Damn. Kendrick Lamar has won a Pulitzer Prize.
Sitting still wasn’t an option. Transcribing my notes for a story wasn’t working. It wasn’t enough to text a friend and celebrate this moment in hip-hop history.
In black history.
In American history.
I needed to be in my car, with the windows down and banging Kendrick’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “DAMN.” To feel the bass beat through my seats and have his lyrics tattoo my heart.
"I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA
"I got hustle though, ambition, flow inside my DNA
"I was born like this, since one like this, immaculate conception
"I transform like this, perform like this, was Yeshua's new weapon."
“DAMN.” isn’t just the first Pulitzer win for an artist outside of the jazz or classical music community. This is a win for the culture.
For the 45 years hip-hop has existed, the culture’s legitimacy has been tested. Hip-hop, along with the black and brown people who created it, has been vilified since its birth.
Maybe this is why Dana Canedy, the first woman and first African American to serve as a Pulitzer administrator, could hardly contain herself on Monday as she announced Kendrick's win.
Released on April 14, 2017, "DAMN." is deemed by the prizes 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."
You don’t just play his music. You feel it. More than that, you see the sounds.
"Hell-raising, wheel-chasing, new worldly possessions
"Flesh-making, spirit-breaking, which one would you lessen?
"The better part, the human heart, you love ’em or dissect 'em
"Happiness or flashiness? How do you serve the question?"
Kendrick's music, as President John F. Kennedy once said of art, is a contribution to the human spirit.
"If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him," Kennedy said. "We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth."
By telling his truth, Kendrick gives us a gift. He isn't just a stirring storyteller and poet, he paints a picture black people — especially young black professionals with one foot in their community and the other in the whitewashed corporate world — can see reflected in the mirror. He invites in people who have never seen our world.
And not on just this one immaculate album. “DAMN.” is Kendrick’s fourth album, but since his 2012 major label debut, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” we knew he wasn’t another trendy rapper. No one has welcomed listeners into Compton so masterfully, vividly and soulfully since John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood” brought viewers into South Central Los Angeles.
In 2015, Kendrick moved beyond his community and took the country to task with “To Pimp a Butterfly,” an album I said was just as impactful as Ta-Nehisi Coates' “Between the World and Me,” the 2016 nonfiction Pulitzer Prize finalist.
With last year’s release of “DAMN.,” Kendrick took himself to task. The album is both a battle and a reckoning of Kendrick vs. Kendrick, the man he is and the man he wishes to be. That’s an everyday struggle for us all.
And like his other two major label releases, it earned a Grammy album of the year nomination. He lost. They gave him rap album of the year instead. Since his first album, he’s been nominated 29 times and won 7.
But this is the struggle of hip-hop. Soccer moms will gladly bop to our music in their cardio kickboxing classes and corporations will use the sound to sell cars, clothes and food, but to actually admit it's an art form, well, that's too hard.
It took Blondie to get MTV to put rap on television. Blond, green-eyed Debbie Harry had to rap for hip-hop to make its way onto music television in 1981.
And let's keep it funky about the Grammys. When it added a rap category in 1989, the show didn’t even air the award. So nominees Salt-N-Pepa, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, LL Cool J and Kool Moe Dee boycotted the show.
When President Obama invited Chicago rapper Common to perform poetry in the White House in 2011, conservative political pundits lost their minds. In 2014, Jordan Davis was murdered by Michael Dunn, who claimed he feared for his life because Davis and his friends were playing their music loud. This year, China banned hip-hop from television.
Hip-hop is one of America's bad guys. But hip-hop, like all of us, is well-rounded. It's good and bad. It's war and peace. And that is the beauty of "DAMN." Kendrick examines his own fear, lust and pride.
"The conquest of the physical world is not man's only duty," James Baldwin wrote in "The Creative Process." "He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place."
I'll be damned if Kendrick doesn't light this place up.
Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist. On Twitter: @jeneeinkc