Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Social Science in Action: Jay-Z versus the Game as a Model for International Relations Theory

I have been trying to attentively watch the Sotomayor hearings, but they are (yawn...) quite a snooze fest. Hopefully, there will be some fireworks when aggrieved White man of the year Frank Ricci gives his testimony later in the week.

In keeping with my summer tradition of bringing you random discoveries from these Internets, here is an article from that most respected of beltway publications, Foreign Policy. The topic: the beef between Jay-Z and the Game as a treatise on statecraft; the balance of soft-power versus hard power; and the limits of American hegemony.

I am moved, yet remain undecided. Is this a genius piece of work or a slapdash analogy which is such a reach that it doesn't really merit comment?

Some choice excerpts from Jay-Z vs. the Game: Lessons for the American Primacy Debate--

"See, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is the closest thing to a hegemon which the rap world has known for a long time. He's #1 on the Forbes list of the top earning rappers. He has an unimpeachable reputation, both artistic and commercial, and has produced some of the all-time best (and best-selling) hip hop albums including standouts Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and the Black Album. He spent several successful years as the CEO of Def Jam Records before buying out his contract a few months ago to release his new album on his own label. And he's got Beyonce. Nobody, but nobody, in the hip hop world has his combination of hard power and soft power. If there be hegemony, then this is it. Heck, when he tried to retire after the Black Album, he found himself dragged back into the game (shades of America's inward turn during the Clinton years?)."

"But the limits on his ability to use this power recalls the debates about U.S. primacy. Should he use this power to its fullest extent, as neo-conservatives would advise, imposing his will to reshape the world, forcing others to adapt to his values and leadership? Or should he fear a backlash against the unilateral use of power..."

"The changes in Jay-Z's approach over the years suggest that he recognizes the realist and liberal logic... but is sorely tempted by the neo-conservative impulse. Back when he was younger, Jay-Z was a merciless, ruthless killer in the "beefs" which define hip hop politics. He never would have gotten to the top without that. But since then he's changed his style and has instead largely chosen to stand above the fray. As Jay-Z got older and more powerful, the marginal benefits of such battles declined and the costs increased even as the number of would-be rivals escalated. Just as the U.S. attracts resentment and rhetorical anti-Americanism simply by virtue of being on top, so did Jay-Z attract a disproportionate number of attackers. "I got beefs with like a hundred children" he bragged/complained on one track.."

"So what does Jay-Z do? If he hits back hard in public, the Game will gain in publicity even if he loses... the classic problem of a great power confronted by a smaller annoying challenger. And given his demonstrated skills and talent, and his track record against G-Unit, the Game may well score some points. At the least, it would bring Jay-Z down to his level -- bogging him down in an asymmetric war negating the hegemon's primary advantages. If Jay-Z tries to use his structural power to kill Game's career (block him from releasing albums or booking tour dates or appearing at the Grammy Awards), it could be seen as a wimpy and pathetic operation -- especially since it would be exposed on Twitter and the hip hop blogs."

"The Realist advice? His best hope is probably to sit back and let the Game self-destruct, something of which he's quite capable (he's already backing away from the hit on Beyonce) -- while working behind the scenes to maintain his own alliance structure and to prevent any defections over to the Game's camp."

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