Guest Post by Jonathan Wallace: Jay-Z: Less Declining Power, More Shrewd Politician

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ObamaBrushingthatDirtOffHisShoulder.jpg
Jonathan Wallace is Assistant to the President at the New America Foundation.
Marc Lynch has a much discussed post over at Foreign Policy that refracts the beef between hip-hop legend Jay-Z and hip-hop artist The Game through the lens of international relations theory.
The blogosphere has been abuzz with responses (Spencer Ackerman, Abu Muqawama, and Ezra Klein) and they have been some of the most interesting blog bites in the normally dreary summer months here in DC.
The conventional wisdom in these posts is to compare Jay-Z to a declining hegemonic power seeking to manage its decline and retain influence as long as possible. Specifically, Jay-Z’s song “Death of Auto-tune (D.O.A.)” is seen as his way to shape the hip-hop arena in which he will have a more limited influence going forward.
Lynch advises Jay-Z to use a mixture of soft power and proxy conflict to defeat his adversaries to avoid exposing his increasing weakness as the primary actor in hip-hop.
However, I see this Jay-Z/Auto-tune debate differently.
Here, Jay-Z has taken the position used to such great effect by Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign (with Auto-tuning standing in for the Bush Doctrine). Jay-Z has forcefully come out against something that – while popular for a bit – was surely unsustainable as a creative force in music.
Just as Obama did while running as the anti-Bush foreign policy candidate, Jay-Z has made himself the face of the anti-auto tune movement and will surely get credit for its imminent demise.
Meanwhile, many tenets of the Bush Doctrine were being phased out or had already been eliminated by the time the general election rolled around. Obama has reaped the rewards (more internationally than domestically) of the end of the Bush Doctrine even though many of Bush’s policies would have been phased out with or without Obama.
Both Jay-Z and Barack Obama shrewdly pounced at the right moment to announce the death of a trend/policy that had already worn out its welcome. For Obama, it helped propel him to leader of the free world. For Jay-Z, it may help cement his status as leader of the hip hop world.
PS: To add an IR dimension to this post, I just want to point out the uber-realism of Kanye West. When Auto-Tune was big, he jumped in with both feet. However, sensing the historical moment in hip-hop affairs, Kanye has now aligned himself with Jay-Z and declared Jay’s new album (which West executive produced) an “auto-tune free zone”.
Mr. West seems to have a discerning eye for the politics; he would acclimate himself well to the US Senate (indeed, he has the ego for it.)
— Jonathan Wallace

Comments

17 comments on “Guest Post by Jonathan Wallace: Jay-Z: Less Declining Power, More Shrewd Politician

  1. Ben Rosengart says:

    It is you I meant, Mr. Decco. Out of curiosity, what kind of
    musician are you?
    I’ve been reading TWN since day one, but I don’t presume to know
    what “belongs” on it better than the people who have permission
    to post. And if we *could* vote anyone off the island, I’d start
    with James Pinkerton, not Jonathan Wallace.

    Reply

  2. Zathras says:

    I didn’t know The Game was a rapper (rapster? rap star?). I thought he was a wrestler.
    If there are two people here, a rap star and a wrestler, wouldn’t that make each of them A Game? Or prompt blogospheric discussions of IR analogies to the competing claims to be the legitimate governments of Korea or China?

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  3. Moving along says:

    Yeah I think this round goes to the pro-post commenters. If it’s good enough for Marc Lynch (and for him to quote at length in his blog post on the responses!), Andrew Exum, Spencer Ackerman, Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Christine Parthemore, and yes, even old Tom Ricks, it’s good enough for TWN. Agreeing with Beth in VA and Dan K.
    http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/07/14/debating_jay_zs_hegemony

    Reply

  4. arthurdecco says:

    Unfunny and uninteresting.
    My mind’s opened plenty, Mr. Rosengart, if it was me you were referring to in your post above. And I’m even a real musician and everything and probably more attuned to hip hop than half the readers here – even the young ones – hell, ESPECIALLY the young ones.
    That doesn’t alter the fact that this is a forced, unfunny and vacuous attempt to connect the unconnectable simply to score “style” or “framing” points and according to Dan K, it’s not even original thinking.
    But I do agree with POA – discussing “this thread beats the shit outta 300 posts arguing with a pair of bigots” hands down.

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  5. Ben Rosengart says:

    Funny and interesting.
    Some commenters around here need to open their minds a bit.

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  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Jake wants to know what all the fuss is about, and has woofed his opinon that this thread beats the shit outta 300 posts arguing with a pair of bigots.
    Louie would offer his opinion too, but he had to run next door to pee on our neighbor’s new riding mower.

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  7. Beth in VA says:

    I agree with Dan K, and am amused at those posters who are so cool that they know what TWN is all about, too cool for Jay-Z. I liked this post and learned something new.

    Reply

  8. Dan K says:

    Arthur, this topic has generated a discussion all over the blogosphere among IR types, starting with March Lynch, as a whimsical but semi-serious application of IR theory to a pop culture power conflict. I can’t join in because I don’t know the work of Mr. Z and Mr. Game. But, c’mon, give the young guys a break. And by “young” I think I just mean “under 40”.
    Maybe the author never got the memo that said the only appropriate fare at TPM are discussions of omnipresent Aipac spies, or of the need to eradicate all the world’s evil Muslims.

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  9. questions says:

    Ayo,
    My guess is that it’s less “the world of hip-hop” that’s the problem and more a kind of missing out on the value of metaphors and applications of concepts in order to help clarify the concepts.
    Our metaphors can lock us in to seeing the world one way and thus can make us miss out on alternatives.
    (The way we write fractions may well make us value the numerator over the denominator because the numerator comes first, is spoken first, and so makes the choice of the part matter more than the whole or the remainder (which isn’t spoken at all). We could write it differently, speak it differently: of ten total I would like 7, or of 10 total, I leave behind 3, and then the whole might take on a kind of importance it currently lacks, or the remainder might seem to matter more than what is taken.
    So if IR concepts can be applied to Jay Z, and then someone thinks up something interesting in the process of applying the concepts, that’s probably a good thing. And maybe even fun!)
    Wait, did I just violate Sand’s rules for questions and put in an unnecessary and incomprehensible metaphor that has nothing to do with anything? Oh dear. Must be the hasbara in me!

    Reply

  10. jackie says:

    I liked the photo. I think I get the commentary, but the photo is great. It was after Hillary made some critical statement about Obama and he brushed it off.

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  11. Ayo says:

    I thought the post was actually pretty good. A nice parallel was drawn. I think most of the previous comments were from people who don’t relate to the world of hiphop, so they can’t see the relevance. That’s ok, its not for everyone to enjoy.

    Reply

  12. Greg says:

    “When Auto-Tune was big, he jumped in with both feet. However, sensing the historical moment in hip-hop affairs, Kanye has now aligned himself with Jay-Z and declared Jay’s new album (which West executive produced) an “auto-tune free zone”.
    Actually, auto-tune had already long been heavily criticized around the time of the conception of 808s. Naturally, there was little to no hesitation from anyone (even his own fans) in extending heaping helping of that criticism towards West, who eventually defended the technology by clarifying that he had used it since his 2004 album The College Dropout (see “Jesus Walks”). I suppose criticism isn’t considered newsworthy till a mainstream rapper drops a mediocre single about it huh?
    Secondly, just how does West producing, make that co-producing “DOA” (and there have been reports that have refuted his involvement, I’d just wait for the liner notes) denote that he’s “abandoned” the device? The song “Supernova”, released nearly a month after “DOA” says otherwise. If anything, West is playing the traditional role of the neutral producer, one who provides a sonic foundation for the lyricist, even when what is being said goes directly against his/her beliefs and/or opinion. Noble lad.
    “Mr. West seems to have a discerning eye for the politics; he would acclimate himself well to the US Senate (indeed, he has the ego for it.)”
    Speaking of bandwagons….

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  13. arthurdecco says:

    Because, Dan, this isn’t Entertainment Tonight for Gum Chewers.

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  14. arthurdecco says:

    I attribute the writer’s misplaced sense of what is appropriate fare on TWN to his probable age and his enviable hormones. I can’t say the same for those who permitted this post to be published.
    In the lexicon of 50’s Pop Culture: “Loo See, U got sum splay nin t’ doo.”

    Reply

  15. Outraged American says:

    I interviewed Run DMC once and was so unprepared that I asked,
    “Which one of you is Run?” In my defense, it was at a rave on the
    lower East Side of Manhattan, so of course everyone was sober.
    This post must be a joke.

    Reply

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