July 15, 2009
Jay-Z and The Fog of Rap Battle
Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy goes there:
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 Beyoncé. 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, as realists such as my colleague Steve Walt or liberals such as John Ikenberry would warn, and instead exercise self-restraint?
But here’s the other question: are Jay-Z and Beyoncé really in the same game? What about The Shins? In other words, maybe one set of actors are in the sphere of realist power politics, and another set are acting under a completely different set of assumptions - maybe idealist, maybe postmodern, maybe not based on the nation-state/single artist framework at all.
This was always my issue whenever we examined competing explanatory frameworks in political science: the assumption that whatever assumptions you made, they had to apply to all actors equally and individual actors consistently.
To me, it seemed (and seems) perfectly consistent to suppose that rational actors could be operating under different frameworks of rationality at different times, or even in some instances scuttling rationality altogether due to misinformation, contradictory internal forces, or misguided teleologies. “You can’t build models that way,” my freshman poli sci teacher said, half-joking but half-serious. No, I guess you can’t.