Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Kendrick Lamar and the Pulitzer Prize: Here’s why he’s the best songwriter alive

He won. He actually won.

It’s still hard to believe a month later, still a mouthful of joy to say aloud: "Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar."

After three Album of the Year Grammy losses in five years, most recently to Bruno Mars in February, here was an unexpected, unprecedented victory that no one can take from King Kendrick.

This wasn’t like Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize or Time naming Bono its Person of the Year. Nor was it some lame lifetime achievement award bestowed a generation too late. This was one of the most popular rappers alive winning one of the most prestigious prizes in American arts and letters — a prize no pop artist had ever won — in direct response to one of his most vital works.

"A virtuosic song collection," the Pulitzer board called Lamar’s 2017 album DAMN., "unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life."

Damn, indeed.

Your mileage may vary on whether Lamar’s latest LP is his greatest — 2012’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City and 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly are also modern rap classics. But on the eve of his second Tampa concert in nine months, on May 22 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, K-Dot’s game-changing Pulitzer win invites deeper scrutiny — and not just from fans who have been listening for years.

Because, honestly, there are people out there who still don’t get it. (Of course there are — how else could this decade’s most acclaimed artist be 0-for-3 in the Grammys’ top race?) Some might spin DAMN. and feel bludgeoned by its vulgarity, its f-words and b-words and coarse talk of blood and sex. Others might note Lamar didn’t write DAMN. in a vacuum — there are nearly three dozen writers, producers and beatmakers listed in the credits, including the co-writer of Adele’s Hello and all four members of U2. That’s three times as many as on Taylor Swift’s Reputation.

None of this should discredit Lamar’s handiwork on DAMN., or mean the man ought to hand back his Pulitzer. It just means we, like the cognoscenti who gave Lamar the prize, should delve deeper into Lamar’s "vernacular authenticity," his "rhythmic dynamism," his "affecting vignettes," to explore why he’s the premier songwriter of his time.

So to anyone who still doubts it, sit down, be humble and listen up. Here are three examples of the specific lyrical genius Lamar splayed across DAMN. If you want to boil down exactly why he won a Pulitzer, start here.

DNA.

Sample lyric: "I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA / I got hustle, though, ambition flow inside my DNA ... I know murder, conviction, burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption / scholars, fathers dead with kids / and I wish I was fed forgiveness."

DAMN. dished up the biggest hit of Lamar’s career in HUMBLE., but the thundering DNA. is just as good. It’s so irresistibly catchy that it’s easy to overlook its unconventional structure — a three-minute pop song with no hooks and no choruses, just two long verses in two distinct cadences over two different beats. Lamar here samples Geraldo Rivera’s Fox News critique of his lyrics, and also boasts about "sleeping in a villa, sipping from a Grammy" — typical hip-hop defiance and braggadocio, right? Except he is at the same time addressing the opposite end of his listenership, fans who believe he has gone soft, gone Hollywood, who believe "you ain’t s--- without a body on your belt." He describes himself as an "antisocial extrovert," and as proud as DNA. seems on the surface, the state of mind he’s describing actually sounds pretty lonely: "Watching all the snakes, curving all the fakes / phone never on, I don’t conversate."

FEAR.

Sample lyric: "I can’t take these feelings with me, so hopefully they disperse / within 14 tracks, carried out over wax / wondering if I’m living through fear or living through rap."

DAMN. tackles weighty issues (God, guns, race, love, money) in a deeply autobiographical way — never more so than on FEAR., an eight-minute confessional about Lamar’s greatest fears at three stages of his life, set to a hypnotic soul sample. At first he is 7, rapping from the perspective of his aggrieved mother, who threatens to whip him over wasted food and dirty clothes and unfinished homework: "You know my patience running thin / I got beaucoup payments to make / county building’s on my ass, trying to take my food stamps away." Then he is 17, pondering all the ways a black man might die young in America: "Walking back from the candy store ... because these colors are standing out ... from one of these bats and blue badges, body-slammed on black and white paint, my bones snapping." Finally, he is 27 and a superstar, fearing he’ll lose his creativity or humility or connection to the real world, or simply that an accountant will scam him out of everything he has earned. "My newfound life made all of me magnified / How many accolades do I need to block denial?" In an interview with Vice, Lamar called FEAR. the best rhyme he has ever written: "It’s completely honest."

DUCKWORTH.

Sample lyric: "You take two strangers and put them in random predicaments / give them a soul so they can make their own choices and live with it."

