NPR Explores How Rapper Jay-Z Is the USA, and He Can't Get Bogged Down In Hip-Hop Iraq

Last Wednesday, NPR's Morning Edition ran a strange story picking up on how George Washington University professor Mark Lynch blogged for Foreign Policy magazine on how rapper "beefs" are a metaphor for foreign policy. Jay-Z, on top of the rapper heap, is the U.S., whereby a challenging rapper like The Game could be Iran. It prompted this funny letter, read on the air the next day:

LINDA WERTHEIMER: One NPR listener wrote on our Web site: Jay-Z and The Game are like foreign policy? I can't wait to see how Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls are like cancer research, or how the reunion of New Kids on the Block parallels how Russia is again consolidating power. Can I search your archives for a story about how Bobby Sherman mirrored the Tet Offensive?

Here's a part of Morning Edition anchor Steve Inskeep's interview with Professor Lynch:

INSKEEP: And then he goes on to say a bunch of other things we can't repeat on the radio. But basically The Game is hammering Jay-Z as old and irrelevant, the flipside of the argument that Jay-Z is making that some of these new guys are not authentic.

LYNCH: So why is he doing this? And here is where international relations theory becomes relevant. All of a sudden there's opportunities to peel off some of Jay-Z's key alliance partners and form a broad-based coalition against Jay- Z. Maybe he thinks that Jay-Z is getting old, he's irrelevant. The Game says, hey, maybe I can peel off a number of people and undermine the foundations of Jay-Z's hegemony.

INSKEEP: And if the Game manages to fight, stand and fight with Jay-Z, even if he loses that fight, it raises his stature because...

LYNCH: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...he's in there with the big guy.

LYNCH: Exactly. And you know, so there's this idea that a lot of times in beefs, there the idea that someone's going to be totally destroyed, but actually not so much. All he has to do is survive.

In an earlier beef, 50 Cent spun one of Jay-Z's own lines. He says, if I shoot you I'm famous, if you shoot me you're brainless. Because a hegemon can't get into these little battles all over the place. It drains your resources, it alienates people, it makes you look like a bully.

And so Jay-Z, like the United States after the war in Iraq, has got a really tough decision to make. You know, do you ignore these provocations? But then they might spread, then people might think that you're weak. Do you hit down really hard? You could maybe destroy The Game, but you're going to be exhausted in the process.

And so this like the U.S. now suddenly having to go and fight counterinsurgency campaigns all over the world. And do we have the resources for that? Is that really what we want to be doing with our foreign policy? How do you respond to that?

INSKEEP: So Jay-Z is discovering that even the most powerful superpower has limits to what he can do.

LYNCH: And in fact, the more powerful you are, the more limits there are on your ability to use that power.

INSKEEP: Oh, because you could put yourself at risk anywhere in the world.

LYNCH: Exactly. And if you start alienating other powerful states, or in this case other powerful rappers, who might feel that they're next, they might not want to cooperate with you. So you think The Game is Iran and Jay-Z is the U.S., and what this is really about is not The Game, it's about Europe, right? It's about Kanye West.

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