Skip to content

Culture critic Greg Tate awarded Pulitzer Prize

Courtesy Nettice Gaskin

Passed away in 2021

"The Pulitzer Board awards a special citation for the late writer and critic Greg Tate, whose language – cribbed from literature, academia, popular culture and hip-hop – was as influential as the content of his ideas. His aesthetic, innovations and intellectual originality, particularly in his pioneering hip-hop criticism, continue to influence subsequent generations, especially writers and critics of color.” -from the citation

Three years after his death in 2021 from cardiac arrest, influential critic, journalist, and musician Greg Tate has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. The special citation was announced at Columbia University on Monday, May 6, where he served as the Louis Armstrong Visiting Professor in that school’s Center for Jazz Studies. Previously on May 1, at a conference titled “WORD: LIFE: An Opinionated Mixtape of Hip Hop Journalism,” Columbia Dean of Journalism Jelani Cobb announced the establishment of a $10,000 scholarship in the legendary critic's name.

Tate was an eloquent champion of the emerging musical category called hip-hop, placing it within the larger context of Black music and culture. He specifically linked it to another idiom in American history, bebop of the 1940s, being that both were African American inventions nurtured in the city of New York, and utilized existing compositions to create a radically new, more complex art form.

A Howard University graduate, Tate made his mark as a leading critic on Black culture in the influential alternative newsweekly “The Village Voice.” Tate was among the first journalists to approach rap as a serious art form, writing in a lively style that transcended genres. As Bard College academic Hua Hsu pointed out in “The Critic Who Convinced Me That Criticism Could Be Art,” a 2016 tribute for the New Yorker, Tate’s prose was highlighted by the “…erudition he brought to bear on a range of topics, not just hip-hop and jazz but also science fiction, literary theory, movies, city politics, and police brutality.”

In addition to his printed output, the self-taught guitarist applied his talents to musical performance, with his formation of the improvisational collective Burnt Sugar in 1999. A hodgepodge of as many as 40 eclectic instrumentalists, the association released over a dozen albums and mounted performances throughout Europe and the United States, specializing in Tate’s words “…drowning the room in the music of African ascent.”

In addition to his tenure at Columbia, Tate also taught at Brown and Yale University’s and was a prolific writer, whose published works included the provocatively titled “Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture.”