The platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated rapper won the award for his 2017 album DAMN, which the award panel describes as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life”.
The artist was picked for the award above Michael Gilbertson’s Quartet, which follows the more traditional format of the string quartet, and Ted Hearne’s Sound from the Bench, a work that mixes chamber choir music with more contemporary instrumental elements.
Last year the prize was awarded to the operatic work Angel’s Bone, by Du Yun.
Lamar’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment, acknowledged the win on Twitter — saying that they better not hear anyone “speak with anything less than respect in your mouth for Kendrick Lamar”.
According to the New York Times, David Hajdu, one of the music jurors this year, said that the group considered more than 100 compositions, including “some pieces of classical music that drew upon hip-hop as a resource.
This lead the panel to consider rap music as having “value on its own terms and not just as a resource for use in a field that is more broadly recognised by the institutional establishment as serious or legitimate,” he said.
The recognition comes on the heels of growing acceptance of the genre from sanctified cultural institutions over the past year, including Jay-Z becoming the first rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
DAMN features artists like Rihanna and U2 and explores some of the themes of his highly-acclaimed 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly — which features the track Alright, a song that became a war cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.