There were some snickers when Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for literature. Come on, the skeptics griped. He's great and all, but is that really literature?
You can bet there will be similar sentiments now that Kendrick Lamar has won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Yes, hip-hop has grown from vibrant subculture to international powerhouse. Yes, its masters chisel and bend metaphor and simile into lyrical magic. But come on. Is it really music?
Of course it is. To immerse yourself in any of Lamar's albums — up to and including 2017's DAMN — is to spend time with a wordsmith on fire. But that's just part of his power. DAMN is lush with instrumentation, including contributions from modern jazz maser Kamasi Washington — and alive with ideas. To quote the Pulitzer board, it is "a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life." That sounds about right.
Of course, the naysayers will persist. Let them. There's more than a little cultural prejudice in the idea that hip-hop isn't a legitimate art form. If you insist on such claims in 2018 you proudly advertise such prejudices. Hip-hop has been part of college curriculums for years now. We enjoy it, but we also dissect, analyze and study it. It is a homegrown American genre that isn't going anywhere.
Neither is Kendrick Lamar. He's an artist for the ages. And now he's a Pulitzer Prize winner.