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?


Play Button Pause Button
0:00 0:00
  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Podcast Host and 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


Rhyme like a Girl: Toni, Polaryss & Sincerity at Restoration Rocks Festival


How To Freestyle with Toni Blackman: Lesson 1


I Love and Approve (Of Myself)


From CFR 


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


Read More


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


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


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


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


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


Watch and Listen 


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


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


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


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


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)





Global Governance

In 2022, several colossal events dominated the headlines, most prominently the war in Ukraine and the worldwide inflation that it helped spark. But beyond Ukraine, events with global implications continued to unfold. In this episode, Why It Matters checks in with three CFR fellows and CFR President Richard Haass to understand the least-covered stories of 2022 and to take a peek at what could await the world in 2023.

Technology and Innovation

For years, the world thought of the internet as a borderless zone that brought people from around the world together. But as governments pursue very different regulatory paths, the monolithic internet is breaking apart. Now, where there had been one, there are at least three internets: one led by the United States, one by China, and one by the European Union.

International Organizations

The 2022 FIFA World Cup has kicked off in Qatar, and billions of fans worldwide are tuning in to the world’s most popular live event. And yet as in years past, the Qatar Cup is transpiring under the shadow of controversy.

Top Stories on CFR


Neither the United States nor China is prepared for a serious crisis.


The United States and South Korea should pursue an expanded nuclear agreement that supports the production of civilian nuclear power and enhances extended deterrence against the North Korean threat.  


This interactive examines how nationwide bans on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, as proposed by the Biden administration on April 28, 2022, could help shrink the racial gap on U.S. lung cancer death rates.