What Can Hip-Hop Beef Teach Us About International Relations?

While it’s not completely indigenous to the world of hip-hop, warring rivalries (also known as beef) is a fantastic part of the vibrant musical genre that couples a mutually-beneficial marketing bump with soap-opera scandal. But can the way high-profile rappers express their resentment towards one another give us a glimpse into how the tangled international web of nations operates?

It’s a bizarre link that is made convincingly by Marc Lynch, an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Relations. In a recent post at NPR.org, the Middle Eastern politics expert made a compelling comparison between the United States and rapper Jay-Z. Citing his proficient album sales, formidable street cred, respect as an artist, and marriage to singing superstar Beyonce, Lynch portrays Jay-Z as an undisputed hegemon in the rap world, not unlike the United States’ place in today’s international system. After rap’s hegemon was verbally attacked by brash upstart rapper the Game, Lynch began identifying the interactions and how they related to America’s place in the world. “[My take] As a professor of international relations, was to start thinking about how this could be turned into a story about the nature of hegemony and the debate over the exercise of American power,” he said.


By tracing Jay-Z’s responses to verbal attacks from rival rappers over the years, Lynch shows the icon’s constantly-shifting balance between “realist and liberal logic” and “neo-conservative impulse.” Remind you of any country in particular? The connection may seem like a stretch, but while the parallels between hip-hop beef and international relations are intriguing, there’s no denying the awesome political force that hip-hop has become.

When 31-year-old Kwame Kilpatrick swept into Detroit’s mayoral office in 2002, his campaign was filled with hip-hop influences, whether it be citing particular lyricists or playing music at events. Since then, hip-hop has exploded as a political force, from Sean “Diddy” Combs’ 2004 Vote or Die campaign to the University of Chicago’s Tanji Gilliam’s study gauging the effects of hip-hop on youth politics in the United States.

With the link between hip-hop and politics defined, does that make the Game the Ahmedinejad to Jay-Z’s Obama?

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