice that he is officially hip-hop royalty when he performed his grand slam hit “HUMBLE.,” at halftime of the College Football Playoff Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs. Since then, it has been a roll of accolades for Lamar and DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar receives a standing ovation as he accepts his award. He is flanked by CBS anchor Gayle King (right background) and CNN anchor Don Lemon (right foreground). (Photo: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University)

Everything got started with the Grammy-winning rap song HUMBLE., which has over 498 million views (and counting) on VEVO.  Alongside HUMBLE., Lamar picked up a handful of other Grammys (rap performance, rap album, rap/sung performance. Lamar was just getting started with his hit parade of acknowledgment and perfusive praise for DAMN. Stacking up on awards has been cool. Winning a Pulitzer Prize (Music) is a bigger deal.

In a first for the hip hop industry, Lamar made history when he picked up his Pulitzer Prize at Columbia University for music. Now that’s having a pretty good year.  On Wednesday, May 30, Lamar and his fellow 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners gathered to receive their awards at a lunchtime ceremony in New York City. Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy and Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger presided.

The 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners at Columbia University’s Low Library. (Photo: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University)

“We are living in an era that demands of us a new understanding of and confrontation with the abuses of power,” Bollinger said.

Lamar ended 2017 with DAMN being hailed as the best in Billboard’s 200 Album year end chart. DAMN also owned the year end’s list for best rap album and top R&B/Hip Hop album. Bollinger, in a long-winded approval on the wide swath of Pulitzer Prize winners, spoke on going beyond tradition in the selection of today’s movers and shakers.

“In any given year, the awarding of the Pulitzer Prizes is a singular moment in the annual cycle of noted and noteworthy events. The Prizes stand out in a world not wanting for awards and prizes, capturing the attention of professionals and the broader public because they somehow seem both to sum up what has just happened in our lives while marking the extraordinary creativity in journalism and the arts that have so illuminated these happenings.”

1994 General Nonfiction winner David Remnick of The New Yorker poses for a selfie with 2018 Public Service winner Ronan Farrow and 2018 Music winner Kendrick Lamar. (Photo: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University)

“How prizes achieve this status is something of a mystery, but we know that they can only continue to have it if there is a deep integrity to the process of selection over time, and, I am always happy to testify as a Board member, as well as the President of this great University, that I’ve never been part of anything that has more dedication from more talented people committed to doing the best job humanly possible than is the case with the Pulitzer Prizes, helped in this regard by great Administrators like Dana Canedy,” Bollinger continued.

“So, the Pulitzers are always uniquely important, but I believe this year will stand out in the now century-long history of the Prizes as among the most important,” said Bollinger. “This is not only because of the new and wider reach of the Prizes into realms where creative genius resides, such as we do today with music, but also because we are living in an era that demands of us a new understanding of and confrontation with the abuses of power. On the political front, I think it is clear that the nation is facing the most serious internal attacks on the fundamental values and institutional structures that define a democracy since the Pulitzers were introduced a century ago — then precisely to counteract problematic authoritarian tendencies throughout the society.”

Members of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize Nominating Jury in Music (from left: 2008 Music winner David Lang, David Hajdu, Paul Cremo, chair Regina Carter and Farah Jasmine Griffin) pose with Kendrick Lamar (center) and Dana Canedy (fifth from left). (Photo: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University)

“As I have noted on many occasions, the inauguration of the Prizes was nearly simultaneous to the beginnings of the Supreme Court cases in 1919 that formed the basis of the modern notions we have now about the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and press. This, too, was prompted by the alarm over the rising tide of intolerance and censorship that was floating across the country. We are, indeed, fortunate that these, and other, bulwarks of freedom and respect for basic values of truth-seeking — and truth protection — in a framework of self-government and a Rule of Law — took root, prospered, and, I think, on the whole, succeeded.

“So much so that I personally feel confident we can now, with clear focus and deep dedication, such as we are recognizing here this afternoon, preserve the character of genuine democracy that has defined the nation in its best moments and inspired so many around the world.”

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