Two prominent awards to rap artists spotlight the ups and downs of this chronically controversial contemporary musical genre.
On the upside: The Pulitzer Prize for Music has been awarded to Kendrick Lamar for his album “DAMN,” a first for a rapper and one of the few times the prize has gone to a non-classical musician.
“It’s so poetic,” jazz violinist Regina Carter, who served on the Pulitzer jury, said of Lamar’s recording. “I felt like if you took his lyrics and put them in a book, it would be great literature,” Carter told David A. Graham in an interview published by The Atlantic:
The prize is overdue recognition “[t]hat rap music is the most significant pop idiom of our time. It’s the sound of 21st century American life — a black art form with a black-and-white-and-everyone-else audience. The music is an implicit conversation about the conjoined legacies of slavery, segregation, police brutality and other hideous injustices that our society doesn’t care to solve. In that sense, rap music is the sound of a broken nation struggling to understand itself,” writes The Washington Post’s Chris Richards:
On the downside (way down): The Echo Award, Germany’s top prize for recorded music, was bestowed upon the rappers Fardid Bang and Felix Martin Andreas Matthias Blume, who performs under the name Kollegah. Their lyrics routinely disparage women and their song “0815” contains the line (translated to English) “my body is better defined than Auschwitz inmates.”
The prize was announced on April 12, Holocaust Day of Remembrance.
In protest, a growing number of previous Echo winners have returned their prizes: The Notos Quartet, pianist Igor Levit, pop musicians Marius Müller-Westernhagen and Kurt Voormann, and conductors Fabio Luisi, Daniel Barenboim, Christian Thielemann, Mariss Jansons, Enoch zu Guttenberg and Andreas Reiner. Christian Höppner, president of the German Cultural Cabinet, has resigned from the Echo Prize Ethics Commission.
“A prize that puts sales above everything, and in a live performance on Holocaust Remembrance Day makes a mockery of the victims of the Third Reich, is a symbol of a form of cynicism which we do not stand for,” reads a statement from Thielemann and the orchestra he directs, the Staatskapelle Dresden.
“[A]nti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and the open contempt of allegedly weaker and more [discriminated upon] minorities are an abuse of freedom that we as a society can never tolerate, and we must stand united against such voices and not encourage them by giving them prizes and legitimising them,” Barenboim wrote in returning his award.
Adding tangible muscle to the widespread denunciations, the Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) has suspended its recording deal with the rappers, Norman Lebrecht reports on his Slipped Disc blog:
UPDATE (April 25): As denunciations of the rappers’ prize proliferate – German Chancellor Angela Merkel joining the chorus – Germany’s Music Industry Association (BVMI) has abolished the Echo Awards, the Deutsche Welle broadcast service reports. “The Echo brand is so badly damaged that a complete new beginning is necessary,” BVMI says in a statement. The organization plans a new prize with a new name (and, one hopes, zero tolerance for the intolerable):