Here Lamar shares a tale so unlikely it sounds apocryphal, but he swears it actually happened. When he was a child, his father, Kenneth "Ducky" Duckworth, was working the counter at a KFC in Compton. Ducky knew the place had been robbed before, and there was a tough guy named Anthony who seemed like he might do it again — so Ducky gave him extra chicken and biscuits to keep him happy: "Anthony liked him and then let him slide / They didn’t kill him; in fact, it look like they’re the last to survive." Turns out the tough guy was Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, a future record producer who in the early 2000s would discover and sign a teenage rapper named ... Kendrick Lamar. In the story of his life Lamar finds a universal parable of patience and mercy and karma: "Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence? / Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be serving life / while I grow up without a father and die in a gunfight."

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336.
Follow @JayCridlin.

Comments
Andy Grammer talks podcasts, country songwriting, getting booed off stage and more

Andy Grammer talks podcasts, country songwriting, getting booed off stage and more

Andy Grammer is one in a sea of charming and tuneful singer-songwriters out there who's had a stable of songs in films, ads and TV. But thanks to his smash hit Honey, I'm Good, most people know who he is.Most people."The guy I get a lot is Chris Isaa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
SoundBytes: TobyMac, 2Cellos, Cypress Hill, Andrew Dice Clay and more

SoundBytes: TobyMac, 2Cellos, Cypress Hill, Andrew Dice Clay and more

— Christian pop superstar TobyMac is gearing up for his biggest Tampa Bay show in some time. He'll headline Amalie Arena on Feb. 24, alongside Jeremy Camp, Ryan Stevenson, We Are Messengers and Aaron Cole. Tickets are $18 and up. Click here....
Published: 09/24/18
Review: Niall Horan, Maren Morris shine in unequal spotlights at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

Review: Niall Horan, Maren Morris shine in unequal spotlights at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

It was a big ol' pop show Saturday night in Tampa, as a Grammy-winning singer behind one of the year's most unkillable singles got the whole MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre singing.Oh, and Niall Horan was there, too.The Grammy winner, ...
Published: 09/23/18
SoundBytes: The Midnight Hour, Dead Prez, Derez De’Shon, nothing,nowhere. and more

SoundBytes: The Midnight Hour, Dead Prez, Derez De’Shon, nothing,nowhere. and more

— Rising emo-rap artist nothing,nowhere., who opened for Fall Out Boy last fall at Amalie Arena, will headline the Orpheum on Nov. 24, alongside Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Smrtdeath and St. Panther. Tickets are $18 and up. Click here.— ...
Published: 09/21/18
Lucero’s Ben Nichols talks about the band’s 20th anniversary, Michael Shannon’s intensity and more

Lucero’s Ben Nichols talks about the band’s 20th anniversary, Michael Shannon’s intensity and more

Ben Nichols is friendly with Michael Shannon. His brother, director Jeff Nichols, has cast Shannon in all five of his films. And the Oscar-nominated actor stars in a video — a short film, really — for Long Way Back Home, the new single by Nichols’ ro...
Published: 09/20/18
Lucero’s Ben Nichols talks Michael Shannon’s intensity, the band’s chances at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more

Lucero’s Ben Nichols talks Michael Shannon’s intensity, the band’s chances at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more

This is the 20th year of Lucero, the crusty, punk- and alt-country-accented Memphis rockers who've made many an enjoyable sojourn to Tampa Bay over the years. But don't go thinking it's made Ben Nichols newly nostalgic for his early work."It's funny,...
Published: 09/20/18
Rae Sremmurd to headline USF Homecoming concert at Yuengling Center in Tampa

Rae Sremmurd to headline USF Homecoming concert at Yuengling Center in Tampa

The University of South Florida's homecoming week is just around the corner, and the school has just booked a nice headliner for its annual centerpiece concert.Chart-topping hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd will headline the annual USF Homecoming concert on ...
Published: 09/20/18
Dickey Betts in critical condition, facing brain surgery after ‘freak accident’ near Sarasota; upcoming concerts canceled

Dickey Betts in critical condition, facing brain surgery after ‘freak accident’ near Sarasota; upcoming concerts canceled

Months after returning to the stage after years of retirement, legendary Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts is "critical but stable" after a "freak accident" at his home in Sarasota County, according to his website.The site says Betts was ou...
Published: 09/19/18
Maroon 5 to Headline Super Bowl Halftime Show

Maroon 5 to Headline Super Bowl Halftime Show

A band will once again take the stage at the Super Bowl halftime show.The pop group Maroon 5 is scheduled to headline the annual 13-minute extravaganza this February at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, according to two sources familiar with the plan...
Published: 09/19/18
Ticket window: Carol Burnett, John Mellencamp and Sarah Brightman on sale this week

Ticket window: Carol Burnett, John Mellencamp and Sarah Brightman on sale this week

Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:• Carol Burnett, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, $72.50-$257.50, on Sale at noon Friday at the box office, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, or by calling (727) 791-7400.• Shawn Colvin,...
Published: 09/19/18