- By Marc Lynch
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.
This morning NPR’s Morning Edition aired an eight minute interview I recorded about Jay-Z, the Game, and international relations theory. It was hands down the most fun interview I’ve ever done. You can listen here, and read about it here. Man, that Jay-Z post really took off, huh? From all those blogger responses to the New York Times to NPR… what can I say, people love their Jay-Z. I’m still waiting for feedback from Jay, the Game, Kanye, 50… or even Beyonce!
This was one of those all-too-rare cases where I actually learned from an online discussion. If you listen to the interview after following the online debates, you’ll see that I was particularly influenced by Spencer Ackerman’s theory of Jay-Z as a counter-revolutionary actor which placed "D.O.A." at the center of the story (though I like the Game a lot more than he does). I think that Ezra Klein’s point about strengthening third party proxies was very shrewd as well (Dan Drezner picks up that theme here). No disrespect to all the other fine contributions, of course.. no subliminal diss, as Game might say, I learned from all of y’all.
There’s a lot more I could have said — the Nas vs Jay-Z history lesson, the nature and depth of Jay-Z’s hegemony, Game’s strategic mistakes like insulting Kanye when he should be wooing him, the difficulty of coding cases (amazingly, some people refuse to admit that Nas won his beef with Jay-Z or that the Game defeated G-Unit and 50 Cent.. it’s like coding Russia as a winner of World War One or something) — but you can only do so much in 8 minutes!
The one point which I do wish I had developed more in the on-air interview, though, is the reason why rap beefs are about soft power and not hard power. And that, of course, is the legacy of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls — two of the all-time greatest rappers, who were murdered in their primes at the height of the East Coast-West Coast feud. Those murders, which hang over all rap beefs today, could be equated with World War II’s impact on Europe, with new norms of peaceful conflict resolution emerging out of the collective memory of its horrors. The memory of Tupac and Biggie — reinforced in the shared narratives which define hip hop’s collective identity — are, like the memory of World War II, a profound barrier to escalation to deadly force which puts the premium on the "soft power" side of beefs.
Anyway, this has been great fun… what do you think, maybe I should write a book on the IR theory of rap beefs? Would probably sell more copies than anything else I ever do…