First and foremost, Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize win is phenomenal to me, not only historically, but for spiritual and emotional reasons (I am referring to his capturing a certain spirit of our age, but also the emotional difficulties encountered while dealing with this era). I want to address the outrage expressed over his win, particularly the outrage of academic composers, and how this historical moment has completely changed me as a person and possibly altered my life’s direction.
Last year in 2017, when DAMN. was released, our current president, Donald Trump, was still in his first 100 days of office. The Dakota Access Pipeline had been constructed, which was a major blow to all Native Americans across the country, a gesture that said loud and clear, “You mean nothing. Your protests meant nothing. Your future means nothing.” I was personally devastated and suffering through a period of depression (I am type II bipolar). I was also wrapping up the music for Head Worship.
The day DAMN. was released, I pulled out my paints, swept the floor in my room, and tacked some duck cloth to the wall and listened through the album as I created an abstract. There were moments when paint was drying where I just let the album play and play and would replay entire tracks over and over, and particular sections would be repeated so I could catch the lyrics. This album conveyed how I was feeling perfectly. What was astonishing was how his lyrics attacked materialism and the pursuit of possessions; money; status symbols; guns; violence; celebrity image; racism; police brutality; and a myriad of problems that make America a complete dystopian nightmare.
In the coming year, his music served as the soundtrack to my experience as an Associate Artist in Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. I had applied as a composer and was exploring video art. I really do think I was incredibly selfish, refusing to leave the studio I setup in my bedroom to eat with the other artists, or to partake in pleasures like going to dinner, going to parties, or going to the beach. That summer of 2017, I listened to a lot of Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, and Kendrick Lamar. The majority of the other Associate Artists were female and LGBT, so I usually played his music with headphones, so as not to offend anybody, plus they all admitted they didn’t particularly care for rap music.
A very personal layer to Kendrick’s album revealed itself to me one night after a particularly harrowing experience with an artist who had been going through my things and stealing my spray paints, discharging them into the air so the community studio always smelled toxic through the day and it would always appear to be my fault (I actually had a strict policy of only using spray paint during the late hours of the night, specifically for the reason not to offend anyone). A friend of mine, a brilliant artist from Iran, Nulifar Farahmand, who I discovered had no chance of ever entering America due to the travel ban, was messaging me, and everything hit me all at once.
Now I hear it. Kendrick was rapping cathartically about experiences and feelings in his life that parallel mine, which is what great art does via craft, innovation, and authenticity. He was rapping to the type of idiot who would try to sabotage another artist. He was rapping about the kind of loser who needs a rigged system to win. The steroid users of the athletics world; the corporations who are dependent on lobbyists to get pipelines built; the men and women who use sex to extract money and attention from romantic partners; the people who spread gossip about business rivals; the fuckheads who use social media to exaggerate and as a platform for delusions of grandeur; the celebrity wannabes who are about image and lack substance in their craft; he was rapping to Americans about Americans. The album is pure genius.
I heard a lot of idiocy in regard to this Pulitzer prize win, specifically from the composers in the so-called New Music Community. The basic agreement amongst Kendrick’s detractors in academia is that his music was not well-crafted, relies too much on samples, there are no real musicians, no real drums, and he only got the award because he is black. I am not kidding, these people actually wrote these things and clicked like in agreement all over social media. I raised a question: Why has classical music failed us as a society? They gave the regurgitated nonsense about people not being educated enough to know about the music or understand it, which comes off as incredibly narcissistic coming from a group of music educators.
Late last night, I was working on this new series of mixed media collages and paintings and a composer who I have decided not to put on blast because gossip is petty, messaged me and called me a moron, an idiot, a dupe for supporting the #MeToo movement, and then a jackass for ignoring him. I was actually listening to DAMN. as I have been about something like 10-20% of the time I paint (those of you who know my tastes and listening habits, know that is an awful lot), and the song ELEMENT. came on. When the chorus hit, I cried a little bit, because I know exactly what type of people that song is about and also what that entire Pulitzer Prize winning album is about.
I replied to his 5 paragraph rant (not directly in message, but as a comment on one of his posts about the Pulitzer), “Listen to the song HUMBLE., then imagine Kendrick is rapping to you specifically, and be sure to listen very closely. Everything will be very crystal clear.”
Two minutes and fifty seven seconds later, he blocked me.
I plan on no longer basing my worth on the validation of academic composers, they don't know shit.