Hip-Hop Diplomacy

Hip-hop is a phenomenon that has captured hearts around the world. Its musical form ranges from party anthems to critical social commentary. But the genre plays another role: it is an influential soft-power tool for the United States. Like its predecessors jazz and rock, hip-hop is utilized by the U.S. State Department to connect with young minds, and its unique ability to inspire goodwill toward the United States offers a significant advantage over adversaries such as China and Russia. How did hip-hop become a go-to diplomatic instrument?


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  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Director, Podcasting

Asher Ross - Supervising Producer

Markus Zakaria - Audio Producer and Sound Designer

Rafaela Siewert - Associate Podcast Producer

Episode Guests
  • Toni Blackman
    Alumni Outreach Director, Next Level
  • Mark Katz
    John P. Barker Distinguished Professor of Music and Director of Graduate Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Show Notes

Every country has a hip-hop scene, and, around the world, millions of people cite hip-hop not just as a passion but an identity. The hip-hop movement can be traced back to New York City in the 1970s, and it remains a font for goodwill toward the United States, even as perceptions abroad of U.S. standing have declined in recent years. Today, music and foreign policy experts alike acknowledge that hip-hop can make inroads where other soft-power tools cannot.



From Mark Katz


Hip-Hop World Diplomacy with Mark Katz,” Hip-Hop Can Save America 


Episode 14: Mark Katz On Music And Cultural Diplomacy,” The Institute Podcast


From Toni Blackman


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From CFR 


Hisham Aidi, “Hip-Hop Diplomacy,” Foreign Affairs



Read More


Adam Bradley, “In this U.S. government program, diplomacy has a hip-hop beat,” Washington Post


Billy Perrigo, “How the U.S. Used Jazz as a Cold War Secret Weapon,” TIME


Danny Lewis, “When Rock Was Banned in the Soviet Union, Teens Took to Bootlegged Recordings on X-Rays,” Smithsonian Magazine


Lara Jakes, “‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ With a Diplomat’s Road Trip Music,” New York Times


Marie Zawisza, “How music is the real language of political diplomacy,” The Guardian



Watch and Listen 


Brubeck at 100: Jazz Ambassadors & Cultural Diplomacy,” Jazz Congress Podcast


Iraqi Dancers in US on First Hip Hop Diplomacy Tour,” Voice of America


The story of X-Ray Audio: What would you risk for the sake of music? | Stephen Coates | TEDxKraków,” TEDx Talks


Why Hip Hop is World Culture | Ian Lawrence | TEDxMauerPark,” TEDx Talks



Toni Blackman's Hip-Hop Artists to Know

Alesh (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Ashs The Best (Senegal)
Awadi (Senegal)
Bidew Bou Bess (Senegal)
EJ Von Lyrik (South Africa/Netherlands)
Fid Q (Tanzania)
Jah Baba (Benin)
MC Yallah (Uganda)
Meta & the Cornerstones (Senegal)
Modenine (Nigeria)
Ngaaka Blinde (Senegal)
Noel Grass (Kenya)
Oumy Gueye (Senegal)
Rema Namakula (Uganda)
Shadow Barazizo (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Shay Mane (France)
Stogie T (South Africa)
Valerie Belingha (Cameroon/France)
Xuman (Senegal)
Zeus (Botswana)
Zubz the Last Letta (Zimbabwe)


Mark Katz's Hip-Hop Artists to Know

Afroto (Egypt)

Ami Yerewolo (Mali)

Nash MC (Tanzania)

Yas Werneck (Brazil)


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