Thursday, October 15, 2009

Power and Its Limits: A Look at Rappers and World Politics

The World of Rap and International Relations
The National Public Radio broadcasted a show highlighting the parallels between rappers’ feuds and world politics. Lynch, professor and director of the Institute of Middle East Studies, presented an interesting comparison of the feud between rappers (The Game and Jay-Z) and the challenges the U.S. is currently facing.

About the Rappers
Here is a little background information for those of you who are not familiar with the world of rap. Jay-Z has attained a sort of mythical status. He was a successful CEO of Def Jams Recordings for several years, produced some of the best-selling hip-hop albums, and is with Beyonce. In the rap world, his combination of soft and hard power makes him a hegemon. The Game, on the other hand, is like a rising power. He’s talented but also erratic. He forms and breaks alliances and often cannot commit to values or ideals.

The Feud and Parallels to International Relations
Since Jay-Z is sort of this hegemon, he started criticizing up-and-coming rappers for using auto-tunes ("you rappers singing too much, get back to rap you t-paining too much".). Per Professor Lynch, Jay-Z was saying “these are the rules of the international system. If you want to be a civilized member of our international society, you have to not pursue nuclear weapons.” Lynch also compares The Game to Iraq or North Korea – a little unpredictable and not big enough to take down the big guy by himself, but he still can do some serious damage by exhausting Jay-Z’s energy and resources.

What theoretical point(s) or frame(s) does this example bring to mind?
This blog brings us back to the subject of power and more specifically, power and its limits. The more power one has, the more limits one has on how to use that power (Lynch). If you are the hegemon or the world leader, how should you use your power? Should Jay-Z use his power to its fullest extent and block The Game from booking tours, releasing his album, or attending the Grammy? Or should Jay-Z refrain from using his power and ignore The Game? 50 Cent points out the dilemma Jay-Z faces by stating “if I shoot you I’m famous, if you shoot me you’re brainless.”

Why is this important?
This is relevant beyond the scope of world politics and applies to any powerful person or entity. The question of how they should use their power also brings in McGregor’s debate for value based leadership. The limits on power implies that there is a collective memory, and the collective remembers the abuses of power. Whether the collective can successfully take away the power is another debate.

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