Lamar has been lauded for his deep lyrical content, politically charged live performances, and his profound mix of hip-hop, spoken word, jazz, soul, funk, poetry and African sounds. Since emerging on the music scene with the 2011 album Section.80, he has achieved the perfect mix of commercial appeal and critical respect.

The Pulitzer board has previously awarded special honours to Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Hank Williams, but a popular figure like Lamar has never won the prize for music. In 1997, Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz act to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.

That makes Lamar's win that much more important: His platinum-selling major-label albums – good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN. – became works of art, with Lamar writing songs about blackness, street life, police brutality, perseverance, survival and self-worth.

Kendrick Lamar's DAMN.

His piercing raps have earned him 'voice of a generation' accolades, and helped him ascend as the leader in hip-hop and cross over to audiences outside of rap. He's also been a dominator on the charts, having achieved two dozen Top 40 hits, including a No. 1 success with Humble, which also topped this year's Triple J Hottest 100, and collaborations with the likes of U2, Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Beyonce.

His music, with songs like Alright and The Blacker the Berry, have become anthems in the wake of high-profile police shootings of minorities as the conversation about race relations dominates news headlines.

He brought of dose of seriousness to the 2015 BET Awards, rapping on top of a police car with a large American flag waving behind him. At the 2016 Grammys, during a show-stopping performance, he appeared beaten, in handcuffs, with chains around his hands and bruises on his eyes.

Lamar's musical success helped him win 12 Grammy Awards, though all three of his major-label albums have lost in the top category – album of the year. Each loss has been criticised by the music community, launching conversations about how the Recording Academy might be out of touch. DAMN. lost album of the year to Bruno Mars' 24K Magic in January.

The rapper, born in Compton, California, was hand-picked by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler to curate an album to accompany the successful film, giving Lamar another no. 1 effort earlier this year.

DAMN., released on April 14, 2017, won five Grammys, including best rap album, and the album topped several year-end lists by critics, including NPR, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, BBC News, Complex and Vulture.

Finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in music were Michael Gilbertson's Quartet, which debuted last February at Carnegie Hall, and Ted Hearne's Sound from the Bench, a 35-minute cantata released last March.

Lamar will be touring Australia later this year, with a headline slot at the Splendour In The Grass festival in July.

AP, Fairfax Media

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