In 2012, with his debut major-label album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar rose to prominence as a politically and culturally important musician. The record combined narrative and prose with rap in a way that was seamless and poetic. Since then, he’s released three full-length albums, each of which was nominated but not chosen for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. His latest album, DAMN., became the epicenter of upset earlier this year when Bruno Mars won the coveted award, despite a seemingly popular consensus that Lamar’s work deserved it more.
Yesterday, however, DAMN. one-upped all the competition by winning the Pulitzer Prize for music—an award that previously was not thought to be a viable achievement for mainstream musicians. Since the inception of the prize, it has only ever been awarded to classical and jazz musicians, which makes this a historic first, according to The New York Times. The Pulitzer board referred to DAMN. 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.”
Culture from the black community is often dismissed and undervalued until it’s subsequently appropriated or adopted by the masses, which is partially why this acknowledgement from both high and popular culture of a black rapper is so important. Let’s hope it’s a sign of a more inclusive future.
In honor of the historic moment, here are 3 of Kendrick Lamar’s most inspiring moments.
1. The entire Black Panther soundtrack
Black Panther is a historic movie and also hopefully a turning point for more inclusivity and diversity in future casting and pop-culture representation. The soundtrack that accompanies it, curated by Lamar, is equally riveting and celebratory of black history and culture (#wakandaforever).
2. His track that became the anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement
Lamar’s “Alright” (from his second major-label album, To Pimp a Butterfly) became an unofficial anthem of Black Lives Matter crowds as they protested against issues of race and police brutality.
3. His understanding of the importance of self-improvement
Speaking to NPR, the rapper shared that even though his music and lyrics have served as inspiration for people and movements, he is less than perfect and is constantly self-reflecting. “It’s not me pointing at my community; it’s me pointing at myself,” Lamar said about his music. “The message I’m sending to myself—I can’t change the world until I change myself first.”
For more inspiration from your favorite musicians, check out Beyoncé’s most empowering Coachella moments and how her sister, Solange, is the human encapsulation of authenticity.
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