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?

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller on ​the multiple dimensions of space and human sexuality

Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.

Think Again Podcasts
  • Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
  • What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
  • Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

Ideology drives us apart. Neuroscience can bring us back together.

A guide to making difficult conversations possible—and peaceful—in an increasingly polarized nation.

  • How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
  • To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.
  • The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations.