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


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


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