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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Megan Poe
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My name is Megan Poe and I’m an English (writing concentration) and Philosophy double major at Northern. My concurrent experience with being published in and interning for literary magazines has landed...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Kendrick Lamar deserves the Pulitzer

Kendrick+Lamar+deserves+the+Pulitzer

“Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? You decide; are we gonna live or die?”

These are the first lines to the opening track, “BLOOD.” of rapper Kendrick Lamar’s album “DAMN.” It features a provocative sketch of Lamar’s life in Compton, California, and moves between stories of systematic social and political injustice through deeply personal and clever raps. In January, Lamar lost the Grammy Award for album of the year to Bruno Mars. On Monday, the album earned the Pulitzer Prize for music.

The Pulitzer Board called the album, “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

Following the announcement of the award, the Pulitzer Board was immediately celebrated and criticized for choosing an artist with “relevance.” Some argued that honoring Lamar’s movement-based melodies portrayed him as the only Zeitgeist-figure of modern music, whereas others perceived it to be a symbolic disassembly of the outdated ideology of high and low art.

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I found the board’s decision to be not only an appropriate recognition of a subversive artist, but also an ambitious effort to redefine the intersection, and perhaps union, of music and literature.

Keep in mind, the board has honored revolutionary artists before, like Ornette Coleman, who similarly captured “the complexity of modern African-American life.” What distinguishes Lamar from Coleman, and other recipients of the prize in music, is that he is not only the first rapper to win the award in its 75-year history, but he is also the first recipient who is not a classical or jazz musician.

Dana Canedy, the administrator of the prizes, told The New York Times in an interview that awarding Lamar the prize “shines a light on hip-hop in a completely different way,” and she’s right insofar as Lamar dramatically diverges from the classical or jazz archetype.

Yet, critics have only seen the shadow to this light. Their dissent is based in an argument that the board chose to endorse a musician working in not just a popular genre, but one that has been self-aware, and in some extremes, impenitent about its own profitability. Simply, they thought the award should be one of retrospective applause, not reactive acknowledgment.

It seems the detractors of Lamar’s work are sharing a cab with those who disagreed with the choice of Bob Dylan as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. His critics thought Dylan’s work had been mischaracterized as literature, or that it would have been advantageous for the award to have been attributed to a less commercially popular artist.

I’m not disposed to either argument. In fact these awards are supposed to extol creative brilliance, regardless of when it manifested. There is a difference between the awards in the publishing sense: The Nobel in Literature considers works and their legacy as it collects over time, whereas the Pulitzer is prescribed to a single, new composition. But, this is exactly the point: Lamar’s project is so “relevant” that it generated influence as soon as it was conceived.

Moreover, Lamar’s lyrics are, in many ways, like Dylan’s: they embody a similarly acute political awareness and poetic assonance. Lamar is as natural a storyteller and as supernatural an oracle as Dylan.

“DAMN.” is a frame tale of damnation. In the first track, Lamar recalls an anecdote of being shot by a blind woman he is trying to help, and she returns in the closing track, “DUCKWORTH.,” which itself is the entire album played in reverse. Essentially, the album—and in a way the Pulitzer Prize—alludes to the duality of obedience: one can obey and be blessed, or he may disobey and be damned.

For Lamar, the resolution isn’t clear, because nothing is. Isolation, disillusionment and distrust are all part of the human experience: “I feel like the feelings are changin’.”

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