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The Power of Hip Hop Diplomacy in a Divided World

Mark Katz

Publication Date - 04 November 2019

ISBN: 9780190056117

252 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

The first book to explore the powerful and unexpected intersection between hip hop and diplomacy


Since 2001, the U.S. Department of State has been sending hip hop artists abroad to perform and teach as goodwill ambassadors. There are good reasons for this: hip hop is known and loved across the globe, acknowledged and appreciated as a product of American culture. Hip hop has from its beginning been a means of creating community through artistic collaboration, fostering what hip hop artists call building.

A timely study of U.S. diplomacy, Build: The Power of Hip Hop Diplomacy in a Divided World reveals the power of art to bridge cultural divides, facilitate understanding, and express and heal trauma. Yet power is never single-edged, and the story of hip hop diplomacy is deeply fraught. Drawing from nearly 150 interviews with hip hop artists, diplomats, and others in more than 30 countries, Build explores the inescapable tensions and ambiguities in the relationship between art and the state, revealing the ethical complexities that lurk behind what might seem mere goodwill tours. Author Mark Katz makes the case that hip hop, at its best, can promote positive, productive international relations between people and nations. A U.S.-born art form that has become a voice of struggle and celebration worldwide, hip hop has the power to build global community when it is so desperately needed.

Cover image: Sylvester Shonhiwa, aka Bboy Sly, Harare, Zimbabwe, February 2015. Photograph by Paul Rockower.


  • First book to explore the powerful and unexpected intersection between hip hop and diplomacy
  • Draws from nearly 150 interviews with hip hop artists, diplomats, and others in more than 30 countries
  • Offers a close look at the relationship between hip hop and Islam

About the Author(s)

Mark Katz is Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music and Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ. He is co-editor of Music, Sound, and Technology in America: A Documentary History. In 2013 he developed the U.S. Department of State-funded cultural diplomacy program Next Level, serving as its director until 2018. 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 music scholarship.


"Build offers a rare and valuable entry into a project of unprecedented scope in American hip-hop, by providing a view from inside institutions and from American artists" -- Alice Aterianus-Owanga, Transposition

"An important contribution to the field of cultural diplomacy" -- Nicholas J. Cull, Professor of Communication, University of Southern California, H-net

"Build is at once a vitally important introduction to an often misunderstood artistic genre and a deeply informed description of the powers and limitations of music diplomacy." -- Danielle Fosler-Lussier, Professor of Musicology, Ohio Sate University, H-net

"As a hip hop lover, practitioner, and scholar, I found Build to be well-organized, accessible, nuanced, and provocative." -- Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, aka Sammus, Rapper and Postdoctoral Fellow in Music, Brown University, H-net

"[Katz] writes in a direct, lively way that is aimed at a wide readership, while weaving difficult questions throughout each chapter." -- Kendra Salois, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, American University, H-net

"With its honesty, up-close experience, and focus on the artists themselves, this informative, lively book will be of great interest to anyone who wants to know more about U.S. cultural politics or about hip hop encounters and collaborations around the world." -- Journal of Popular Music Studies

"I met Mark during my tenure at the Next Level exchange program when I went to Serbia to spread hip hop through diplomacy. His love and respect for hip hop culture was evident to me the more we talked. He's a great guy who has a knowledge and understanding of the culture and that permeates throughout Build. Thank you, Mark, for giving me memories I'll never forget. Salute to you Money Mark!!!" -- Diamond D, hip hop producer and MC, founding member of the Diggin' in the Crates crew

"This book is the voice of a reporter from the field -- who broke bread with artists and local communities, listened, asked questions, admitted what he did not know, and navigated bureaucracy with principle, character and a fierce commitment to humanity. As we say in hip hop, Katz is a real one and so is Build!" -- Toni Blackman, MC, educator, first U.S. State Department hip hop cultural envoy

"In Build, Mark Katz provides a riveting account of hip hop diplomacy featuring its full range of cultural epiphanies, empowerment of artists, contradictions, tensions, and ambivalences. From Indonesia to Guatemala, Algeria, Senegal, Uganda, Brazil, and Croatia, the Next Level exchange program continued the long tradition of African American music as the best international representative of American creativity and freedom." -- Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music, Harvard University

"An inspiring study of U.S. efforts to bridge cultures and collaborate around the globe, and a reminder of the power of art to unite us." -- Library Journal

"This is the promise of hip-hop diplomacy as Katz describes it: that it may foster deep connection in divided times, layering atop the geopolitical map another way of seeing our world - not just as a collection of fractured nations but as one planet under a groove." -- Washington Post

Table of Contents


    1: Sample a Look Back
    2: Boom Bap Diplomacy: Connecting Cultures, Transforming Conflict
    3: Operating in a Zone of Ambiguity: Tensions and Risks in Hip-Hop Diplomacy
    4: Building Songs Instead of Missiles: Agency and Subversive Complicity in Hip-Hop Diplomacy
    5: Build and Destroy: Hip-Hop, U.S. Diplomacy, and Islam