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Guest Lecture

Hip Hop Diplomacy as Subversive Complicity

  • Professor Mark Katz
Tuesday 11 October 2022
Culture and Politics Event Series


Organised by the Culture and Politics Specialisation for the MA IR programme

Hip hop and the U.S. government are unlikely partners. And yet, since 2001, the State Department has been sending U.S. hip hop artists abroad to perform and teach as cultural ambassadors. Some criticize these artists as sellouts or dupes; others insist that it’s just another gig. This lecture offers a different perspective, proposing hip hop diplomacy as a form of what sociologist Ramón Grosfoguel calls subversive complicity, a stance in which a marginalized group participates within an exploitative system as a means of survival or as a form of resistance. Drawing on interviews with dozens of hip hop artists, professor Mark Katz explains why those who embrace this work often see it as both subversive and empowering. As rapper Kane Smego put it, 'I’m taking that money. They’re going to use it to build rockets and missiles anyway, so I might as well take it and build songs instead'. Those who do this work tend to recognize the ambiguities, even paradoxes of simultaneously fighting the power and collaborating with institutions that have perpetuated racist and imperialist policies. Using the lens of subversive complicity, Katz offers a complex picture of artistic agency at work, and explore the fraught realities that hip hop diplomats navigate on a daily basis. Finally, he reflects on his own agency and complicity as a scholar who served as the founding director of the hip hop diplomacy program Next Level. 

About the speaker

Mark Katz is John P. Barker Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Founding Director of the U.S. State Department hip hop cultural diplomacy program, Next Level. His books include Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music (2004, rev. 2010), Build: The Power of Hip Hop Diplomacy in a Divided World (2019), and Music and Technology: A Very Short Introduction (2022). He is co-editor of Music, Sound, and Technology in America: A Documentary History (2012) and former editor of the Journal of the Society for American Music. In 2015 Katz was recognized by the Hip-Hop Education Center in its inaugural awards ceremony, and in 2016 he was awarded the Dent Medal by the Royal Musical Association for his contributions to musicology. He is a former department chair and served as Director of UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities between 2014 and 2018. He is currently at work on the book Rap and Redemption on Death Row, a collaboration with incarcerated musician Alim Braxton. 


There is limited room (capacity of 35 people) for staff and students to attend a "borrel" (drinks) with the guest speaker afterwards. The borrel will be held at the Faculty Club Restaurant, 17.00-18.30

Please indicate if you wish to attend via this link by the end of Sunday October 9th 

Culture and Politics Event Series

The Culture and Politics Event Series serves to expose students to further themes related to their specialisation as well as to possible future career opportunities for which their specialisation provides required knowledge and skills.

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