Last summer, in an attempt to be seen as “cool” by my mentees in Geneseo’s Access Opportunity Summer Scholar’s Program (AOP), I listened to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., a new album they all had been listening to and discussing.
And then I listened to it again.
I didn’t listen to DAMN. repeatedly because I was hooked; I listened to it for comprehension. I knew my Broadway-and-a-cappella-loving white ass wasn’t going to understand any of the nuances of this strange, loud music unless I kept listening (while simultaneously googling the lyrics, because Kendrick isn’t exactly the king of enunciation). I thought that if I could at least say what DAMN. is about, I’d reach my young, in-the-know mentees on their musical level.
Well, now I’m obsessed with DAMN., even though most of my friends and now former mentees have moved on. I’ve listened to DAMN. forwards. I’ve listened to DAMN. backwards. I’ve mixed the songs from DAMN. in with songs from good kid, m.A.A.d cityand To Pimp A Butterflyin a playlist that I think could be the soundtrack to a Broadway jukebox musical (a musical with non-original songs). I’ve made my mom listen to DAMN. I can rap most of “XXX” from DAMN. DAMN. is my go-to driving album, shower album, and running-to-class-because-I’m-late-as-fuck album. DAMN. was not written for minimally cultured white women like me, but DAMN. I love it.
As you can predict, when DAMN. was awarded the 2018 music Pulitzer, I was ecstatic.
Now, let me introduce you to someone who is less ecstatic (unless you’re already familiar with this human, in which case, lmk). Dotun Adebayo, a British radio presenter, writer, and publisher (thanks, Wikipedia), published an article this morning titled “If we valued black art, Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer would have been for literature.” I bet my classmates can predict Adebayo’s points: rap should be considered poetry, rap should be taught as literature in schools along with Shakespeare, and Shakespeare is basically R-rated anyway, so, like, rap isn’t encouraging violence any more than Romeo and Julietis (they were all stabbing each other for half the play).
If you ask me if DAMN. is poetry, I’ll say, “Um, obviously.” If you ask me if DAMN. should have received the poetry Pulitzer instead of the music one, I’ll say, “I don’t care if the album received a journalism Pulitzer, we still have a Black rapper receiving a Pulitzer!” Now, the winner of the 2018 poetry Pulitzer was this work called Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, which I am not familiar with at all, so I’m not comfortable kicking it out of its place for Kendrick to get that poetry slot. Really, I don’t think any of us can complain at the moment.
Regarding rap as poetry in schools, however, thatshould have been a thing back in the mid 2000s. It’s all Pearson’s fault, with its common core, College Board, white-as-fuck SAT questions, and lack of understanding that literature develops. Fuck Pearson, fuck College Board, fuck Robert Frost and the woods he walked in (click the link), fuck the school-to-prison pipeline, fuck white privilege, fuck any non-Black person who raps the n-word while rapping along to Kendrick’s ”Element,” Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire,” and Jay-Z’s “Jigga is my N****.”
Not that that’s news to any of my classmates, though.